Inmates battling COVID in the desert

LIHU‘E — Ku‘ulei Alapai is scared her brother will return to Hawai‘i in a body bag.

Her younger brother, Edward Alapai Jr., is currently housed at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona and was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Last month, CoreCivic, which operates the privately run prison, began mass COVID-19 testing at the request of Hawai‘i officials.

Of the 1,023 Hawai‘i inmates tested at Saguaro Correctional Center, 399 tested positive for COVID-19, the Department of Public Safety reported last Friday.

Currently, there are 355 active cases and five hospitalizations.

An additional 749 are in quarantine, and 236 in isolation. The center reported 628 negative results and 51 recoveries as of Friday. About 100 inmates have received inconclusive results or are pending.

Edward Alapai began showing symptoms Oct. 24, according to his sister.

“He’s just going through it,” Ku‘ulei Alapai said. “He’s my brother, I don’t want him to come back in a body bag. There has to be a way so it doesn’t trickle down.”

The transient nature of a correctional facility makes it a microcosm for disease spread, Kaua‘i Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said.

“(Outbreaks) highlight what I’ve been saying the entire time,” Kollar said. “To safely manage a pandemic in a prison system, you must keep population numbers at manageable levels.”

This summer, the O‘ahu Community Correctional Center in Honolulu had a COVID-19 outbreak, with 412 inmates testing positive there along with 99 employees.

The Kaua‘i Community Correction Center (KCCC) has been able to ward off any outbreaks, and after a mass coronavirus testing this summer, came away with zero positive results.

There are 45 inmates that were convicted in the Fifth Circuit currently at the Saguaro facility.

“It’s got to be incredibly stressful to have an incarcerated person part of their family in the middle of a pandemic,” Kollar said.

And that stress can be amplified by just how far Arizona is, Kat Brady, a coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons, reiterated.

“It’s heartbreaking to live in a prison in the middle of the desert,” Brady said.

Edward Alapai was sentenced to 10 years on burglary and theft charges in 2015. His minimum term was April 7 of this year. He has a parole hearing scheduled for November that had been pushed back because of the outbreak.

Ku‘ulei Alapai lives on Maui, and while her brother is incarcerated in Arizona, she waits for his calls. She said she hears the fear in his voice.

“I just know he was healthy before being transferred,” Alapai said.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Saguaro facility, which the state began using in 2007, had increased cleaning and disinfection practices, suspended inmate social in-person visitations, increased sanitization education, and separating high-risk individuals away from the general population.

In June, Donald Heacock of Kaua‘i Organic AgroecoSystems, made a formal request to supervise Alapai, including room, board, employment and transportation to and from “all required appointments in a peaceful and supportive environment.”

“Everybody, including Eddie, needs a second chance,” Heacock said, noting that the office is still there.

Brady said an important part to integrating back into society is having a purpose. And Heacock is a proponent to get back to the land, “get back to our roots producing food.”

The physical work, and chance, they hope, will keep Alapai out of trouble.

“He needs this chance,” his aunt, Blu Dux said. “His adult life is vanishing,”

3 Comments
  1. hutch November 10, 2020 11:37 pm Reply

    Hang on, let me grab my violin for these poor victims of society. Sorry, I save my compassion for people who don’t break into houses and take things that don’t belong to them. Yes, everyone deserves a second chance, but I’m guessing that these criminals were given all sorts of third, fourth and fifth chances before they decided on one more burglary and theft to finance their ice habit. Gavel down, next case, bailiff.


  2. CommonSenseish November 11, 2020 12:09 pm Reply

    Well, I don’t know… maybe next time he will think about the consequences of his actions. He is just another prisoner. Why should he get special treatment?


  3. Annie November 11, 2020 5:58 pm Reply

    The lack of compassion and humility that has raged like a virus in the country over the last couple of decades is disgusting. I am very touched by Donald Heacock’s offer, and hope that he and Edward will be successful in implementing it.


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