Larchs Asian Pacific Islanders connect with culture

first_imgThe Larch Corrections Center is in the Yacolt Burn State Forest, about five miles east of Hockinson. Larch is one of the state’s four minimum-security prisons; it houses 480 offenders, who are within four years of completing their sentences. Those sentences run the gamut, from theft or drug possession to manslaughter or murder.LARCH CORRECTION CENTER — Bouncing and chanting to the drum’s rhythm, the barefoot, bare-chested dancers in flower-print sarongs are greeted by the audience’s gasps of disbelief, giving way to cheering. “Dancing in front of a group of people isn’t what a lot of us grew up learning how to do,” says Antonio Ruiz, or “Blue” as the other offenders at Larch Corrections Center call him. That didn’t stop Ruiz and about 30 other offenders from putting on an Asian Pacific Islander, or API, program for friends, family and a handful of other Larch inmates. The prison’s mess hall served as an auditorium, and an upside-down trash can as a drum, but if you looked past the guards you might think you were inside a community center or church meeting room filled with families waiting to see a cultural event. A large papier-mache dragon, along with several paintings and other API-inspired artwork helped transport the audience beyond the razor wire and less-than-tropical surroundings. “Larch Corrections Center, in the middle of a mountain, that actually took a little bit getting used to, to be honest, coming from Hawaii,” said offender Nainoa”Nine” Fontaine, who spearheaded the program and served as the choreographer. “We’re only initially allotted two days a week to practice dancing. We really had to push and push and they were able to give us four days a week for the past three weeks. So in three weeks we were able to get 12 practices in,” Fontaine said of the 25-minute program.last_img

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