Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you. A woman was on the line, clearly in distress: Her house was being broken into. Terrified, she was hiding in a closet and begging for help — but to no avail. A man soon broke in, raped the woman and killed her. Conner, who had been locked up for seven life sentences — including one for a rape conviction — says listening to the recording was "torture.
It broke me down. I cried profusely," he said. That, right there, was an eye opener. The key to success is holding sex offenders accountable for their past behaviors. A conscious, deliberate choice. And it resulted in a criminal act. Coyne says the program is open to almost all sex offenders who are near the end of their sentences; only those who still maintain their innocence, or are appealing their conviction, are ineligible.
The goal, after all, is to make the participants accountable for their past behaviors, he says. About 80 sex offenders are now enrolled in the core courses, and an additional 23 are participating in after-care.
Sessions are held two to three times a week for the core courses and once a week for after-care, but the duration of the program can vary widely — it could be as short as 10 months or as long as four years, depending on the progress of each participant.
Conner says the set-up discourages participants from trying to game the system. We love to manipulate," Conner said. So this system gives all the leverage that the department needs to ensure that each graduate of the program is ready for re-entry.
To do that, they first have to acknowledge their past behaviors, learn to empathize with their victims, and recognize the series of bad decisions that led them to commit their crime and figure out how to avoid — or deal with — high-risk situations. This can be a lengthy undertaking, Coyne says. You want to keep it secret," Coyne said. If you rape adult women, we want you in your own group.
For Conner, the key was recognizing that he has to be intentional about his actions. Whatever it is, we always have that choice. Ask him about his criminal past, and he gives it straight up: I was locked up with the baddest of the bad. That was the way you responded," Conner said. Two months after his 18th birthday, Conner stole a car and got charged as an adult for the first time. He ended up spending the next eight months at the Oahu Community Correctional Center. When he earned a supervised release, he moved to California — in violation of the terms of his release — and became a bodyguard and chauffeur for a big-time cocaine dealer he had met in jail.
On his way back from California, he also met a woman at the airport and took her back to his hotel room, where he raped her. At the time, he had no compunctions about committing the crimes, Conner says. But, in actuality, I was just out of control.
I needed to be put back inside. They have your face smashed in your stink until you understood that it was your stink and that you had to fix it. There was no room for blaming others, for denying or minimizing your actions. It was hard for me. I get that now," Conner said. It is not worth causing harm to another person. His freedom was short-lived: A year later, Conner was put back into prison after being accused of a technical violation of the terms of his parole.
But he had learned a thing or two about how to represent himself while in prison, so he fought back against the parole board at the federal courts and — after five and a half years — won a reversal of his parole revocation. Since his release in , Conner has stayed trouble-free. Lately, Conner has also begun voicing support for establishing a more comprehensive re-entry program for all prisoners in Hawaii, not just sex offenders.
How is that possible? Then why not expand it? Here, we have a great opportunity to set the standard for how rehabilitation should work in Hawaii.