Linda Apo & Marilyn Vierra (Hawaii, USA)

“Prison became a place of transformation for me.”

Linda Apo served two prison sentences for theft crimes in a woman’s correctional gaol on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii. As a result she became alienated from her family, especially her sister Marilyn Vierra who had supported Linda through many years of drug addiction. Following a recovery program in the prison, Linda took part in Huikahi Restorative Circle and reconciled with her sister. A Restorative Circle is a group process for individual prisoners and their loved ones to assist with healing for families.

 

Linda

My past is full of pain – abuse, violent relationships, drug addiction and theft. I never had a childhood. As the eldest I cared for my brothers and sisters until we were taken from our mom and sent to the mainland to live with our father. Here I encountered prejudice for the first time and built up a lot of anger and resentment. I felt like a victim and learnt to shut down my feelings until I was numb inside. I married four times – always looking for love outside of myself. I have five children and all of them have been affected by my lifestyle. Two of my children are in prison, and the other three were adopted. My children were my victims too, but I never intentionally wanted to hurt anyone.

Things just snowballed until eventually I was convicted of credit card fraud. When I first did time, I didn’t want to change but during my second sentence the prison chaplain introduced me to the Total Life Recovery program which was the start of my healing. Prison became a place of transformation for me. On the program I made a promise to myself and to God that I would change. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do but also the most important decision I’ve ever made in my life.

Having worked on myself I needed to heal the broken relationships in my family. My sister Marilyn, in particular, who had always supported me had finally been unable to take anymore and shut me out. It was suggested in prison that I should take part in Huikahi Restorative Circle – a process intended to bring families back together. At first I didn’t want to do it; I didn’t want to feel the pain and I was scared of rejection again.

I was so happy when Marilyn agreed to attend. The Circle lasted an hour and so much happened in that time. It was like an assessment of my entire life, and how I needed to change. It was also an opportunity for me to apologise to my family and for them to tell me how my actions had hurt them. It was very tough but I was happy in the end because Marilyn was so positive. It was the beginning of growth for me and helped me put everything back together

Forgiving myself is the hardest part. I never had the heart to hate anybody and yet before I didn’t know how to behave in a real or loving way. For me love meant sex. Now I’m learning to love from inside and getting to know myself. The  Huikahi Restorative Circle helped me go places I’ve never been before, take steps I’ve never taken. Healing is a slow process but I’m getting there. I see miracles in my life every day and I am determined to be an example to my children.

Marilyn

I was always the soft one in the family, so when my brothers and sisters had drug addiction problems they came to me for help. For 20 years I obliged them – giving them money, helping them out. I was born with a forgiving nature and so it was easy to forgive their behaviour – although it was hurting me inside. Then I read about “tough love” and it opened my eyes. I wasn’t the one taking substances, but I realised I was a victim just as they were. I was being used. At that point I became focussed on self-preservation. I had to accept there was nothing I could do to help Linda – and for about a year I didn’t speak to her. Then she sent me a letter regarding the Huikahi Restorative Circle and I agreed to attend.

In that room everything changed. I felt great compassion for Linda’s courage to speak with us and for trying to change. I could see she felt shame and I hugged her and told her I forgave her. Without the Huikahi Restorative Circle I would have kept that wall up and not allowed Linda back in. Through sitting together and listening to each other, I learnt to have trust in Linda again.