perseverance

Our American Family:
The Furutas

 

Through hard work, the Furutas, a Japanese American family in Wintersburg, CA established a successful goldfish farm, only to have their business devastated and family separated in the wake of WWII. Following years in an Arizona relocation camp, their indomitable spirit prevails as they return home and band together to pursue the American dream a second time.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX - Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop

 

The conversation with Chief Susan Ballard continues with insights into her almost-33 years with the Honolulu Police Department. She reveals the ways she had to prove herself as a rare woman on the police force and how she is breaking the mold of her predecessors by just being herself.

 

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Sept. 2, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Ballard: Path to Top Cop Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You know, this lady, a nice Japanese lady, she let me come, she let me sleep on her floor.  For four months, I was there.  We had lunch maybe about a month ago.  And she reminded me, because I had started the process to go into the police department. And she said: Do you remember what you told me?  And this was not when I was living with her, but after I had moved out, but you know obviously, we stayed friends.  She said: You remember what you told me?  And I said: No.  And she says: I’ll never forget that I asked you, How long are you gonna stay in the police department?  ‘Cause she knew it wasn’t anything I really wanted to do.  And I said: Ah, I think I’m gonna stay until I make chief.   And I said: I really said that?  And she said: I will never forget that; and when you made chief, it was just like I was like, holy cow, that really happened.

 

Thirty-two years later.

 

Yup; thirty-two years later.  Exactly.

 

When Susan Ballard joined the police force in 1985, there were few women cops, let alone in high positions.  She didn’t necessarily plan to make a career of being a police officer, but she persevered, and overcame barriers. Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Susan Marshall Ballard grew up in the South, raised to be a proper Southern lady.  She moved to Honolulu in the early 80s with no particular plans, other than to look for work at McDonald’s as a manager, a job she’d done before, until she figured out what to do next.  Ballard became friends with police officers at the Central YMCA, and they persuaded her to apply at the Police Department.  Now, there weren’t many women cops at the time, and there were many male officers who felt that women were not up for the job and could put them in harm’s way.

 

I guess I’ve always been a rebel, too.  I mean, you know, even growing up, I was kind of a tomboy, you know, just because you sorta had to, to take care of yourself because of the situation. But when I went into recruit school, we had like about four women.  We started out with like four women in our class, which was a large amount at the time. And unfortunately, I think we only ended up—I’m sorry, started with five, and we graduated with three that continued on, actually all the way through retirement.  Two of ‘em retired already; I’m the only one left.  But you really did have to prove yourself.  I mean, when you went to defensive tactics, it was like, you know, they would try their best to try and, you know, get you to quit, you know, to give up.  You know, I always tell the story that, you know, there was a bunch of men in the class who formed the I Hate Women Club.  You know, because they didn’t think that women should be in the police department.  Well, I didn’t care.  I would jump in the truck with them and say: Well, sorry, I’m going with you regardless. You know, and I think after you kinda push yourself on ‘em enough, and they see that you can, you know, take care of yourself and you weren’t gonna back down, then you know, things became easier. Is it right?  Well, no, it wasn’t, but you know, that’s the way it was going through recruit school.

 

But you didn’t take offense?

 

No; I really didn’t.  You know, it didn’t really faze me.  Maybe because I was just kind of oblivious, or maybe I was in my own world somewhere, but I didn’t pay that much attention to it.  I’ll never forget when I first went out on the road, the first case that I went to, you know, the guy who was supposed to be covering me off—and it was a domestic.  So, I went in and I said: Are you coming in?  And he’s standing outside the door of this, and he says: No.  And I was like: Okay.

 

No backup.

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, I went in, and you know, resolved the situation and stuff.  And then after that, he was okay.  But I had to prove that, you know, you could.  And you know, couple of the other stories, you know, that I tell is that when I was down in Waikīkī, we had a hostage situation, so we had to call out SSD. At that time, it was the SWAT team. And it was my beat, so it was like, whoo, I was all excited because, you know, I was gonna, you know, be there, you know, and you have this case.  And so, the SWAT team came, and the SWAT major was there.  And my lieutenant, you know, bless his heart, Wally Akeo, he was like the best lieutenant ever.  But you know … he came, and I says: Okay.  I said: You know, I’m gonna go ask, you know, what is it that I can do, because it’s my beat, I want to make sure that I do what I can.  So, I went up to the major of the SWAT team and I said: Excuse me, sir. I said: What is it that you want me to do?  He said: Be a good girl and go get us some coffee.  Well, me being the person I am, I was ready to rip—I didn’t care what his rank was, I was ready to rip into him.  God bless my lieutenant; he grabs me by the shirt and just pulls me out.

 

And he tells me: Calm down; go over there, just calm down.  But did you hear what he said to me?  And he says: Just take it easy.  But you know, those are the types of things, you know, that we had to deal with.  Even at the main station … I don’t know, way back when, our director said that women had to wear brassieres.  It was required.  And so, during our lineups, our lieutenants would come behind us like this, the women, and check like this to see if we had a brassiere on.  Yeah.

 

Wow!

 

Yeah.

 

It sounds like the Middle Ages.

 

Exactly.  Well, I mean, uh, even the weight room.  The weight room was behind the men’s locker room.  And so, for us to go workout in the weight room, we had to walk through the men’s locker room.  And so, we were only allowed to go down one side of the locker room, and as we approached the door, we had to yell: Woman coming through, woman coming through! Well, I mean, let’s face it; all that’s gonna do is egg ‘em on.  So, you can imagine.  Man, we got flashed, I mean, anything that you can imagine.  They always told us: You don’t look, you keep your eyes straight ahead.  It didn’t make any difference what they did.  It was: You look straight ahead.  But, yeah.  So, it was an interesting time.

 

And there was a time when an interview board asked you what rank you thought you thought you would want to be, and you said captain.

 

I did.

 

And they said?

 

They laughed.  They said: Oh, there’ll never be a woman captain.  Okay, well … good.  Okay; whatever.  You needed to ask me something, I answered.  I didn’t even know what a captain was at the time, actually.  So, you know, I figured, hey, that sounds high. I’ll just shoot for captain.

 

 

Along the way, I’m sure you made friends and got advice, too.  What kinds of advice helped you along the way as a, at the time, rare woman, and still a rare woman in the police department?

 

You know, I go back that, you know, I was very lucky as I came through, because I had a lot of really good supervisors.  And obviously, they were all men, because at the time, there weren’t that many women supervisors.  But Bill Clark was my major at the training division when I had become sergeant.  And you know, I guess one of the things I always remember about him is that he would just tell us, he says: You guys do whatever it is that you need to do; you go create programs, do whatever.  And that’s kind of what I got from—you know, take risks and stuff.  You know, try it.  If it doesn’t work, it’s okay.  Then I had Steven Watarai, Chief Watarai at the time.  And everybody was just in fear of him.  I mean, it was like when they told me I was gonna go and work for him, I was like: Oh, no.  I said: I’m in trouble now.  But you know what?  He sat me down and he says: You know what?  He says: I trust you, until you show me that you can’t trust you anymore.  And you know what?  And he always … he would support you, he would, you know, go to bat for you.  You know, and he was true to this word.  And as long as you didn’t do anything that caused him not to trust you, he was behind you one hundred percent.  So, I mean, like I say, I was very lucky.  And like Wally Akeo, when I was in Waikīkīwhen I first went down there, you know, because there were very few women, but he always encouraged me to like, take the sergeant’s test.  He would encourage me to go out and do things that, you know, I wouldn’t normally do. And you know, he would basically tell me: You can do whatever it is that you want to do.  And you know, and that was back, you know, in ’88, you know, back when it was unheard of.  So, like I said, I’ve always really been lucky for the most part, always working with some good supervisors who were very supportive.

 

And then, you dismissed the flack, pretty much. You just decided that you weren’t gonna deal with that.

 

Yeah. Yeah.  You know, I gave this talk to my managers.  And one of the things that I said is, you know, I learn a lot from my dogs.  And one of ‘em is, if you can’t play with it, you can’t eat it, pee on it and walk away.

 

And sometimes, you know what?  If something doesn’t serve you, if it’s not working for you, you know what, you just gotta walk away from it.  You can’t pay it any mind.  It’s like it’s not worth you spending time to worry about.  And I think that’s kind of been, you know, my philosophy all along. ‘Cause you can find yourself getting caught up in things and going: Oh, well, this person’s out to get me, and this person.  But you know what, then you’re letting them control your life.  You have to control your own life.  You can’t let people make you upset because they control you. You’ve gotta control the way that you feel.  And it’s a constant reminder.  I mean, even to this day.  But you know, I mean, that’s one of the things.  If you find yourself getting caught up in stuff, you know, it’s like: Okay, stop. You need to control your own destiny. Don’t let other people control what you think, or what you say.

 

And don’t spend one more moment on it; right?

 

Exactly; exactly.

 

Former Police Chief Louis Kealoha was running the Police Department when Susan Ballard turned in her retirement papers.  Morale in the Department was low, as the police force watched and waited for the Chief to be indicted in a Federal corruption case. A series of events during this time turned Susan Ballard in a new direction.

 

You’d been through years and years of police being unhappy with chiefs.

 

Kinda interesting.  When I was commander of District 4 out in Kāneohe and Kailua, I had said that, you know, when I hit, I think it was like twenty-eight years, I was gonna retire.  So, I was at twenty-seven, and Chief Kealoha and Deputy Chief McCauley were in power.  And they really started … and for whatever reason, you know, I don’t know what it is, and obviously when you have power like that, you have people who are gonna kowtow to you and do whatever it is that they want, so that they can get ahead. And you know, and I saw that.  And so, one person did that, and they made allegations, you know.  Oh, well, you know, she’s not being a team player, or whatever.  And it’s like without even asking me why I was doing what I was doing, it was like: Okay, well, you’re out of there.  You know, you’re going down to Central Receiving Desk, which was, you know, like the place where you buried people.  It was the bad place to work, you know.  We only send people down there who were you know, not doing well, and all this other stuff.  So that’s what happened.  And instead of retiring, I said: You know what?  I’m gonna stay around, and I’m just gonna be a needle in their side. So, I thanked them for transferring me out of District 4, because if they hadn’t, if they’d let me stay there one more year, I would have been gone.  But they didn’t.  Once again, as I said, everything happens for a reason.  So, I went down to the desk.  And I was quite unhappy when I went to the desk.  It was like, you know, I’m not gonna do anything.  You know, it’s like, you know what, the heck with these people.  But then, after about a week or two, you know, I started meeting the people who were working down there and says: You know what, these people don’t deserve it. And so, you know what?  I made up my mind at that point in time; I says: We are going to make Central Receiving Desk the best place to work in the Department. We are gonna take care of our little corner of the world.  We didn’t care what was happening on the outside.  They can do whatever it is that they were doing, but we were gonna take care of Central Receiving.  And that’s exactly what we did.  And I got a team together, the sergeants, the lieutenants, you know, the officers who were down there.  Awesome group of people.  I mean, all of a sudden, it went from a place where half of ‘em would transfer out. Every time that there was a transfer, the people were putting their names in to come and join us down at Central Receiving Desk.  So, I decided, you know what, it was great.  And I knew that they would never transfer me, because they weren’t gonna put me anywhere.  So, it was like, great; just leave me down here.  I was having a great time, you know, I had a great group of people to work with.  And so, lo and behold, you know, all this started happening.  Well, we kinda knew what was going on, I think, long before, you know, the public. And so, you know, when it came out, and then he finally retired … because the indictment was taking so long, I thought, you know what—I mean, ‘cause it was like, two years, three years, or whatever that it took.  And I thought: You know what, I’m just gonna retire.  I said: You know what, I’ve got thirty-two years in the department, um, you know, I’m not gonna, apply for the position.  But what had happened was that officers, not just the people who were working down at the desk, but the officers would coming in, and they would ask me: Are you putting in for Chief?  And I said: No, I think I’m just gonna retire.  So, it was actually the officers, they said: Please, we’re asking you, please put in to become Chief.  And I said: All right.  And I did. And so, I put in.  But honestly, I never thought that this would happen, because of what was going on, you know, with the Chief, that obviously the public, the commission, everybody thought, you know, we’re gonna go on the outside, we’re gonna pick somebody who’s not in the department, ‘cause everybody in the department is corrupt.

 

But it helped you to be sidelined.

 

It was.

 

You were on the outs.

 

Everything happens for a reason.  It was great. I mean, otherwise, you know what, I probably would have, you know, never been selected because, you know, I would have been tainted, you know, with that administration.

 

On October 25, 2017, the Honolulu Police Commission announced its appointment of Major Susan Ballard to become Honolulu’s eleventh Police Chief, and first woman at the top of the Department.

 

When you’re the police chief, you run on O‘ahu. I don’t know if it’s still true, but it was once the eleventh largest city in America, the whole island.  But essentially, you’re running a mini city.

 

Right.

 

What’s that like every day?  When do you start, what do you do?

 

Well, I mean, I do all my workout in the morning.  Because I know that once my day starts, I’ll lose control.

 

Are you a gym person, or do you do that at home?

 

Actually, I’ve got my weight room at home, and then I do my yoga at, you know, a couple of different yoga studios in town.  And then, you know, I’ll jog on my treadmill like three days a week, or whatever. And then, kinda like do a boot camp type workout.  But it’s all within my house.  I really don’t belong to a formal gym, other than the yoga studios.  Because I’m an early morning person, I mean like, really early.

 

Early; how early?

 

Like, I wake up like, midnight.  I mean, because I have a hard time sleeping.

 

When do you go to sleep?

 

That’s why the nighttime events are so hard sometimes, because I usually try and get to bed by about seven-thirty.  And so, yeah, my sleep … I mean, I had insomnia for quite a while, so now that if I can get four or five hours sleep, I’m like: Yes!

 

And then, you wake up around midnight?

 

Yeah. And so, I usually do my workout, and stretching and then, you know, getting ready, and then go do my workout and stuff.  And that usually takes me ‘til maybe about two o’clock in the morning, two-thirty. And then, that’s when I walk my dogs.

 

Wow …

 

So, everybody in Kailua knows, here’s the crazy chief, she’s walking around.

 

It’s funny, because the newspaper people delivering newspapers, they stop by and say good morning.  You know. And then after that, when I come home, then I usually have time to take like about an hour nap.  And then, I get up and then I go do yoga or whatever usually around five, five-thirty, six o’clock.

 

You’ve had a full day by the time you get to work.

 

I do. And that’s why tell people; I said: You know, your five o’clock in the afternoon is my like, midnight.  Okay?

 

Right, right.

 

Yeah. So, yeah.  And then, I usually get to work, and then you know, try and you know, clear up the email.  But like I said, a lot of times, I just have um, events and, you know, those types of things.  And then, we have what we call chief’s reviews, so I, you know, go out to the different districts and the divisions and, you know, talk to the officers.  And we do a little different.  Before, it was very formal.  Now, I like, you know, the officers just to sit down, and I want ‘em to ask questions.  And they can ask questions about anything.  And I told ‘em; I said: If I can answer ‘em, I’m gonna answer ‘em.  If I can’t, I’m gonna find the answer and get back to you.  And they know, I’m not gonna take offense to anything that you ask.  And I think the officers, you know, are realizing that. If I’m lucky enough to have a block of time free, I’ve been trying actually go out and jump in a car with one of the officers, and then, you know, go patrolling with ‘em.  Because you know, you learn a lot from ‘em, sitting in the car with them, you know, talking.  I was down in Chinatown couple days ago, you know, and I was talking to some of the homeless when we were getting ‘em to move off the sidewalk. So, you know, I try and do that, you know, because at the same time, you know, the officers want to know that you’re there for them as well.  So, I mean, it’s not just the community like I said before, but you know, it’s for the officers as well.

 

It’s true; you have a lot of constituents.

 

You know, one thing that people get upset about more than anything else is like parking, and being stopped.  You know, and and they’re all: Oh, you know, you’re just giving us a parking tag, or you’re just giving us a citation because you need the money.

 

Yeah; you should chase real crime.

 

Right; exactly.  You know. And we tell ‘em, we says: Okay, well, first let me clear up a misconception.  HPD doesn’t get any of the money from the citations.  It all goes to the State; nothing comes to us.  But you know, we tell ‘em.  You know, I mean, one of our biggest complaints—like I had one gentleman at one of the talks, and he was very outspoken, that he felt that it was highway robbery that we were stopping people, you know, for different types of traffic violations, and that we should be out there solving the real crimes. And I told him, I said: Do you know what the number one complaint is from the communities, from almost every single community, besides the homeless—we’ll just leave that out for now. But it’s parking problems, and speeding, and other types of traffic, you know, violations.  I said: So, we’re out there doing what the community is asking us to do.  And you know, I mean, it’s just like DUIs.  You know, you stop someone who’s drunk, and they go: Why you stopping me, I didn’t kill anybody.  Not yet.

 

That guy’s drunker than me.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you feel like people are really watching closely?

 

They do.  You know, and I think more so initially.  Like for example, you know, before, if I went out to dinner or, you know, or I’d meet my friends over at Whole Foods in Kailua, and we’d have, you know, a couple of beers or whatever.  I mean, I ride my bike everywhere, I don’t drive my car.  But now, as Chief, I you know, choose not to ever drink in public or have a drink, because people don’t know, they don’t know that I’m not driving. You know, they see me and they think: Oh, well, here she is, having a beer, and you’re talking about drinking and driving.  So you know, I’m very careful about that type of thing.  Um, so that, you know, on the weekends, after I come back from a hot yoga class, I like to have a beer.  So, you know, I’ll have that at home.  But, yeah. So, I mean, that’s something that you know, I force on myself not because, you know, anybody else had said: Oh, well, you can’t do this, or that anybody ever made a comment.  I guess I’m probably my worst enemy.

 

In the more recent past, police chiefs haven’t served all that long.  It hasn’t been a long tenure for them, maybe seven years, five years.  Before, there were long-serving police chiefs.

 

Right.

 

What do you think you’ll do?

 

You know, I’m older than most.  So, you know, like I tell people; I said: You know, we’re just taking it one year at a time. You know, I don’t know, in five years, you know.  And a lot of it is the tenure is shorter because there are just so many issues.  It’s not like before, where it was a more, hate to say, simpler time.  But it was. But now, I mean, I would not want to be an officer out on the road now.  There is so much stuff that they have to deal with and do that, you know, we didn’t have to do coming up.

 

Yeah; I was just thinking about men in the police department over the years, and you know, there is a certain amount of stoicism and, you know, a face that doesn’t show emotion, and sunglasses, and not talking too much.

 

Yes.

 

Did you ever feel like, hey, that’s kind of a model, strength; quiet strength model.

 

It is, and it’s still.  And I mean, even you go up to the chief level.  Because, I mean, you know, all the other chiefs have been pretty stoic, and you know, the model that you’re talking about.  And I think that might have been a big difference, big change for people, you know, the officers who are in the department, ‘cause now all of a sudden, you’ve got somebody who is, for lack of a better term, I’m very loquacious.

 

And you know, we laugh and we joke.  I mean, before, if you went up on the fourth floor, which is where the assistant chiefs and our offices are, you could hear a pin drop.  I mean, it was dead silence.  I mean, you know, it was like you went into this—it’s almost quiet as a cemetery.  Now, you go up there, and people laughing and joking, and you know.  I mean, it’s a big change.  And even the officers, it’s like all of a sudden now, they seem to have permission to smile.  It’s okay to smile, it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to be happy.  You don’t have to always put up that face.  Unfortunately, we’re still trying to, you know, like with the public, you don’t have to be that robot, that perfect person.  I said: You know, you can come out of your shell. Because, I mean, most of ‘em are very personable people, you know, once you get to know ‘em.  But it seems like, you know, all these years, that is you know, the way that officers are portrayed.  So, we’re trying to break that mold, you know, and trying to move out of that realm.

 

Well, you heard what the Mayor’s representative—I think the Mayor was out of town, but it was Roy Amemiya saying, you know, that you’ve been chosen, and your job is to restore trust in the police.  And it is true that there’ve been a number of scandals and incidents such as domestic violence, and an unwillingness to address that.  And how do you plan to restore that trust?

 

You know, it’s kinda interesting that when I first became Chief, it was during Christmas season, parade season.  And so, I was, you know, walking in some of the parades, and you know, people were, you know, yelling and cheering, and stuff.  And I was just walking down.  It’s like, wow, they’re really excited about their parades.  And one of my deputy chiefs turned to me and said: Chief … you know, I think they’re cheering, they’re yelling because you’re going by. And I’m going: What?  And so, I started going over and shaking people’s hands and stuff, and you know, and basically saying: Thank you.  And it was just so humbling that everything that this department has gone through, you know, in the last several years, that the community—and this was everywhere, was willing to forgive and forget.  I mean, maybe not totally forget, because it’s always gonna be back there.  It wasn’t just the community’s trust that was broken; our department internally, the officers’ trust was completely obliterated.  I mean, to the point where you had retirees that were embarrassed to say that they retired from the Honolulu Police Department, and that they would not say anything.  But you know what?  It’s nice to hear now that, you know, they’re proud of saying that they are, you know, retired from the Honolulu Police Department, ‘cause they see that we are trying to change.  And just like I tell people when we go outside, I said: It’s not gonna happen overnight.  And I’m not gonna tell you that our officers aren’t gonna do anything wrong, because they absolutely will; it’s no different from your children.  They’re gonna make bad decisions, and they’re gonna make bad choices, but we are going to address it.  I tell people even now, the people who get promoted; I said: You know, the higher you go, the more humble you need to be.  Why do you need to flaunt your power?  I mean, yeah, you’ve got it, it’s there.  But why?  I mean, if you have to do that, then obviously, you’re doing something wrong. I said: You know, you should be the most humble person in the world, the higher up that you go.  Because you know, that way people feel comfortable around you, and you can get a lot more things done.

 

At the time of our conversation, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard was eight months into her five-year term as Police Chief, and one month shy of her thirty-third year in the Department. Mahalo to Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing your stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

You know, I always tell people; I said: You know, as long as you do the right thing, for the right reason, in the right way, then I feel fine.  I mean, you’re never gonna get everybody to agree.  There’s always gonna be somebody who disagrees with you. And that’s just the world that we live in.  But as long as you don’t do anything, you know, mean or retaliatory, but you do it for the betterment of the community, the betterment for the officers, then how can you go wrong.  You know. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit, okay, well, we messed up.  Or if a law is passed and says: Oh, well, you can’t do this anymore.  Okay, well, you know, you’ve given me my direction, you know, and we’ll have to move in that direction.  But as long as long as you do it with a good heart, and you’re doing it for the right reason, you know, I can go home and I can sleep at night.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Ballard: Finding Strength in Childhood

 

Honolulu Police Department Chief Susan Ballard reflects on her formative years growing up in the South and the difficult experiences that drove her to develop strength and resiliency.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Aug. 26, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Ballard: Finding Strength in Childhood Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

It was a very interesting upbringing with my mom.  She was really into the manners, and the whole Emily Post.  And believe me, it stuck with me.  When you were at the table, if you ever tried to, like, reach across the table, your hand would get smacked, you know.

 

You always made sure you passed things around the table.  You had to have conversation.  And you know, when you think back, to this day, I really think that that’s one of the things that’s missing from so many families.  That, you know, if you really sit down and have a meal with your entire family, and you force the kids to talk about their life or what happened, you know, during school or whatever, you know, I think, one, social skills.  You know, instead of always looking at the computer.  And two, I think that, you know, we would have a lot less problems than we would have today if we still had family dinners.

 

The young life of future Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard was a mixture of practicing good manners, while learning to stand up for herself.  Sometimes, the two did not mix, but the result was that she grew up with strength of character, and people skills that helped her to become Honolulu’s top police officer.  Police Chief Susan Ballard, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Susan Marshall Ballard became Honolulu’s first female Chief of Police in 2017, and hers was not a meteoric rise.  Barriers take time to overcome.  She had already served thirty-two years on the force.  Ballard was born and raised in the South, with Southern manners required at home.  But the kids at school were not genteel in their teasing.  She says they made fun of her for being tall and wide, with buck teeth. Her parents’ divorce forced her to grow up quickly, and as a young woman, she says she experienced domestic violence by a boyfriend.

 

I was born in Norfolk, Virginia.  But unfortunately, I was only there for about maybe five years before we moved away. And we moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and that’s where I started school.  And then, I was only there for about a year, and then, we moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina.  And no, my family was not in the military.  But my father was into the manufactured homes, so we always seemed to end up in large military cities.  So I went there.  I finished elementary school and junior high school, and high school in Fayetteville.

 

So, was he a salesman in mobile homes?

 

Yes, he was.  And then, he eventually became president of the company, and doing the manufactured homes. So, I lived in uh, mobile homes. I was the typical Southern type girl. You know, we started out in a single wide, and yeah, got to play out in the yard barefoot.

 

You know, run around in the South.  You know. And then we moved to double-wides, and then I think it was probably about junior high school, we had our first house.  We bought our first house in Fayetteville.

 

And your mother?

 

My mom was a homemaker up until my mother and father got a divorce.  And so, she took care of the house, and took care of us.  And then, she went back to work as a secretary at an insurance agency. Speaking of my mom, she used to always tell us when we were growing up that it’s not your kuleana.  And this was from the South.  And so, you know, we knew that it meant responsibility.  And this is like, North Carolina, and this is like, way back.  And so, when I came over here and I found out kuleana, and I was like … they said: Oh, that’s a Hawaiian word.  I says: No, it’s from the South.  And then, because, I mean, my mom—so I have no idea how she ended up getting that.

 

That’s so interesting.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah.  Yeah. ‘Cause she used to always tell us: Don’t pay any attention, it’s not your kuleana, just let it go.

 

Did you have any idea how that came about?

 

I have no idea.  And she was not really—well, I would ask her things, like: What about this?  And ah, she never really—you know, she was—

 

So, old—

 

I couldn’t get information from her.

 

Old school.

 

Yes.

 

They don’t like to talk.

 

Yes.

 

Right?

 

Very much so.

 

Would you consider it a middleclass, non-dysfunctional childhood?

 

Yeah. Growing up, I would say that very much so is what, you know, would describe.  It was just like a normal upbringing.  You know, did school, did after school types of things.  And you know, one of the things when I was growing up is, I was … uh, quite large.  I was fat. I guess obese is more what the medical community was calling.  So, it was a interesting upbringing, because you know, when you’re in school, you know, you found out the kids were actually pretty mean when you’re overweight.  And my nickname was uh, Tub, Tub of Lard. So, all the way, even through high school until I left Fayetteville, even though I had lost weight in high school, I was still called Tubs.  Yeah.

 

How did you deal with that?

 

You know, I guess I was able to uh, carry my weight.  I did a lot of activities.  I was really good at football; they always wanted me to play the line in the neighborhood.

 

Were you tall as a child, too?

 

I was. I’ve always been taller than everybody else.  And so, I got to be the line in our neighborhood football team because, you know, I was so big, I could just knock people over.  I know, I know.  It sounds bad, but you know, I mean, you just kinda dealt with it.  But I mean, it was a name, you know, but we were still able to get along and, you know, do different things.  But it definitely does make a mark on you, you know.

 

And did it change your social life, do you think? I mean, do you wish you’d had a different social life?

 

Yeah, I think so.  You know, my mom was the typical Southern belle.  You know, we were raised with Emily Post.  So, you know, everything was manners and, you know, had the right way of sitting at the table.  We had to have dinner every night; Mom, Dad, you know, the kids.  My father traveled, so he was only at home on the weekends, most of the time.  But we were always required to have dinner, you know, as a family.  And then, she wanted us to go to learn to cotillion and go to the dance, and all like that.  So, like I said, I was large, so nobody wanted to take me to cotillion. So, I’ll never forget that my mom had to talk to the teacher, and had to ask one of the guys to please ask me to cotillion.  And that’s kinda something that sort of always stuck with me.  You know.

 

Was he good guy?

 

He was; he was.  He was very nice.  I mean, back in the South, doesn’t make any difference, ‘cause if you didn’t say, yes ma’am, yes sir, and treat people nice, you’d always get a whack one way or the other.

 

And you would actually do what your parents said, it sounds like.  Which often doesn’t happen nowadays.

 

Oh, yes.  And don’t ever bring a note home from the teacher.  Because if you got a note from the teacher, it didn’t make any difference; you were wrong.  The teacher was always right, so you shook in your boots if you had to bring a note home from your teacher.

 

And these things stay with you, as far as what seems right to you?

 

Yes; it really does.  And I think a lot of it is just, you know, how you treat people, you know, and just being able to talk to people, you know, and have a decent conversation. You know, ‘cause you were brought up to always appreciate, you know, everything that you have, and not take it for granted, ‘cause it can be gone the next day.  Which is what happened, like, when my parents got divorced.  It was like, we lived comfortably, and then when they got divorced, all of a sudden you had nothing.  So, you know, when you look back, you appreciate everything that you had, you know, when you were growing up.

 

Obviously, not everything was polite.  I mean, you were teased at school, and for a long time. How do you think that affected you, now that that weight is certainly not a problem?  I mean, how do you look at that experience, and how did it affect you?

 

Well, I think a lot of it, as far as affecting, you know, when I look at people, if they’re large, it’s like, you know, I can kinda empathize with them. And then, you know, a lot of times, you see people who are exercising who are large, and you know, human nature: Oh, look, that person’s fat, or whatever.  And I’m looking at ‘em going: At least they’re doing something.  You know, they’re out exercising, they’re out walking around.  So, you know, you give people more slack.  I mean, there’s no such thing as, you know, this whole perfect body thing, you know.  And especially for women; you know, we’re brought up that you’re supposed to, you know, look just so, and you’ve gotta be skinny.  ‘Cause my sister was completely opposite.  She’s probably about six inches shorter than me, she never had a problem with her weight.  The other thing I had, I had buck teeth, I had to wear braces.  But you know, she was always like … I don’t want to say perfect, but she never had to worry about, you know, her looks or anything. And she used to have guys always coming over to the house.  Where for me, it wasn’t until I lost weight that I actually really was able to, you know, really start dating.  And so, you do know that, you know, the whole body image, you know, is an issue.  And it does stay with you.  So that to this day, I mean, I make sure that I exercise and I eat right, because you know, I do know that even—is it right?  No.  But you know, I mean, if you see kind of an overweight man, you know, it’s like: Okay, well, you know, it’s okay.  But if you see an overweight woman, then it’s like: Oh, look, she’s not taking care of herself.  So, you know, especially in the position I’m in, you know, I always try and make sure that, you know, I exercise and eat right.  And I think that just always goes back to the childhood, that I never want to get to the point where I was overweight again, because I know how hard it was too, to lose weight and to keep it off.

 

Well, how did you do it, and when did you do it? You graduated still overweight?

 

No. I lost it when I was in high school. So, actually, I did it relatively quickly.  It was about four or five months.  It was like, from the end of my—I believe it was my sophomore year of high school, towards the end.

 

Was there something that made you do it?  I mean, was that some inspiration caused by an event?

 

There really wasn’t.  I think I just had gotten to the point where I was just tired of being made fun of, and it’s like, you know, it’s time.  I needed to lose weight, and you know, so I put my mind to it, and I did.  And of course, when you’re younger, it’s a lot easier to lose weight than when you’re older.

 

And you did it by a combination of dieting and exercise?

 

Diet and exercise; yeah.  Yeah. And from that point on, I have always exercised.  I mean, I was able to play on the softball team in high school, play on the basketball team in high school, because you know, I lost the weight and I was able to, you know, function in those type of sports.

 

No more linebacker stuff?

 

No more lineback.  I still played football, but you know, they let me be receiver now.

 

And so, then all of a sudden, guys came calling?

 

Well, I mean, yeah, more.  But I’m kind of selective too, so—

 

 

You know, we’d go out on dates and, you know, if I really didn’t like ‘em.  But I had a serious boyfriend in high school, and you know, we almost got married.  And then, I’m the one that’s kinda like: Um, this isn’t really what I want. And so, I usually get into long-term relationships, but I’m usually the one that—because I value my independence, and I think that came from when my mom and dad got divorced.  Because I saw my mom, who hadn’t worked, and all of a sudden, she had to get a job, and that you know, we basically lived from, you know, paycheck-to-paycheck, and you know, where was the next meal gonna come from. And so, I said to myself: I’m never gonna be like that, I refuse.  So, from that point on, I mean, I think I started working when I was like, fourteen years old. And actually, at that point, I really started saving for retirement.  Because I said: When I get older, I want to make sure.  I said: I can suffer when I’m young, but when I get older, I want to live like a queen.  And I said: I never want to be dependent on somebody, where I need them to the point where I can’t live my life.  And so, I think that’s really, you know, caused me to take a look at a lot of things.  And I think that’s why probably I’ve never gotten married, is because I like my independence, and I don’t like to really answer to anybody, you know, when I get home.  Other than my dogs.

 

What was life like when your dad left, and your mom was in reduced circumstances?

 

I mean, it was difficult.  I mean, one, because they didn’t get along.  You know, it was kind of an ugly divorce, and we had to leave our house and move into a two-bedroom apartment.  So you know, very small.  And my sister at the time, she and I didn’t get along at all, she didn’t get along with my mom.  So, it was just really—

 

Lots of conflict all around.

 

Yeah. It was just conflict everywhere. And then, so my sister ended up leaving, moving away, and so it was just, you know, me and Mom.  And you know, I mean, the fact that, like I said, you know, where was the next meal coming from.  And then, she had to go out, you know, and get a job.  And you know, all of the luxuries that I was used to no longer had.  And so, that’s why I went out and you know, got a job, and I figured I’d just, you know, take care of myself.

 

How old were you when you got the job?

 

The first job I had, I believe I was fourteen, close to fifteen years old.

 

So, this was all around the time that you lost the weight, as well.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

All of it happened around the same time?

 

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

 

Really kind of a pivotal period in your life.

 

Yeah. It really was.  Yeah.  And then, decided: Okay, well, I’ll go to college.  But there was no money for college, either.  So, my grandmother, when she was alive, every Christmas, I’ll never forget, my sister and I both, we would get savings bonds from her. We’d get hundred-dollar savings bonds from her.  And you know, when you’re kids, it’s like: Why are you giving us savings bonds; we want toys, we want material things.  Right?  But it was like she’d give us a savings bond every single year for Christmas and for our birthday.  And so, it had gone into the bank, and so because of that, I was able to pay for the first year of college.  And then, you know, while I was there, I was able to get, you know, a couple of jobs and was able to, you know, uh, earn enough money to pay for tuition and a place to live.

 

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Susan Ballard went on to graduate school in Tennessee, where she stayed and worked after receiving her master’s degree in athletic training, now called sports medicine.  She says she and her boyfriend decided to leave Tennessee and travel west.  They got all the way to Hawai‘i.  And it was here, she says, that her boyfriend smacked her. It was a turning point in her life.

 

When I left Tennessee, a friend went with me and we had stopped in California. And you know, obviously, looking back, you know, even when I was dating him in Tennessee, there were instances where he was very controlling, and you know, did things that he shouldn’t have.  But you know, you’re young, and it’s like, you know, you get into that: I’m sorry, but you know, you kinda made me mad, and—

 

And I’ll never do it again.

 

Right; never do it again.  That whole type of thing.  And so, you know, it didn’t happen like over, and over, and over again.  It was just occasionally.  And so, you know, you kind of put it out of your mind.  So, when we came over to California, and decided that you know, we weren’t gonna stay in California, and so we continued over here to Hawaii.

 

Now, why did you come to Hawai‘i?

 

Well, one, because there was no way I was driving back across the United States again.  ‘Cause we drove from Tennessee to California, to Los Angeles.  And I just was not gonna drive back.  And plane ticket is eighty-nine dollars one way.  So, jumped on a plane, came over, you know.

 

What were you thinking you would do?

 

Well, I figured if nothing else, I could go to McDonald’s and work as a manager at McDonald’s.  Because, you know, it was something that I had been doing working, so it was just kind of a stopgap and, you know, I figured I could get a job.  And that’s what I ended doing when I first came here.

 

And is what did he do?  What was his plan?

 

He really just kinda lived day-to-day.  And so, he got a job, you know, at one of the restaurants and stuff here. And then, we ended up getting an apartment, and then things just sort of kinda snowballed at that point.  I mean, he … you know, I caught him a couple times with other people.  He would come home drunk, you know, kinda force himself on me.  And then one time, when it got to the point where he hit me one time, I said: That’s it.  I said: You ever hit me again, I’ll kill you.  Because I knew at that point in time, I’m either gonna stay here, or I’m gonna get out. And obviously, it was hard, because I’m in a place where I really didn’t know anybody.

 

And cost of living was high.

 

Well, you know, I guess back then, I didn’t really notice it that much.  I mean, things weren’t that expensive.  And I guess, you know, I was doing okay, and I had money saved.  And money really never came into the equation as long as we were together, because we could split the rent, you know, and whatever that way.  But then, when I made that decision that I was gonna leave, it was like one of those, oh moments, and you’re like: Okay, now what.  So, I thought: You know what, if anything else, I’ll just get on a plane and I’ll just, you know, fly back to North Carolina. But you know, I had met some really nice people from Central YMCA, and they were officers, a lot of them were officers.  Funny thing about Central YMCA; you you had cops, and you had crumbs.  You know, so it was a really interesting combination. But the officers, I met this one guy, and I used to play racquetball a lot.  And so, I kinda told him what was going on.  And so, he came and he stood by.  He did what you call the standby, while I packed everything up to move out. Now, I’m standing there in the hallway and I’m thinking: Okay, so where do I go now?  So, he called a friend of his, who talked to another friend, and then I swear it was no more than maybe an hour later and he says: Okay, come with me, I’ve got a place for you to stay.  And so, this lady, her name’s Marsha, and she lives in Seattle now. But she had a studio apartment out in Makiki.  She actually allowed me to come to her studio and live on her floor, not even knowing me from Adam.  I mean, I could have been a serial killer, for all she knew.  But you know, this lady, a nice Japanese lady, she let me come, she let me sleep on her floor.  For four months, I was there, until another studio came open in the same building.  It was a little walkup in Makiki.  And you know, I mean, she taught me so much.  She taught me about taking your shoes off, going in.  You know.  The guys at the Central Y took me to the Korean bar for the first time, which was really an experience.

 

You know.

 

I mean, she was an awesome cook, too.  So, you know, I mean, I got to—

 

Local foods.

 

All the local foods.  I mean, you know, if it wasn’t for the folks at the Y, and then for Marsha, I’m sure that there was no way I would have stayed over here.

 

And what happened to the boyfriend?

 

You know, I don’t know.  I saw him one time, in town.  But I don’t know if he went back to the mainland, or if he’s even still over here.

 

So, you had to make a decision that enough is enough.

 

Yeah; enough is enough.  And you know, at that point, I said: You know, nobody’s gonna ever touch me again. You hit me, and literally, you’ll be dead.  Because you know, there’s no way that I would allow that to ever happen.  And you know, sometimes, you know, you just have to stand up for yourself.  And thank God that I learned to be independent, so the fear of going out on my own was not something that I was worried about.  You know, because, you know, especially if you’re young.  You know, if you’re young, it’s like you don’t worry about a lot of things, that you know, if they happen when you’re older that, you know, you can, you can just go forward and make it happen. Yeah.

 

When you came here, what did you think of the mix of races?

 

It was really a culture shock, because you know, you had all these people who didn’t look like you.  And so, you look around, and it’s like: Ooh, okay.  And then, you know, people would explain to me about all the customs and everything else.  And I was like: Wow, okay.

 

It’s a lot to take in.

 

It was; it’s a lot to take in.  And then obviously, you know, sometimes, you know, the discrimination against being Caucasian, Haole, whatever when I first got here.  And I think I took the bus for the first and got lost.  I ended up going around the island to get to Ala Moana Shopping Center ‘cause I didn’t know what I was doing.  I remember I was on the bus one time, and this guy looks at me and says: Eh, you F-ing Haole, get in the back of the bus.  And me, I’m just oblivious.  I’m like: Oh, who are you talking to?  I had no idea.  And it was the first time.  Because being from the South, I mean, basically you have Black and you have White. I mean, it’s pretty much that’s it. You come over here, and you know, all of a sudden you’re in a minority.  And it was something that I never really experienced before, you know, any type of racism, and it was sort of an eye-opening experience.  In the first six months, I was almost ready to pack up and leave.  But it was like all of a sudden at six months, you know, I looked around, and I was like … well, once again, people are just who they.  And it’s not like, you know, well, what is her nationality? I don’t know.  I mean, you know, Asian.  Are they Japanese, Chinese?  I don’t know; they’re just people.  What difference does it make?  You know. And so, it was, it was really a learning experience, and I absolutely love it because I love all the culture, the different cultures and stuff.  But you know, once again, you had to learn because you didn’t want to offend anybody.

 

Let’s see; you’re eight months into your five-year term as police chief.

 

Right.

 

You’ve gone through a lot of things.  Is there a common thread?  I mean, how do you decide?  ‘Cause you’ve always been in positions where you might be a one-of.

 

Yeah.

 

How do you know who you are?

 

You know, I’ve always tried to be myself.  I never tried to be someone I’m not.

 

You didn’t try to emulate anyone?

 

No; not really.  I mean, you know, as I was growing up, there really was nobody that I really wanted to emulate.  So, I sort of developed who I was along the way.  A good example is like, you know, on the weekends, I just wear my hamajang shorts and tee-shirts.  And people go: Oh, you’re the chief, you should dress up.  I’m going: No, that’s not who I am.  You know, and it’s the same thing about, you know, wearing makeup and things like that.  You know, ‘cause when I first became chief, they put all this makeup on me and made me take this picture.  And I saw it, and I said: No, take that down; I look like a hoochie-koochie mama.

 

You know.  But I just try to be true to who I am.  You know, I don’t want to be someone that I’m not.  Sometimes, I say things that you know, afterwards, they’re going: We can’t believe you said that.  But I mean, you know, that’s how I am.  You know, I try and be cognizant, and make sure that, you know, I don’t say anything inappropriate, you know, considering my position now.  But sometimes, it just comes out.  And honestly, you know what the best compliment I’ve gotten throughout my career with the police department, and even up to being chief, is people tell me: You have not changed one bit from the time that you became a police officer.  And that is probably one of the biggest compliments that they could have ever given me.

 

You’re at what, thirty-three years and counting in police work.

 

Yep; August 22nd, I’ll make thirty-three years.  Yeah.

 

We continue our conversation with Susan Ballard about her path to becoming Honolulu Police chief in the next Long Story Short.  Mahalo to Susan Ballard of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing your story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

 

I know you always have loved pets.

 

Yes.

 

Is it since you were a little girl?

 

It was. I’ve always had either a dog or a cat, you know, in the family and stuff.  So, I’ve always been a consummate animal lover.  So, currently, I have three dogs.  I have Mango, who’s an English Setter; he’s the youngest.  And then, Kai; he’s a Golden Retriever.  And then, Kona, who’s the oldest, and she’s a Border Collie/Spaniel mix.  And she’s the boss of all three of ‘em.  And then, of course, I can’t forget Koa Kitty, who’s my cat who has no eyes.  He was born without any eyes.

 

How did you come to be his owner?

 

His mom.

 

Mom.

 

Yes; his cat mom.  Well, believe it or not, I actually happened to be on Craigslist, which you should never go on Craigslist.

 

Never, ever, ever, when it comes to animals, ‘cause there’s just a million of ‘em out there that need to get adopted.  I emailed, and so, this wonderful couple emailed back, and so we arranged to meet out in Waipahu.  Well, that’s all you need, of course.  Yeah. Okay; I got me a sucker, you know. So, I went down there, and I met them, and that’s how I ended up getting Koa Kitty.

 

And it worked out with the dogs?

 

It’s worked out well, and the cat walks around.  He’s learned how to go in and out the doggy doors.  I mean, the cat is absolutely amazing.  He’s been a wonderful addition to our family.

 

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kim-Anh Nguyen

 

When she was 7 years old, Kim-Anh Nguyen and her family were uprooted from their home country of Vietnam after the war. Nguyen assimilated quickly in America, and she forged a path for herself in science as a researcher. She now heads the Blood Bank of Hawaii, which allows her to do what she says she loves best – connect with people.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 29, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Kim-Anh Nguyen Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I always to leave the door open and have choices.  So, that’s why I got my MD, but also my PhD.  And so, my first job was half research, half working as medical director of the Blood Bank.  And after

a year or two, my boss had a heart-to-heart talk with me, and she said: Kim-Anh, your eyes light up when you work in the Blood Bank; maybe that’s where you need to … spend your life, is to follow your heart.  And that was the hardest decision that I ever made, to close my research lab and follow my heart.  And I’ve never looked back.  And here I am, running the Blood Bank of Hawai‘i.

 

Ever since she was a teenager, Kim-Anh Nguyen wanted to make medical research her career.  Her parents told her they didn’t want her to become a kooky, nerdy scientist, but she became a scientist anyway.  And then, her heart took her down a different path.  Kim-Anh Nguyen, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Dr. Kim-Anh Nguyen moved to Hawai‘i in 2013 to accept the position of chief executive officer of the Blood Bank of Hawaii.  It was the job, not the culture, that attracted her to Hawai‘i, because she’d become accustomed to fitting in where she was.  When she was seven, her family was airlifted from Vietnam as the war ended.  Their new home turned out to be New Jersey.  And the name of her English language teacher? PBS children’s programming.

 

I was actually born in what’s now Ho Cho Minh City.  Back then, it was Saigon, South Vietnam.  And I lived in a suburb until seven years old, ‘til 1975.  And it was a normal childhood.  We had an outhouse.  We did not have indoor plumbing.  And we had a real honest-to-goodness icebox.  I would go down the street and pick up a block of ice, and put it our icebox, and that was our refrigerator.

 

Voila; icebox.

 

That’s right.

 

You mentioned it was a calm suburb.  So, no signs of war raging around you?  I mean, that was the time.

 

So, that was the beauty.  Until the day I left Vietnam, Leslie, I never saw a gun.  And my father had been in the military and had been drafted, my cousins were in the military.  But for me, it was just life as normal, and I never saw any violence.  Not ‘til the end.

 

How fortunate.  And in the end, you mentioned you left at seven.  That was under duress.

 

So, we were one of the families that were airlifted out in a helicopter.  We were so fortunate.  My mother was a secretary for an American company, and after they evacuated their American staff, a few of them were able to sponsor local staff.  And so, my parents heard one day: Take a small suitcase, take your immediate family, show up at the airport with a little bit of money, and that’s it.  And then, next day, we knew, we left everybody, we left everything, and we all stood out on the tarmac.  And a big helicopter came down, we piled in, and that’s how we left Vietnam.

 

Was it one of those scenes that we have seen in the old footage, where people were trying to get in and get up into the chopper?

 

Fortunately, Leslie, we weren’t that last cohort out.  But people were clamoring.  And so, that was the first time I ever saw a gun, and it was a man who pulled out a gun to keep the peace and quiet.  And it was scary.  We all huddled on the tarmac, and then the big, loud helicopter came.  And it was a cargo helicopter, and we all piled into the cargo bay.  And off it went.

 

So, you couldn’t tell family members outside your immediate family that you were leaving forever?

 

No.

 

That must have been really hard.

 

I remember my last thought before getting on the helicopter, not about my family, not about Vietnam, but that I was sad that I would never see my grandparents again.

 

So, they left without knowing.  They weren’t told: We have to steal out in the middle of this.

 

They knew.

 

They knew.

 

And they knew also that most likely that this was it.  And it was.

 

And they knew they couldn’t go?

 

They couldn’t go.

 

But they were glad to see you have a chance to go.

 

They wanted the best for us, but they knew that they couldn’t go.  And so, that was the bittersweet part, Leslie.

 

Did they survive?

 

So, they did.  And they lived a long life, but I will say it was a very, very hard ten years after the fall of Saigon.  Very hard times.

 

Mm; that must have been hard.  Meanwhile, you’re in a new country, learning a language, and have your own challenges.

 

That’s right.  So, to continue the story, that helicopter touched base in the middle of the Pacific on an aircraft carrier, which landed in Guam.  So, we actually lived in Guam for a little bit, and then we eventually ended up on the mainland, made our way in tent cities, aircraft hangars.  And we were the first cohort in the refugee camp at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.  And that was a beautiful time for us.  We actually lived in the barracks with hundreds of other refugee families.

 

That was beautiful?

 

Yes, because it was a permanent dwelling.  For the first time, it wasn’t an aircraft hangar, or a tent.  And so, each family was separated in the barracks by a blanket that was hung from the ceiling.  And we made friendships there that survive to this day.

 

Wow.

 

Yeah.

 

Eventually, you were relocated?

 

That’s right.  So, after about three months, we were sponsored by my mother’s company, and we ended up in a town called Fair Lawn, New Jersey.  And I remember we landed at the Holiday Inn on a Friday, and on Monday, my mother reported for work.  And it was just before the American Bicentennial.  Pretty amazing.

Pretty amazing.

 

Looking back.

 

And could you speak English at all?

 

I spoke no English; zero.  My father spoke no English, and my mother had a rudimentary knowledge of English. That’s it.

 

And how were you received by the folks of New Jersey?

 

You know, looking back, Leslie—and this is one of my life lessons.  The American people welcomed us with open arms.

 

No prejudice?

 

Oh, you know, we had the prejudice and, you know, the little taunts from kids. But the most important thing is, we had a lot of help.  And so, what I’ve learned from that is, success is part individual effort, but a lot of it is systems.

 

Well, your mother’s company deserves a big—I mean, kudos to them.

 

That’s right.

 

Took you out of the country, and then gave your mom an immediate job.

 

They were so good to us.  They helped us find a house.  And you know what they got out of it, Leslie, was they got two employees that worked there their whole lives.  And advanced within the company.

 

Who’s the other employee?

 

My father.

 

Oh, he joined as well.

 

That’s right.  He ended up working in building maintenance, which was what we called facilities at the time.  And he worked there for over twenty years.  My mom retired there.  She started as a secretary, went back to school, and ended up in the accounting department.

 

How did you learn English?

 

I learned English through PBS, believe it or not.

 

Did you?

 

I learned English watching Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

 

Oh, that’s wonderful.

 

True story; true story.

 

And that got you what you needed?  You got enough English from that to build on?

 

TV can be amazing.  I was a latchkey kid.  And so, I watched hours, and hours, and hours of good old fashioned TV.

 

Wow.  You had good taste.  You went for PBS.

 

I did.

 

And how was it in school?  I mean, it’s hard enough to progress, you know, in learning if you’re language-challenged in the beginning.

 

So, I was very fortunate in that I was seven, which is around the age for critical language.  So yes, I didn’t know any English, and so, I started taking remedial classes.  But my teachers were very good to me, and uh, I learned very quickly.  Like again, TV and Sesame Street helped a lot.

 

So, did you become a Jersey girl?

 

I did. I grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, so Fair Lawn.  So, when I’m stressed out, sometimes I say: Come with me to Fair Lawn, hot dawg.

 

 

My mother has a part-Vietnamese, part-Jersey accent.  So, I cringe.  Her voicemails: Hi, it’s your mom, cawl me.

 

That’s so funny.  And actually, she’s originally from North Vietnam.

 

That’s right.

 

So, the accent is probably even more different.

 

Funkier.  That’s right; that’s right.  So, when I speak Vietnamese, I actually speak with a northern accent, a pronounced northern accent.  But I grew up in the south.

 

How long did you stay in New Jersey?  That was where you spent your entire childhood?

 

I did. We spent our entire childhood there. My mom still lives in the house that I grew up in.  My sister lives in New Jersey.  And I’m the one that’s gone far, far away.

 

You know, whenever you’ve had something sad happen, and you find yourself in a better place at that time, you’ve still left your home.

 

That’s right.

 

You still left a place that you meant to stay. I mean, how do you feel about the loss of that county for you, your nation?

 

It’s there.  It definitely is there.  I’ve learned so much from it, but there are tradeoffs.  So, for instance, very fortunately, the town in New Jersey where I grew up, there were no darkies, as I call it.  We were one of the few minority families.  So, the good news is, I don’t speak with a Vietnamese accent, very assimilated.  The tradeoff is, you know, my Vietnamese is not that good.  And even today, I have very loving, but remote relationships with my family.  And so, it really is bittersweet.  There is some loss, but so much more gain.

 

Did anybody begrudge you jumping at liberty?

 

You know, I’m gonna be honest, Leslie.  There’s a bit of survivor’s guilt among some of us that left for better lives.  Among families, there is sometimes hard feelings. For the most part, I think that’s water under the bridge, and most families have reunited, and obviously, we love each other.  But yes, there were some hard feelings.  There were some hard feelings, jealousies, misunderstandings.

 

And there were some Vietnamese who left and resettled in America who didn’t have as much success as you did.  They struggled here.

 

Again, this is where … I want to reiterate how much welfare, religious groups, programs, support systems really matter.  They really do.  And so, not everybody had that support network, that safety network.  Some of it was individual effort, but a lot of it was luck and the assistance and the altruism of others.

 

By the time Kim-Anh Nguyen finished high school, she had decided that she’d become a scientist.  She credits those who helped her along the way to achieve her dream, but at the heart of it was her own passionate curiosity and determination.

You went to Ivy League universities.  BA, MD, PhD, very impressive; Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.  Wow; okay. How did all that happen?  I imagine you were really quick in science, math.

 

You know, again, I think it’s a combination of my own gumption, if you will. If I were to describe myself, Leslie, I would say that my intelligence is average.

 

I doubt it.

 

Average.  I don’t have a lot of talent, I’m not a great artist or an athlete.  I think I have curiosity and gumption, so that’s number one. Number two, though, and I think just as important, I had so much help and support.  I had the best teachers who believed in me, and said: Kid, you know, you can do it if you want to.  I had scholarship programs that were made available.  So, it truly was a combination of individual effort, but systems to help support that individual.

 

Once you into one of those systems—and Harvard is good example, I mean it’s a tough place to be.  It’s very competitive, and you know, there’s a lot of undercurrents there. How did you handle that?

 

Well, you’ll laugh.  But freshman year, I lived with three or four other women.  And four out of the five of us got a letter that said: You are in danger of failing at least one class.  Can you imagine?  So, yes, it was a tough place, and it was a real wakeup call.  But we all woke up, and we realized that it’s not just hard work, but also learning the system, and learning ourselves.  And all four of us that got that letter turned it around and have since done very well.

 

Did you know what you wanted to do when you started college?

 

I did know that I wanted to become a scientist, and just learn how the human body worked.

 

‘Cause you said you’re curious.

 

That’s right.

 

And it was about how the human body worked.

 

Absolutely.  And so, I always wanted to be a scientist.  But sadly, my parents were quite dismayed, because they did not want me, a girl, to become a quirky, kooky scientist, as they called it.  And so, they were hoping against hope that I would change my mind.  Never did, though.

 

You wanted to be a researcher to begin with, didn’t you?

 

I did. I did, and I had some wonderful mentors. And I actually did get my PhD and started my career as a researcher.

 

Then, what happened?

 

Well, you know, I think I followed my heart.  My first job was half research, half working as medical director of the Blood Bank.  And you know, I spent more of my time doing the Blood Bank medical director job than my research job.

 

Where was this?

 

This was at the Blood Bank in San Francisco.  And after a year or two, my boss had a heart-to-heart talk with me, and she said: Kim-Anh, your eyes light up when you work in the Blood Bank; maybe that’s where you need to … spend your life, is to follow your heart.  And that was the hardest decision that I ever made, to close my research lab and follow my heart.  And I’ve never looked back.  And here I am, running the Blood Bank of Hawaii.

 

I don’t know anyone who grows up saying: I’d like to run a blood bank.  But I can see how fulfilling it is to do so.

 

You know, one of the best decisions I ever made in my career, Leslie, was to come work at the Blood Bank of Hawai‘i.

 

Did you answer an ad for that?

 

I was actually fortunate to be recruited to work here.  I had never been to Hawai‘i before interviewing for this job.

 

And that was five years ago?

 

Five years.  Here I am, five years later, I’m raising my family here.  And I see firsthand how this community supports its blood program. And I am thrilled to work here. It’s a fantastic opportunity.

 

What did you experience as you moved here for the first time, took a job here?  You never lived in a state where there were—I mean, you said there weren’t many Asians where you grew up.

 

I think people who live in Hawai‘i sometimes may not know how lucky we are here.  Because as I look around, there are people who look like me.  Not just around, but policewomen and men look like me, the mail delivery person looks like me.  That’s not true everywhere.  And so, I think Hawai‘i is a special place.  It really, really is.  We grow and live together, and we understand diversity.

 

Had you missed that, or did you not have it so you didn’t miss it?

 

I felt it keenly, Leslie, coming from Vietnam to New Jersey.

 

And that was double, because you were—

 

That’s right.

 

–an immigrant.

 

That’s right.  And you know, I took it in stride, ‘cause what choice do you have.  But coming to Hawai‘i, and seeing how we all for the most part are able to live together, what we have here is special.

 

What was it about the Blood Bank that got you going?

 

So, the beautiful thing about working in a blood bank is that I can use the medicine that I learned, that I got trained in, but it’s also a community resource, it’s a mom and pop small business, and it’s also a nonprofit.  And so, all of that combined, I think, makes the Blood Bank work fascinating.

 

And you save lives.

 

At the end of the day, I come in to work to save lives.

 

That sounds like a very fulfilling mission.

 

It is. And what we do is, we connect donors in the community to patients in the community.  So, it’s a full circle.  Hawai‘i depends on two hundred people every day, rolling up their sleeve.  The blood supply is precious, and is perishable and fragile.

 

What’s the most rare type?

 

So, Hawai‘i, actually the Blood Bank of Hawaii has the nation’s largest repository, largest repository of a very, very rare type called Jk3.  And it’s more commonly seen in Polynesians.  So, most people don’t realize that we are getting asked for this very, very precious rare blood from the mainland all the time.  And if something were to happen to Blood Bank of Hawaii, the nation would lose this very, very rare blood type.

 

And do you ever use it up here?  Is it really in short supply here?

 

All the time.  All the time. And so, we’re very fortunate to have a small group of donors, and we’re always screening the population to look for that next donor.

 

Are there are cultures here, since we have so many, that have different views about blood gifts?

 

Absolutely.  So, there are certain myths that are more predominant in certain ethnicities or cultures. And one of them is my own culture, Vietnamese and Chinese.  Many of my people believe that we’re born with a finite amount of blood in our bodies—that’s not true, and that if we donate blood or even give a blood sample, that that’s one less pint of blood I have.  Fortunately, that’s not true; our body is constantly renewing that.  But it takes real education to overcome that myth.

 

So, do you have a smaller percentage of Vietnamese and Chinese givers?

 

So, you know, the beautiful thing about Hawai‘i is, our donor population much more mirrors our patient population.  But you’re right; we have an opportunity to grow our minority donors.  We do not pay our blood donors.  And most people think it’s because we’re trying to save money, we’re a nonprofit.  That’s not the reason.  It’s safety. People who donate out of the goodness of their hearts are a different profile than people who donate for money. And so, we do not pay our blood donors, for the safety of the blood supply.  So, the cost of the blood bags, the staffing, all of the testing that we do, we put that cost onto the hospitals, and we charge a processing fee. But we are nonprofit, so just a tiny little margin goes into improving our program.

 

I look at what you started out to do, and what you’re doing now, and it’s just incredibly different from what you started out to do, even when you said: I’ll be the medical director of the San Francisco blood bank.

 

Well, when I was a kid, I always pretended that I was, you know, a guest star on the Donny and Marie Show, believe it or not.  And I look back at that, and some of the hobbies that I have. I guess in a way, it’s prepared me to be out there; out there in the front, and connecting with people.  And yes, I’m a nerd, but I love connecting with people.

 

I don’t know how many nerds are really good ballroom dancers, which you are.

 

Oh …

 

How did that happen?  You’re a ballroom dancer.

 

You’ve guessed my secret.  That’s actually a real passion and joy of mine, is ballroom dancing.  I did not go into it, believe or not, with the approval of Mom and Dad.  They really did not support my having one man in my arms one minute, and another man another minute.

 

Were you in high school when you started?

 

I started in college.  And I caught the bug, and it’s fun.  I love music. It’s fun, it’s social, awesome exercise, and it’s a way to express myself.  Because different songs call for a different character, and it’s a different part of command that comes out.  So, in a way, that is my job now.

 

I saw you in a—I don’t know if it was YouTube.

 

Oh, my gosh.

 

It was a video with your husband.

 

Oh, my gosh.

 

Dancing at the Blood Bank.

 

I owed my husband a lot of honey-do’s for that one.  I think that just goes to show I’ll do anything for Blood Bank of Hawai‘i.

 

At the time of our conversation in the spring of 2018, anything included leading a capital campaign to raise money to build a new facility for the Blood Bank of Hawaii, which was displaced by the Honolulu rail transit route.  Mahalo to Vietnam born, New Jersey raised, Hawaii resident Dr. Kim-Anh Nguyen of Honolulu for sharing your life stories with us. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

[END]

 

 


PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall

 

In August 1969, 15-year-old Terry Kanalu Young became quadriplegic after a diving accident. Initially bitter about his circumstances, he eventually realized that his rage could destroy him – or he could learn a great lesson from it. This film explores Young’s life journey, from a Hawaiian history student to an activist and community leader, and how he used his insights about identity and trauma to offer hope to dispossessed Native Hawaiians.

 

To learn more about Terry Kanalu Young, be sure to see this interview.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lois Kim

 

Strength and grit were the two values that Lois Kim’s Korean American parents instilled in her from an early age. But when tragedy struck, she turned to drugs, which took her down a dark path that resulted in prison time. She’s since served her time, and is now using the power of storytelling to share her exploration of vulnerability – and a new source of strength.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, June 17, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Lois Kim Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I remember this one time, right before my mom passed.  I think it was maybe two or three months I’d been out on the streets, and she saw me on Kapi‘olani Boulevard.  She had lost a lot of weight by then, and she started crying and she said: I thought you were dead.  You know, where have you been?  And you know, I was dressed kind of scantily clad, and … I remember feeling a little embarrassed to see her.  And the only words that could have come out of my mouth at that wasn’t: I’m sorry, Mom, I’ll be home, I’m sorry what I did to you.  It was: Mom, do you have money?

 

She was a young wife, mother, and assistant vice president at a local bank when events in her life triggered a downward spiral: drug addiction, life on the streets, and a spot on Hawaii’s Most Wanted List.  Lois Kim candidly shares her story, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Recovering addict Lois Kim describes her childhood as growing up in a stable middleclass family environment, surrounded by siblings, a grandmother, an auntie, and her parents, who were immigrants from South Korea.  Her father was an engineer who later become involved in local politics, and worked on behalf of the Korean community in Hawai‘i.  She says her mother was a workaholic, an entrepreneur whom some referred to as the Godmother of Korean Restaurants.  Kim says her mother would take a struggling business, and turn it around with her instincts, reputation, and cooking skills.  And it was not unusual for her busy working mom to send a taxi to pick up her children at school.

 

With all that work she did for so long, were you close to her?

 

Not growing up; no.  I remember always longing to have what I saw on TV, the Western family.  Longing to have a mom that would pick me up every day, go to like after school practices with me, hug me, say I love you; all that cheesy stuff.  I remember longing for that.  But today, in retrospect, I think she did the best she could. She came from a different culture than I was brought up watching on TV.

 

She was busy providing for you.

 

Yes.

 

So, that means when you were sick from school, you were alone.

 

My grandma; my mom had brought over my grandma to watch over us from Korea.

 

So, you always had somebody in the house?

 

Yes; either grandma, or before that, there was this auntie that my mom trusted with us.

 

You said your dad was a politician.  And was he a strict father?

 

He was very quiet.  Extremely strict; he would make my brother and I uh, meditate at night. You know, he’d sit us in front of him, he’d sit on the couch, and he’d watch us for an hour.  And I think we were like … I was ten and my brother was six. You know, for a ten-year-old to sit there with their eyes closed and meditate for a whole hour was impossible. But my dad just grinded it into us. He tried to teach us a lot about discipline and being strong.  He wasn’t very loving in a sense, only because, you know, traditional Asian family; he was the man of the household.  But when he spoke, you listened.

 

He would spank you?

 

He did, at times.  I remember being afraid of the golf club at times.

 

He would hit you with his golf club?

 

Yeah.  For me, looking back today, it’s just discipline; a different type of discipline. I wouldn’t call it child abuse. Maybe some might today, but it was just to make me a stronger person.

 

What were you like as a kid?  Besides being bratty.

 

I was an introvert.  Childhood was kind of rough for me, only because you know, I couldn’t really fit in well.

 

Did you speak Korean, or what was your language like then?

 

My first language was Korean.  So, going into school, I really couldn’t converse with the other children, the culture was different.  So, I was kind of an outcast.  And then, I think later on, as I got older, I turned to food to comfort myself.  And this is back when childhood obesity wasn’t that prevalent.  I was extremely overweight.  I remember being the biggest kid in class, bigger than all the boys and the girls, height wise and weight wise.

 

Did you get picked on?

 

I did.  I got picked on, but because of my size, I was able to stop the bullying right there.

 

How were your grades?

 

My grades were mediocre, only because I think it bored me; high school didn’t really challenge me.  At some point, my father thought that maybe it would be a losing investment to put me through college, only because my grades were pretty low.  I was determined and stubborn.

 

What made you determined?

 

I think a little bit of my dad refusing to pay for my college.  ‘Cause I knew in the back of my head that, you know, that’s what parents are supposed to do.  They’ve provided for me up until now.  They haven’t provided a loving family style, but they’ve always provided financially. And it goes without saying, they’re gonna provide for my education.  But that day when he told me that he’s not gonna put an investment into my education, is when I realized: Hm, what?  I’ll show you.  My father paid for everything for my brother.  ‘Cause in our family—and I think it’s typical of all Asians, you know, a son you take care, he’s like the king of the family.

 

Yeah. So, I can see how there were a lot of reasons to feel resentment and worry.

 

M-hm.

 

As a child.

 

I did; I did have a lot of resentment, a lot of anger.

 

But somehow, you said: I’m gonna go to UH.  How did you pay for that?

 

I worked at the bank as a teller, and I got grants and loans.  I’m still paying off my student loans now.  But I made it happen; I made it happen.  Yes.

 

You enjoyed college?

 

It was challenging, and that’s where I excelled, because it was something that mentally stimulated me.  And when I graduated, I graduated on the Dean’s List.  So, I was holding down a job, paying for college, and getting good grades.

 

What happened next?  At some point, you met somebody that you married.

 

A gentleman I was working with at the bank introduced me to his friend.  He said: Hey, look, I’ve got this friend, he lives in Guam, but I think you guys would match; you guys are both intellectuals, you’re both Asian, both Korean. And that’s an important thing. So, I started emailing him.  We emailed back and forth.  He came down to visit for about ten days.  My family met him.  He was the perfect son-in-law my mother and father had always wanted.

 

What about you; were you in love with him?

 

Well … I loved how happy my mom and dad were. And he was a good man.  You know, he is a good man.  He’s good on paper, accomplished.  I think he was pre-law at that time.  So, love was probably the farthest thing from my mind.  He just made logical sense.

 

And at some point, you had a baby.

 

About a year or two into our marriage; yes.  The right thing to do; right?  The typical thing to do.  I had a daughter.  I remember giving birth to her, and just instantly falling in love, and thinking: I’m gonna do everything in my powers to protect you; and at the same time, I’m gonna do everything in my heart to love you and show you the love that I’ve always longed for.  But time will tell.

 

What happened to change your daughter’s life, your life, your husband’s life?

 

Those turning points in life; huh?  So, I was at the top of my career, doing so well. My father and I were finally building up a relationship.  You know, he called me just because he was lonely or bored.  I’ve never had that.  It was amazing.  I remember receiving a phone call saying: This is St. Francis Hospital; you need to come here right away.  I asked for more information, but of course, they couldn’t give me any information over the phone.  I remember driving up to St. Francis, and the first person I see is my mom.  She runs to me, and she collapses in my arms.  She tells me that my dad passed out, he’s on life support, and he’s in the ICU.  Speaking to the doctors, they told me that he’s got like, ten percent brain activity left, and prepare yourself.

 

Shortly after Lois Kim lost her father, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, and the grandmother who looked after her as a child passed away.  It seemed that just as her life was finally coming together, those she loved were being ripped away.  She says she couldn’t cope with so much loss, and that’s why she spent more time away from home, at bars and clubs, where she met someone who introduced her to cocaine.

 

It did a weird thing.  It alleviated some of the pain; it made being conscious and awake a little bit more bearable.  And that’s when the downturned happened.  You know, of course, the more your body gets used to something chemical, it needs a little bit more.  And then, that’s when I started to experiment with crystal methamphetamine.  I can handle it.  This drug will never bring me down.  I’m just gonna use it for now to get over this hump, and then get back on track. You know?  I’m not an addict.  This drug is not gonna consume me.  Couldn’t have been more wrong.  It took everything from me.  And I let it.

 

So, I need to ask you.  You still had family; your husband and your child.

 

Yes.

 

So, you didn’t lose all your family.

 

Not at that point; no.  My mother was still alive, as well.  But I acted selfishly at that time.  I told my husband that I don’t love him anymore.  I moved out.  I stayed with my mom, and then I remember just going out frequently.  And it was this perpetual snowball.  Like, I wouldn’t come home ‘cause I was embarrassed because of my drug use.  Then I’d feel guilty, and do more drugs.  Then, it would prolong my stay out on the streets, you know, staying at strangers’ houses, drug dealers’ houses, just trying to get high.

 

What was a day like for you when you were on crystal meth?

 

It’s hard to demarcate when the day starts and ends, because crystal meth is a stimulant and it’ll keep you up for days on end.  So, I guess to describe, let’s just say, okay, in the morning, my day would start with having nothing in my pockets, and wondering in my head: How am I gonna obtain this high?

 

And where were you waking up?

 

Sometimes, in stairwells.  Sometimes in game rooms.  Sometimes … at strangers’ houses, being woken up to man on top of you.  It was an adventure, to say the least, I guess. So, I’d wake up with nothing in my pocket, with a goal in mind.  My only priority at that time was to obtain more drugs.  So, I’d go out on a quest.  For a lot of women, there’s only a few ways you can obtain drugs out there. It’s either you sleep with a drug dealer, or you obtain something worth something, to sell.  And because I was Asian, I could fit in with the tourists. I quickly got drawn into what we called boosting, which is essentially shoplifting from stores, and obtaining items that a high demand on the streets.

 

How did you learn to do that?  I guess your native wit takes over.  How did you do it?

 

You have to learn to survive.  So, you know, in the dark world of the drug world, there are some people known as professional boosters.  So, I would go to them, pick their brain, learn from them. And they taught me a few tricks and things that I could do to get past sensors.  And then from there, I took that and just melded my own theories into it. So, I was able to support my habit that way.

 

And all this time, what were your thoughts about your daughter?

 

There would be moments she’d creep into my head.

 

But generally not?

 

No.  I knew she was safe.  I knew she was well, she was happy.  Well, in my head, I convinced myself that she was happy, and that me being in her life might just be worse.  So, I kinda tricked myself into justifying why I wasn’t there for her, or staying out on the streets longer.

 

Did you think of the future?  Like, I’ll just do this for a couple more days, and then I’ll stop.  Did you have that feeling, like it was not gonna be what you did forever?

 

That’s how it began.  It did.  I told myself: You know, it’ll be just until I get over this, or I’ll wake up someday.

 

Get over what?

 

The grief, the pain, the loss.  But then, it slowly turned into … towards the end of my drug addiction, I was hoping that it would be the end of it.  Like, I would die high.  Like hopefully, this drug will do so much damage to me that it’ll just take my life from me.  Towards the ending of my drug use, I was shooing ice intravenously, using needles.

 

Well, how did it get to be in your past?  What happened to change this, where you’re hoping to die high?

 

So, naturally, I got in trouble with the law.

 

I remember seeing you on Hawaii’s Most Wanted.  And it said that loss prevention officers at a store, you were a known person to them, and they followed you and they caught you with a couple of items.

 

Like, five of them just jumped out of the bushes, called me by name, and you know: Drop what you what you have in your hands and don’t move.  Something out of a movie.  But yes, they took me.  It was enough to convict me with felony charges.  I think I had drugs on me, so another felony charge.  I got into OCCC, and that’s when I learned that … my mom was in a coma.  I guess the reason why when she saw me on the streets and asked me to promise to come home that Thanksgiving was because she needed to tell me that she needs me there for her when they’re removing the tumor.  I wasn’t there.  So, in OCCC, I got a phone call from my brother saying that Mom’s on life support, we’re taking her off.  I begged and pleaded, and asked him to bail me out, let me be there for her.  You know, I wasn’t there for her when she needed me the most, let me be there for her now.  He said, no.  So, eventually, I did get put on probation.  But it’s the weirdest thing.  The judge knew I had nowhere to go.  So, at that time, my mom passed, her funeral happened.  I thought my daughter and her dad had moved back to Guam. Nobody communicated with me while I was incarcerated.  And then, the judge let me out on probation, out on the streets.  So, I went straight back to the game rooms, got high within an hour of getting released.  And I think that’s when you saw me on Hawaii’s Most Wanted, ‘cause I absconded. They were looking for me.  I think I was on the run for about two to three months. They found me in a game room, took me in.

 

While serving time in prison in Kailua, Lois Kim was enrolled in a mandatory drug rehabilitation program.  She recalls a life-changing moment of clarity.  During an exchange with her counselor, she declared that since she lost everything and everyone she loved, she just wanted to die high.  The counselor wasn’t buying any of it.  She looked Lois Kim dead in the eye, and challenged her to get off her pity pot.  Something clicked.

 

I was like: What?  I was on a pity pot.  I’m better than this.  I’m stronger than this.  I was bred to be strong, through my upbringing.  Why am I acting this way?  And that’s when that proverbial turn in your life happened again for me. You know.

 

It’s interesting that that got to you, because you probably knew that at some level already.

 

I knew it; I knew it.  But she said to me in a challenging manner, just like how when my father had told me: I’m not paying for your education.  Oh, I’ll show you.  Oh, get off my pity pot; you don’t think I can?  I’ll show you.  Well, getting over addiction and all that trauma in your life is never a one-day thing, or one-thing thing.  I remember just, you know, beginning my healing process at that time.  But again, I was incarcerated, and then sobriety was hitting me.  And when you’re sober, all this guilt just comes rushing back into your life, into your wellbeing.  I remember having recurring nightmares of seeing my mom and my daughter with their back towards me, and me screaming out to them, but they wouldn’t turn around. I didn’t know where my daughter was. I knew there was so much I needed to say to apologize, so much I needed to explain, but I didn’t know how.

 

How many years had gone by since you left the home?

 

Maybe two years straight, and maybe … four years altogether, where I’d come home once in a while.  So, a straight two-year absence from my daughter’s life.

 

And how old was she then?

 

She was probably about six when I started.  And then, through seven, eight, nine is when I was gone.

 

Did you feel like you owed your—was he your ex-husband by that time, an explanation?

 

He knew.

 

So, no need to have words over that?

 

I remember apologizing to him, ‘cause I knew that was what needed to be done.  But as for an explanation; no.  He knew what I had gotten myself into.  I mean, it was plastered all over the news; he knew.  He knew exactly what grievance I was going through too, ‘cause he was there when my father had passed.  He was there through the whole thing.  So, he knew why I did what I did.

 

What was it like between you and your daughter when you were reunited for the first time?

 

It was kinda … you’d like to think it was like a storybook ending, where we ran into each other’s arms, and lived happily ever after.  But it was kinda awkward in the beginning.  She had her wall up, and I didn’t know how to get past that without offending her.  It was kinda like two strangers meeting … but they’re family.  So, it was baby steps.  So, from the first meeting, we started talking on the phone every day, ‘cause I was allowed to talk on the phone for fifteen minutes at a time.  I’d call every evening.  We started to play this game that we made up, where she likes to act out a role, and we’d role-play.  And then from there, it went into her coming and staying, and sleeping at the furlough house on weekends.  And then, when I graduated from the furlough program, her father actually allowed me to come and rent a room from him.

 

So, you had regained, if not his trust, at least a second chance.  And your daughter, too.  You know, your daughter had to be onboard for that too; right?

 

I think what happened was, he knows that who I was while high or addicted isn’t who I am.  He knows the core being of me is responsible.  And I think that’s the thing; responsible.  Maybe not so loving, maybe not so caring, but he knows I’m a very responsible person.  And I remember before he allowed me to rent that room, we had to interview with his landlord.  So, what took me off guard is my ex-husband telling the landlord: You know, I don’t back anybody up, but I’m backing her up; she’s very responsible, she’s changed, she’s a good person.  That’s the first time I’ve ever heard him say anything nice about me.  And that‘s when I knew I’m doing well.  When I got reunited with my daughter, I shared every part of my life with her: the embarrassing parts, the hard to swallow parts. So, she understands.  But the importance is that I told her it was a bad choice, and we come up from that.  I didn’t alleviate any of my wrongdoings, I didn’t wash my hands saying it wasn’t my fault.  I told her: Yes, it was Mommy’s fault, Mommy made bad choices, but I can fix it.

 

At the time of our conversation in the Spring of 2018, Lois Kim told us she was employed fulltime, and continued to work on her recovery and rebuilding her life with her daughter.  She was also committed to earning a relationship with a son, who was born during the years of her addiction.  He lives with his paternal grandmother, who still isn’t ready to permit Kim to establish a bond with her son.  Lois Kim says she understands, and sees this as another opportunity and challenge to prove herself.  We wish her personal peace and sobriety, as she shares with everyone her first published work, Mommy Loves You, a heartfelt message she wrote for her daughter during a critical period of her journey back.  Mahalo to Lois Kim of Honolulu, O‘ahu, for sharing your story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

What did she make of your book, Mommy Loves You?

 

The book helped open up the discussion.  She told me that she had thought I abandoned her. She thought it’s because I didn’t love her.  And at one point, she thought I was dead; she thought I had passed.  The lucky thing for me is, I got sober while incarcerated. I also got to heal while incarcerated. So, I was speaking about having all that guilt and turmoil inside of me.  That’s when I got granted an opportunity to write a children’s book.  At first, I didn’t want to do it, because I thought it hurt too much.  Like, who am I gonna write to, who am in gonna give it to; I don’t know her address. But someone encouraged me to.  I wrote it within two, three minutes of sitting down.  It just … flowed straight out of me.  Did the artwork.  And that’s when I think I really began to heal.

 

And if I’m her, my question is: How do I know you’re not gonna go right out and do it again?

 

You don’t.  You don’t.  I don’t. I would like to think I won’t. You know, addiction is a very scary thing.  I would say ninety-five percent of my sisters in addiction has gone back.  And like you brought up earlier, the whole relapse thing. I haven’t relapsed.  I hope I never will.  But statistically, it’s likely.  Those times when I think about relapsing, I remember how horrible my life was back then.  I remember everything I’ve earned today, and how hard I’ve worked to get it.  I think before I get high, I think about my child, my children.  I need to be responsible.  That’s a part of my past that, you know, been there, done that.  Let’s never, ever revisit that.  But it’s a notch under my belt.  You know, I’ve been there, done that, I’ve lived through it, and hopefully … I can forever remain a success story.

 

 


INDEPENDENT LENS
Served Like a Girl

 

Served Like a Girl Join five women rebuilding their lives with humor and heart in the Ms. Veteran America Competition. Wounded in action and transitioning to civilian life, these women seek to help others struggling with homelessness, PTSD and other trauma.

 

 

GROWING BOLDER
Every Day Be a Victory

GROWING BOLDER: Every Day Be a Victory

 

In this episode of Growing Bolder TV: life will present every one of us with challenges, but we can overcome any obstacle when we start Growing Bolder. Meet ordinary people who are extraordinary role models.

 

Tony Handler was living a great life. He was married to the woman of his dreams, raising a family and enjoying every single day. But in an instant, everything changed. Doctors not only told him that he had pancreatic cancer, but they broke the news that he likely only had a few years to live. That was decades ago. And Tony has never given up hope. Despite grueling treatments, experimental drug protocols, surgeries and later, battles with liver, prostate and skin cancer, Tony kept moving. He started to run and that led to competing in triathlons. Tony says that every time he crosses a finish line, he’s beaten Mr. Cancer, and now he’s taking that positive attitude and paying it forward.

 

Other featured stories:

• Doug Ulman: Set Unachievable Goals
• Every Day is a Victory
• The Art of Rebellion
• The Takeaway: Don’t Procrastinate

 

 

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