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Addressing Drugs on Molokai

With a recent drug-related shooting fresh on people’s minds, Molokai residents are gathering for a revitalized call to action to address the island’s drug problems head on. More than 40 community members from church representatives to police officers, recovering addicts to government officials, gathered last Friday for a workshop led by Toni Bissen, executive director of Pu`a Foundation, a nonprofit that has created a framework for healing trauma within prison walls.

“You look back and we’ve had murder suicides, suicides, domestic violence,” said county council member Stacy Crivello. “We act and then we stop. It’s just our culture, because you know that person and you don’t want to talk about it. It’s going to take community participation [for longterm solutions].”

Bissen stressed Pu`a Foundation’s motto “from trauma to transformation” and how it points to the cycle of drug use beginning with trauma. She said  in a pilot study at the Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC) where the framework has been used since 2006, 100 percent of incarcerated women reported histories of trauma. Bissen said addressing the root cause of drug use is key healing and longterm answers.

“It’s not an overnight solution,” said Bissen. “I’m inspired by the fact that you guys came…. It’s not about one agency doing more treatment… We all wear personal, professional and organizational hats. How are they all implemented into a systemic framework?”

Crystal Lawelawe was previously incarcerated and now stands as an example of success moving past trauma and drug use to be a speaker on various panels. She shared her experiences with the Molokai attendees.

“About a year ago, my brother committed suicide, and one of the factors was drugs,” she said. “I realized there was a lot of internal things going on inside…. Growing up in my family, I’ve seen a lot of drugs, a lot of alcohol, a lot of violence…. I’m proud to be a recovering addict, because if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be able to stand up here and share. When we talk about healing process, what can we do to bring the community together? It’s a beautiful thing.”

Bissen shared the framework used by the Pu`a Foundation that has brought a positive change for so many at WCCC. She explained that trauma can come in many forms, such as individual, community or historic trauma, and the importance of facilitators working through that pain through trauma-informed care framework that incorporates staff, programs, environment, community and other factors. At the heart of healing is creating a pu`uhonua, or place of sanctuary, she explained, where trauma victims can feel safe. She suggested using a similar framework model on Molokai that includes faith-based groups, nonprofits, government agencies and businesses.

Police Captain Ricky Uedoi, who attended the workshop, said from a law enforcement standpoint, the department made 435 drugs arrests on Molokai consisting of 43 males and 26 males in 2015.

“The message is that when people come forward with info, we’re going to look into it and take action,” he said. “The police are out there addressing concerns. We look at community working together and helping us with information… Drugs ruin lives and they gotta think not just of themselves but of the families and who they’re impacting and long term impacts of being involved in drugs.”

Crivello suggested bringing in a community facilitator to help connect many of the pieces already existing on Molokai. Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Colette Machado called the timing “ripe” to move forward.

“Since the shooting, things have moved to where vandals have attempted to burn the curtains of a Ho`olehua church,” said Machado. “There’s been two break-ins at [another church.] We had one suicide just last week. At the Middle School, there is an issue of the possession of marijuana… As the issues enlarge, I feel its ripened to where we are ready to sit down.”

For more information on the Pu`a Foundation, visit puafoundation.org and stay tuned for future community meetings.

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