‘Holidays are the worst:’ Ex-con, defense attorney details life behind bars for Kealoha

After stunning fall from grace, a look at Katherine Kealoha's conditions behind bars

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Former Honolulu deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha’s Bureau of Prisons inmate number is 06014-122.

Kealoha, who was convicted last week on federal conspiracy and obstruction charges, is being held at the Federal Detention Center, where Chief Judge J. Michael Seabright ordered her held until an October 7 sentencing hearing.

Inside the Honolulu Federal Detention Center
Inside the Honolulu Federal Detention Center

Hawaii News Now legal analyst Ken Lawson says the first few weeks, commonly known as the “adjustment period,” are very difficult.

Lawson was a practicing defense attorney when he was convicted of drug crimes. He served two years in a minimum-to-medium security facility ― and it was no “Club Fed,” he says.

That term is sometimes used to refer to federal camps, or places where white-collar criminals and some wealthy or famous inmates are allowed to serve their shorter sentences.

Like Katherine Kealoha did last week, Lawson walked out of a courtroom back in 2007 flanked by deputy U.S. Marshals. That, he said, was when reality set in: “This is actually happening to me.”

Lawson still has his inmate identification card. Every inmate is required to have the card, which features an eight-digit ID number. everywhere they go inside the facility.

Lawson BOP inmate identification card
Lawson BOP inmate identification card

He also has items he was provided in prison, along with some he purchased at the commissary.

“They’ll give you a toothbrush, a little prison issue brush, a comb and some nasty toothpaste, but the rest of the stuff you have to get like these shorts, you have to buy these at the commissary,” Lawson said. “The grey, basketball material shorts allowed those who could go to the (recreation) yard to be more comfortable.”

Ken Lawson holds his prison issued brush and the shower bag he bought at the commissary when he was locked up
Ken Lawson holds his prison issued brush and the shower bag he bought at the commissary when he was locked up

Lawson says inmates with money on their commissary cards can also purchase food. He would buy salmon, which came in microwavable plastic instead of cans, which have sharp edges.

Lawson says inmates were allowed to use the microwave, and if he had extra money to buy crackers, he’d crumble them and mix them with the salmon to make croquettes.

To get commissary cash, loved ones can add money to your account but all prisoners have to work, earning just cents per hour.

“You have to have a job," he says. Lawson’s job initially was picking up trash in the yard, but eventually he was able to get a job working in the prison library.

"You (are not) going to prison and lying around, not in federal prison,” he said.

There are inmates who do all the laundry for other inmates. Lawson still uses his bright orange laundry bag.

“You put all your stuff in it, your bedding and what not, you tie it up they take it to laundry and you get it back," he said.

Lawson says working helps pass the time, but he dreaded weekends and holidays, especially with skeleton staffing.

“When there’s nothing to do, there’s no programs, those are the days time when time is moving so slow," he said. "It’s horrible.”

Inside the Honolulu Federal Detention Center
Inside the Honolulu Federal Detention Center

Lawson believes the Katherine, with her background as a prosecutor and husband, ex-police chief Louis Kealoha, with a doctoratal degree in education, can eventually have jobs teaching GED or other classes.

He also says Katherine can be valuable to the others, helping them research case law and work on appeals, but that could be dangerous given her history of manipulation.

“Kat likes to play games. What you have to learn when you go into the prison is, you’re in there with cons. The worst thing you can do is con a con.”

Both will likely be sent to mainland facilities to serve their time after all the trials are done.

Louis Kealoha remains free on bond until his sentencing on October 15.

Unless exceptions are made, he cannot visit his wife at FDC because they’re co-defendants, and he is also a convicted felon.

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