HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time, a former inmate is sharing his inside story of the large jail riot that broke out on Maui in March.
Kamanaoio Gomes said the near-death experience changed his life for the better.
“It showed me that this is exactly not the place I need to be,” he said.
Kamanaoio Gomes was inside Module A at the Maui Community Correctional Center on March 11th when some of his fellow inmates broke loose from their cells and started a riot.
“All I remember was seeing inmates grab the tables, push it against the wall and light it on fire,” said Gomes. “Smoke started accumulating. Windows were getting busted out. Phones getting pulled off the wall.”
Gomes says inmates were fed up with severe overcrowding and poor conditions and felt their concerns were falling on deaf ears.
Images sent to the media after the incident showed trash everywhere, broken furniture and doors and charred walls from where a fire was started.
Gomes said he and his three cellmates were trapped inside their cell upstairs when smoke started filling their lungs.
"It was scary. We weren’t sure how we were going to get out for one, and we started to notice how we were coughing and we were spitting black spit,” Gomes said. “We blocked all the airways with wet towels, and we kept trying to kick and we realized we’re not getting anywhere.”
Gomes said they finally came up with the idea to spell out the word keys with wet toilet paper on the windows.
“We put it on the window and we were pointing and waving down the ACOs and letting them know you guys need to come and unlock us.”
Gomes says the tactic worked and about 10 minutes later, one of the Adult Corrections Officers ran in and risked his own life to save theirs.
“Before I left that cell, upon being released, I made sure to pray. I said let this be the basis of my gratitude, my freedom. Let me flip the coin on this. I never want to come back to this facility again."
Since March, the facility is still dangerously overcrowded.
Department of Public Safety officials said MCCC was designed to house 209 inmates, but there are currently 422 inmates.