One of the inmates who recently went on a hunger strike to protest conditions at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center pleaded with a judge Wednesday to get him out of there.
"I would like to go back to Halawa," William Shinyama said of the state prison where he was serving time for assault, robbery and other charges. He was sent to the federal facility after he and 17 others were indicted on charges of being part of the "USO Family" prison gang. "If no can, I just gotta rough it out."
Shinyama told U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi that he pleaded guilty to the indictment because he was so desperate to get out. He said he and his co-defendants who are at the facility have been unfairly isolated in a segregated unit for about seven months, where they’re subjected to conditions including extreme cold, a lack of access to law books and retaliation from guards when they complain.
"I told myself I might as well plead guilty, get the thing over with and move already," Shinyama said.
His lawyer, Louis Ching, asked Kobayashi to make the "bold" call to allow Shinyama to return to Halawa until his sentencing in June, where he’ll have to go back to Halawa anyway. As an alternative, he suggested that the sentencing be moved up to reduce the amount of time he has to spend in the federal prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Nammar said Shinyama shouldn’t be allowed to return to the facility where he’s a gang leader. "It’s no surprise he wants to go back to the place where he rules the roost," he said.
Inmates Tineimalo Adkins and James Moser have joined in Shinyama’s motion. They are among a group of about eight who went on a hunger strike that lasted about four days to protest the conditions, provoked by discovering maggots in their cereal. At the time, facility spokesman Jeffrey Greene said allegations of insects in food are unfounded.
Adkins told the judge he’s been denied medical attention for an eye cyst and isn’t given access to an imam so he can practice his Muslim faith.
Kobayashi said she’s concerned about "deprivation of certain constitutional rights," such as access to legal help, medical care and religion.
Greene and a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. In court documents filed by prosecutors opposing the inmates’ motion, a special investigator for the detention center wrote that there are no records showing Shinyama sought to address any concerns through an administrative grievance process.
The inmates said it’s futile to file complaints because doing so only makes things worse for them.
Ching said the inmates who testified at Wednesday’s hearing are taking a big risk: "They’ve come forward knowing that when they go back to FDC there will be retaliation against them."
If the judge grants their request it "will send a message to the FDC … they should make changes to their system," he said.
Kobayashi said she’ll take the arguments under advisement and issue a ruling later. In the meantime, she asked Nammar if he could contact officials at the facility to at least ensure the inmates receive an extra blanket to keep warm.