From serving time to serving the community, nonprofit helps former inmates better their lives

A Maui nonprofit is working to keep former inmates from returning to prison -- helping them find jobs, homes and become productive members of society.
Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 6:23 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2021 at 7:34 PM HST
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KAHULUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Five months ago, there was a growing homeless encampment next to Kahului Harbor on Maui.

The area along Kahului Beach Road is now cleared out and cleaned up thanks to a nonprofit organization called Inmate Initiative.

“I got tired of looking at the place, the eyesore,” said Inmate Initiative Community Outreach Director Kilakila Kamau. “I know the people, I know their families, it’s my family. So, it’s like OK, how can we help?”

Their vision is to build a community hangout spot with local food trucks and seating and shade made from driftwood by a local artist.

Kamau said beautifying the area is just one part of the bigger picture behind Inmate Initiative, an organization aimed to help those incarcerated.

“One of the guys that was here … he was my cellmate back in 2004,” said Inmate Initiative founder and president, Vince Razo. “We started cleaning up, we started talking. So, I’m hoping we can get him a job or something to help him.”

For Razo, it’s personal. He served 11 years behind bars and said prison saved his life.

“It removed me from the lifestyle that I was in, and it made me appreciate all the stuff that I lost,” Razo said. “I would see guys go home, come back, go home and come back, and I would ask them why? And the real reason is because they didn’t have a strong support system.”

Inmate Initiative helps inmates find jobs, homes and become productive members of society.

“We devised programs that we found have worked. One is a program I call, ‘Nine to five is better than 10 to life,’” said Inmate Initiative Program Director Bob Weier.

He said Inmate Initiative is also about paying it forward.

“It’s stuff like this they’re doing out here, let me tell you, nothing is more valuable, because they’re going to be riding down this road with their family in the car and they’re going to point over and say ‘Hey, I helped do that. I invested in our community,’” Weier said.

They hope to bring in the first food truck next week.

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