© 2023 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Honolulu Hale showcases art made by Oʻahu inmates

inmate art
Zoe Dym
Art by Raymond 1178 and Jeffrey 5499. The inmates' first names are followed by four digits from their inmate ID number for their privacy.

The John C. Lane Gallery on the ground floor of Honolulu Hale features 64 works of art made by inmates in Oʻahu prisons.

All the pieces come from the nonprofit organization WorkNet, Inc.'s Correctional Art ReEntry program — also known as the CARE project.

WorkNet, Inc. began working with inmates in the Women’s Community Correctional Center in 2007 to help them express their feelings using art.

The inmates at WCCC came up with the idea to make greeting cards for men in supported living centers, the children and their families at Ronald McDonald house, and the women in domestic violence shelters — and the project kept growing.

"We had great success with the program, and inmates who actually have art talent began to be drawn to what we were doing. Before we knew it, we had classes going on at three facilities — the women’s facility, Waiawa, and also Halawa Correctional Facility," said Charles Williams, the executive director of WorkNet, Inc.

The CARE project expanded and now inmates can earn a small income by selling their artwork.

The classes are taught by local artist Mo Kalaikai. He was formerly incarcerated and got out of prison in 2013.

mo kalaikai local art
Zoe Dym
Portraits and drawings by local art teacher Mo Kalaikai.

Kalaikai has been drawing for as long as he could remember. He won several art contests as a student, and continued drawing in prison when other inmates would ask him to draw their portraits.

Kalaikai says inmates need help getting back on their feet — no matter their crime.

"(Guests) say, 'I wanna buy this picture, do you know the inmate?' I thought, does it matter who's the inmate? 'Well I don’t wanna buy something if the guy’s a rapist," Kalaikai told HPR. "Come on. You're helping them out. You're putting money into their accounts so when they come out of jail they get something to fall on."

The artists' full names are hidden for their safety. Their first names are followed by four digits from their inmate ID number.

"There's still people out there that don't quite understand what we're doing, and don't support it," explains Williams.

The Inmate Art Exhibit at Honolulu Hale is open until Aug. 12. More information and purchasable art can be found at worknetinc.org.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
Related Stories