Inmates' clean-up project along Waimanalo shoreline a 'win-win' for community

(Courtesy: Andy Jamila)
(Courtesy: Andy Jamila)

WAIMANALO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - If you find yourself driving through East Oahu this weekend and think a certain stretch of shoreline looks a little nicer – you're probably right.

In Waimanalo on Friday morning, supervised inmates from the Oahu Community Correctional Center dodged morning traffic on Kalanianaole Highway to go to work. Trash was hauled out, invasive plants were removed, all thanks to a special group of men putting in hard work under the hot sun.

Their mission? Beautify Waimanalo – and turn their own lives around in the process.

Three days a week, for the past 15 weeks, between 15 and 20 inmates have toiled in the hot sun as part of the project.

"The response from the OCCC work line is awesome. I mean, they're all in one mode to give back to our community," said Andy Jamila, president of the Waimanalo Construction Coalition and current organizer of the project.

The effort was originally started 12 years ago by the late Aunty Elaine Nickie Ahuna Hines, a Hawaiian musician and long time Waimanalo resident.

"It's a win-win situation, because we get the labor of love from them, and we get the efforts, and as you can see, the view and restoration of this park –  it's just a million dollar view," Jamila said.

"Some of them, they so appreciative coming out here, they even work for free," added Uncle Richard "Bolo" Kahawai, a special projects coordinator at OCCC. "They talking when they get out, they come back and help the community clean up the place."

The inmates have spent weeks cutting down view-stealing hale koa trees along Kalanianaole Highway. An estimated 12 tons of trash left behind by illegal campers and homeless have also been cleaned out.

"We've been taking out color TV's, kitchen sinks, big bathtub was here," said Jamila.

The project relies on equipment from the City and County of Honolulu and, of course, the man power from the Department of Public Safety's OCCC.

"With a project this huge, it takes a lot of stakeholders being involved in it, and a lot of planning," Kahawai said.

The end result is a facelift for Waimanalo, but the inmates get something much more valuable out their hard work.

"They start on a project with me for two weeks, three weeks, they find their way out, find jobs, and then work their way home. It's a good thing for them," Kahawai said.

So far, some 100 inmates have worked on the Waimanalo project over the years. All, he says, have leaned valuable life lessons.

Many have taken the next step, moving on to unsupervised work furlough programs before being released from prison.

"The inmates, they learn a lot," Kahawai said. "How to get along with people, how to work, how to fix their tools and stuff like that."

The men – inmates now – will all eventually leave prison. Some will likely even return to Waimanalo to live.

So how do residents feel about them being here?

"It's a very nice collaboration, and it's just nice to see Waimanalo being paid attention to," said resident Kim Kamano.

Copyright 2017 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.