Challenges ex-convicts face to stay out of prison
When parole begins, prisoners are free to leave but they are not free to do whatever they want.
Instead they must follow strict rules to remain in society, and if they don't they are sent back behind bars.
"A lot of them don't have family or money, let alone their vital documents, so it is hard when they come out. Parolees face a lot of challenges," said Women in Need Executive Director Mary Scott-Lau.
At the Women In Need center in Aiea, talk focuses on helping women parolees adjust to their new life. It requires them to steer clear of substance abuse and get a job.
"When they first come out of prison, they want to work right away because they want money. But for many of them the only way they know how to do that is deal. So we try to get them acclimated and find a job that will pay what they need," added Scott-Lau.
Not every employer will hire an ex-convict, which can limit their opportunities.
Scott-Lau adds some who do, may overwork or underpay ex-con employees, "They can definitely be a target because employers know they are on parole. Sometimes they will take advantage of that."
"In 2009, I was arrested and convicted of 140 charges," said Susan Shaw.
She spent 8 years in prison for fraud, ID theft and other charges before being paroled.
She was able to get a job that she enjoyed at a downtown restaurant, and says many parolees make good employees.
"They are going to show up to work because it is required. They going to work hard because they need to pay their bills and restitution, so they need that gainful employment," stated Shaw.
She tells KITV 4 Island News her job came to an end when she rejected advances by her boss.
"He started texting me to come back and have drinks with him. I did not. The next day, he texted again to have drinks and I refused. The following day, he called my parole officer," stated Shaw.
She was accused of credit card fraud and was sent back behind bars.
"I was returned to prison, and waited 57 days then saw the Hawaii Paroling Authority. They found me not guilty and released me," added Shaw.
She was later arrested and convicted of credit card fraud and then spent another two years in prison.
Now she is once again back out on parole and hopeful she won't go back.
"The fear of recidivism, it is so high. Over 8 years in prison I saw women leave, but it was just a matter of time before they would be back," stated Shaw.
Shaw is working once again at a retail job, an important step to stay out of prison. Her success also provides encouragement to other parolees.
"Sometimes people just want to give up hope, and when they don't find gainful employment they go back to their criminal behaviors," said Shaw.
"They've paid their time to society. They deserve a chance. They are wonderful human beings, they are mothers, aunties, and sisters. They have a wonderful life ahead of them, if given the chance," added Scott-Lau.
She adds one of the best ways to reduce the number of ex-cons returning to prison is by providing support from their peers and the community.
Meanwhile for Shaw, as she works to rebuild her life and reconnect with her children, she is appealing her last conviction...even though she has already finished serving her time for it.