HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - After five years behind bars, Ryan Rodrigues is finally free.
United Self Help Executive Director Bud Bowles and his staff were the first to greet him in the parking lot of Halawa Correctional Facility on September 16th. United Self Help is a non-profit organization that aims to assist prisoners who have completed their sentence.
The contract with the state Department of Health was set to end this month because of lack of funding. Bowles said he was promised one more year – if money is available.
However, budget uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has him worried his program is in jeopardy. He is hoping to find more funding to stay afloat for many more years to come.
Bowles says many maxed-out prisoners walk out with no money and only a handful of belongings.
“When you’re paroled, you get all sorts of things, housing, a parole officer to watch over you. If you max out … they just let you out at the gate, you have to walk and beg for a ride,” said Bowles.
Bowles and his team help the ex-offenders set up a bank account, get a bus pass, apply for medical insurance, get financial assistance, buy clothing, and find housing.
Sometimes they even help reunite them with family members.
Skyelar Medeiros is one of Bowles' success stories.
“Walking out of prison, just seeing somebody there to help you is a big relief off anyone’s shoulders, especially mine or anyone in my predicament who has been there for years and years and years,” Medeiros said.
Medeiros spent nearly four decades behind bars. He was released in May, in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. He now has a job, a home and is in college pursuing a degree in psychology.
“With the assistance of United Self Help, I’ve actually become pretty productive in society,” Medeiros said.
However, not all stories are successful like Medeiros'.
Last month, the Institute for Human Services – a resource Bowles often uses for housing assistance – became a quarantine and isolation facility.
He had no choice but to leave a client on the streets.
“After we searched and searched, he said, ‘Oh don’t worry, I’ll just hang out with my friends by Pali Longs.’ And we never see them again after that,” Bowles said.
A recent report shows prisoners helped by United Self Help re-offend half as often as others who maxed out. Bowles fears without more funding or private donations, chances are his organization won’t survive and neither will his clients.
“It’s almost guaranteed. Without any help, without any assistance, without people like Bud or even the state trying to help him out or getting a new contract, there is no way that these guys can succeed,” said Medeiros.