Learning center keeps families together, resists intergenerational incarceration

Special to The Hawaii Independent

HONOLULU—Summer is a time when moms don’t have to wake their kids up at the crack of dawn, get them out of bed, prepare breakfast or pack their lunch. It’s a time where moms and kids can sleep in or relax at the beach; luxuries that the incarcerated mother does not have.

Keiki O Ka `Aina Family Learning Centers (KOKA) offers opportunities for mothers and children to cuddle, read, paint nails, and play games together; reigniting the mother child bond during Keiki Fun Days.

In a unique partnership with the Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC) in Kailua, KOKA offers six “Keiki Fun Days” annually. The Mothers Day Fun Day, to be held Saturday, August 6 from noon to 2:00 p.m. will give mothers and their children a chance to do what so many mothers and their children do on the outside: relax, play, eat and bond together. Keiki booths are set up in a carnival like setting; mats, books, and toys envelop the grounds; craft and game centers are located under an outdoor pavilion. A scrumptious mother’s day buffet awaits each mother and grandmother and their children or grandchildren.

In a report published by The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, “Hawaii has the largest proportion of its population of women in prison” (September 2010). They alone are mothers and grandmothers to over 300 island children (Warden Patterson 2008). KOKA’s mentoring program addresses the direct impact parental incarceration has on families in hopes of preventing the children of these inmates from entering prison themselves. 

The average age of children with an incarcerated parent is eight years old; 22 percent of children are under the age of five.

Angel Tree Prison Ministry’s listing of keiki dealing with parental incarcerations in our islands has reached an all time high of 2,000 (January 2010). In order to help rehabilitate the women and help mothers reenter into the community, WCCC and KOKA recognize the importance of working with the whole family. 

Former inmate Jackie Bissen shares that Keiki Fun Days like this one helped her to bond with her son. “It gave me reason to live,” says Jackie, “a chance to be a mom, a chance to hold my son like I never did before and give to him what I always wanted; my love and attention.”

Warden Patterson knows just how critical events like Keiki Fun Days are. “Such special events,” says Patterson, “help maintain the bond between mother and child in an effort to prevent intergenerational incarceration.” 

According to Rucker Johnson, Phd. of The University of California at Berkley Goldman School of Public Policy, over 70 percent of children with a parent in prison will enter or be involved in the criminal justice system by age 16. On the flip side, 30 percent of children impacted by parental incarceration who have a mentor for one year or more help to prevent the intergenerational cycle of incarceration (Amachi Coalition Project 2010).

According to The Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, D.C., the average age of children with an incarcerated parent is eight years old; 22 percent of children are under the age of five.

“Keeping families together and strong, supporting parents as their child’s first teacher and supporting the unique bond between parent and child is what KOKA’s mentoring program is all about,” says Momi Akana, KOKA’s executive director. “Participating parents make positive decisions to change their lives, to have healthy and meaningful relationships with their children and to stay on track once they return home to their families.” 

Jackie and her son participated in Keiki Fun Days and Keiki Hale preschool while she was detained at WCCC. In addition, Jackie’s son had a caring mentor from KOKA’s Mentoring Children of Promise Program. Mentor Kimberly Feliciano became a mentor because mentoring was a way to give back to her community and provide hope to a child.

“Mentoring has changed my life,” says Feliciano.

Jackie’s son has ambitions of becoming a counselor, helping other children in similar situations with his mind, hands, and heart. Jackie is married, employed and just gave birth to a new baby boy.

For more information about mentoring a child of promise or if you know of a child affected by parental incarceration, please contact Momi Akana at (808) 843-2502 or [email protected].