There was a time when Kellyn Cabral spent most of her time getting high, gambling, stealing to fuel that habit, hanging with the wrong crowd and going in and out of jail for doing those things.

But that’s history, she said.

These days, Cabral, a convicted felon, spends her time baking as part of her job as an assistant production manager for Touch A Heart, a Honolulu nonprofit that provides vocational training to those who face high barriers to finding employment. The organization also runs a catering service.

And the 36-year-old also spends a lot of time apologizing.

Touch A Heart baker Kellyn Cabral cookie preparation.
Kellyn Cabral, 36, has been working with and receiving support from Touch A Heart, a Honolulu nonprofit that provides vocational training for federal inmates. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

She would go up to police officers, probation officers and others she had run-ins with in the past and apologize to them for the trouble she’d caused them, according to her and her boss, Robin Kumabe. It’s part of the process of repenting for her mistakes and rehabilitating.

“I had to right my wrongs,” she said. “I had to apologize for my actions.”

After a federal drug-trafficking conspiracy charge put her behind bars for about a year, Cabral said she had a turning point. While receiving treatment for her substance abuse and working on her internship program with Touch A Heart, she began to stabilize her life.

Now, Cabral said her life is completely different. She has a steady job with Touch A Heart. Her family no longer expects her to fail and return to jail. She isn’t using anymore. There is a community of positive people who support her, instead of those who use her and commit crimes with her.

Cabral’s story is a rare one of success in a climate where reentry resources are diminishing in the state. The sole federal halfway house in Hawaii shut its doors at the end of September after nearly 30 years in operation. The Bureau of Prisons has promised that another will take its place, but no concrete plans have been announced.

Cabral was actually supposed to be sent to Mahoney Hale, the halfway house, and start her employment with Touch A Heart in July this year, but had to stay in prison longer because of its closing. She has been out of federal prison for just over a month now.

However, her transformation began long before she left prison, she and her boss said. Cabral said it was only possible because of the overwhelming and unconditional support that Touch A Heart gave her throughout the process, aside from the training and the employment opportunity.

Touch A Heart baker Kellyn Cabral cookie prep with Robin Kumabe.
Kellyn Cabral (left) now works for Touch A Heart as a production manager and Robin Kumabe (right) is her boss. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

She was the first federal pretrial graduate of Touch A Heart’s food services vocational training program. She has since recruited other interns from the federal prison for the organization, Kumabe said.

“I didn’t want to disappoint them, because you know, they’re there cheering for me,” Cabral said.

And now, she wants to be the one to provide the support so other inmates can pull themselves out of bad situations and turn themselves around too, she said.

“I want to be that example,” she said.

A Safe Place

In September 2018, Cabral said she was at the Sand Island Treatment Center. She had a run-in with some of the other residents there, and it ended in her being sent into behavior separation.

That’s when she had her turning point, she said.

“I was empty, like I had nothing to give,” she said.

Cabral said she opened up to Robin and Colin Kumabe of Touch A Heart about that feeling of emptiness. Immediately, she said they surrounded her with love and support, providing a “safe place,” she said.

Then she connected with her religion, and everything sort of just fell into place, she said. “I stopped trying to control it so much,” she said.

Cabral said she started with changing her attitude toward other people. She said she didn’t realize how much she was hurting other people when she thought she was just playing around. From there, she started working on bigger things, such as trying her hardest when she’s working at her job, or being a good mother to her three children.

“She’s looking out for everybody else now,” Kumabe said of Cabral, saying it’s because of people like her that she does the work that she does.

Carol Miyashiro, the chief of the U.S. Pretrial Services in the District of Hawaii, was the one to recommend Cabral to the Touch A Heart program. While she could not give an interview specifically about Cabral, she said in a statement that she was proud of her accomplishment and lauded Touch A Heart’s work.

“The vision, dedication, compassion, professionalism, and hard work by those at TAH is so exceptional, admirable, and authentic,” she said. “Robin (Kumabe) and TAH have truly made a difference in the lives of others, including Kellyn.”

Cabral said her transformation is far from complete. There are still things she wants to understand about herself and others.

“I’m still in the works,” she said.

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