WCC’s Puʻuhonua Program helps Paʻahao Earn College Certificates


By Bonnie J. Beatson, WCC Marketing and Public Relations Director

Twelve women at the Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC) have been awarded certificates from Windward Community College (Windward CC) that will allow them to eventually pursue careers in counseling, drug treatment, and community health services.

The women were enrolled in Windward CC’s Puʻuhonua Program which requires completion of 27 college credit hours to earn a psycho-social development academic subject certificate. The rigorous program includes classes in psychology, sociology, community health work, as well as an Introduction to College course.

“Puʻuhonua: Places of Sanctuary,” is a five-year U.S. Department of Education Title III Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions grant, which ends this year. Through the Puʻuhonua Program, Windward CC offers free college courses to incarcerated women at the WCCC, Hālawa Correctional Facility, and the Hawaiʻi Youth Correctional Facility.

Photo: Momi Cody
Puʻuhonua graduate Momi Cody. – Photo: Courtesy

To date, participants have earned a total of 1,258 college credits with 12 certificates awarded. The average grade point average of the students is 3.6 with an 87.5% success rate.

“The academic attainment of these women represents not just the fulfillment of their dreams through perseverance and hard work, but the amplification of dreams for their children and relatives, and hope for their communities,” said Windward CC Chancellor Ardis Eschenberg.

Puʻuhonua graduate Momi Cody took college courses beginning in 2018 until her release in 2022 to pass the time during her seven years of incarceration.

“Prison changed everything. I was a street person; I did crime for fun,” said Cody. “Then I had nothing…and a lot of time. So, I decided to take the Introduction to College course, and then I gave the psycho-social development certificate a shot. I eventually took every class they offered.”

In addition to earning the psycho-social development certificate, Cody earned a culinary certificate from Kapiʻolani Community College, tutored fellow inmates toward earning their GEDs, and also trained them to be tutors.

“While I was in prison, I became a little obsessed,” Cody added, “I was in education from 8:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.”

Puʻuhonua Coordinator Nani Pagan says education is particularly impactful for incarcerated students who face hurdles in successfully obtaining employment after release. The Puʻuhonua program expands participants’ skills, and knowledge base, and allows students to grow in self-agency to more fully realize their potential.

For Cody, the future is bright. She is finishing an associate degree and mental health technician certificate at Windward CC while serving as a part-time Puʻuhonua peer mentor. And next fall she will enroll at UH Mānoa’s Thompson School of Social Work and Public Health with a goal of working with troubled youth and using her knowledge and experiences to help others.

Chancellor Eschenberg is grateful for the partnership with WCCC and the Department of Public Safety and hopes to expand the program. “We want to provide a greater number of Hawaiʻi’s incarcerated population with the qualifications for future employment and recognition of their intelligence and resilience – as well as to honor their growth and hard work,” said Eschenberg.

Cody’s college success through the Puʻuhonua Program tells the story. “I think differently now,” she said. “College has given me something to strive for.”

For more information about the Puʻuhonua program, contact Nani Pagan at nnd@hawaii.edu. To help support education for incarcerated students, donations are accepted at giving.uhfoundation.org to fund #13015504.