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Prison gets playground for kids’ visits

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    Women’s Community Correctional Center inmate Maile Bent yesterday helped Charmaine Heanu tie a maile lei around the new playground structure at the facility.
    Women's Community Correctional Center inmate Lisa Avilla watches son, Nevaeh, 5, come down the slide of the new playground structure dedicated today at the WCCC facility. The Rotary Club of East Honolulu and IPR, Inc., donated the structure and labor (along with inmate labor).

Inmates at the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua and their visiting children now have a small oasis to enjoy during their short time together, thanks to a Christmas present from several groups in the community.

A gently used set of playground equipment was donated by Innovative Playgrounds and Recreation, a Honolulu commercial playground supplier. Playground surfacing material was purchased by the East Honolulu Rotary Club and plants that will surround the area came from WCCC’s own nursery.

Volunteers from the East Honolulu and other Rotary chapters, Innovative Playgrounds and inmates put the playground together last weekend. It was dedicated yesterday at a keiki visitation day.

Ian Ross, one of the founders Innovative Playgrounds and a member of the East Honolulu Rotary Club, said that when someone spoke at a Rotary meeting about the benefits of WCCC’s parenting programs, he realized he had a perfect fit.

A playground set that once was at the Federal Building on Ala Moana Boulevard fell into disrepair and was in storage.

"It was nothing a little TLC couldn’t fix," Ross said, adding that the fixes included a fresh coat of paint and replacing the floor boards. He estimated the project cost about $40,000.

WCCC Warden Mark Patterson said about 85 percent of the facility’s 300 prisoners are mothers.

Inmates will have to earn the privilege of using the playground by participating in rehabilitation programs such as Supporting Keiki of Incarcerated Parents, or SKIP, which is run by nonprofit Keiki O Ka Aina Family Learning Centers.

"The whole idea is they have to make a commitment to changing their lives," said Momi Akana, executive director of Keiki O Ka Aina.

Inmates enrolled in the programs, or who have been through them, already have a special indoor area to meet with their children for one-on-one time called Keiki Hale. The playground will provide a new spot for interaction, Akana said.

"It doesn’t have to be big," Akana said of the new playground. "It just has to be big enough for one parent and one child."

Patterson said the playground provides one more environment for mother and child to bond. "In order to practice parenting skills, you need an area, someplace where parent and child can interact," he said.

Christina Riley was carefully monitoring her 3-year-old daughter, Haley Sue Pimental, as the toddler made her way up the side of the playground set.

"I’m grateful to have this and she’s enjoying it, too," said Riley, 29, who gets to see her daughter only twice a year, when she visits from Maui.

Jessica Colon, 25, was enjoying her Keiki Day with daughter Codi Malalis, 7.

"The interaction with her is so important," said Colon, who is not scheduled to leave prison until 2014. "I’m really happy these people would have the heart and give their time for a bunch of inmates. It’s just really awesome."

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