Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Time to Rethink a Jail Policy

Two weeks ago, a cab driver was stabbed and robbed here in American Samoa by inmates at the Tafuna Correctional Facility. The territory's violence level is really low I'd say, but the details surrounding this story are particularly interesting nonetheless. Some (including myself) are beginning to wonder whether AS needs a total overhaul of their jail system. One small step would be to clamp down on furloughs, which seem to be handed out like candy here.

Here's what Radio New Zealand had to say about the story:

American Samoa jail inmates accused of stabbing a taxi driver
Posted at 23:00 on 24 April, 2007 UTC

Senior investigators from American Samoa’s Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Bureau have made an unannounced vist to the Tafuna Correctional Facility in connection with the stabbing of a taxi driver in Leone nearly two weeks ago.

Two inmates are considered key suspects in the stabbing and one has confessed.

According to investigators, items which were taken from the taxi driver have been found in one of the inmate’s possessions.

However there has been no record of an escape by inmates at the jail during the time of the attack.

The investigators findings have led to questions about whether actual head counts of inmates are carried out.

I think RNZ is missing something. Read the next story from Samoa News:

Probe of cabbie assault leads to shakedown at TCF - Two inmates admit their involvement, sources say
By Tau Toluono and Blue Chen-FrueanSamoa News Reporters

Two TCF inmates admitted yesterday to police their involvement in the theft and assault of a taxi driver two weeks ago in Leone, sources told the Samoa News.
The confession followed a TCF shakedown last Friday that uncovered personal belongings of the cabbie in a cell unit where the two inmates were supposed to be detained.

The taxi driver has been identified as an ASPA employee who is related to Police Commissioner Sotoa Savali.

At the center of the investigation are TCF inmates Siaulaiga Safune and Mati Kalava, who police sources say have admitted to leaving the TCF compound on the night in question. They also told investigators that going outside of TCF was nothing new.

According to sources, the two suspects told investigators that it's been a common practice for inmates to go outside of jail to visit their families and when they return they bring 'oso' with them, or food and other goodies.

Does this strike anyone as odd? It's "nothing new" for inmates to just leave the jail and come back as they please? They didn't just "escape" as RNZ implies, they left. And it's "common practice." This may remind you of a prior posting on this blog - http://potatoestopapayas.blogspot.com/search?q=jail

But it doesn't end there...

Samoa News learned that it was a confidential informant(CI) who tipped off police regarding the TCF inmates after a story about the assault was published by Samoa News last Tuesday. According to sources, the CI came across the two inmates, one of them the CI identified as someone from his village that was supposed to be in jail. The CI also told police that the two had with them car speakers.

Officers of the DPS Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Bureau (CIIB) then conducted a shakedown of the particular cellblock.

There, police found the cabbie's driver's license and his wallet, which have been seized and taken into custody as evidence. Also found were speakers and amplifiers that were taken from the taxi.

Along with the cabbie's personal belongings, police also found several other items of interest, some of which are believed to have been stolen from other victims during other possible burglaries and robberies.

They brought their goodies back to the jail! Speakers and amplifiers to boot! You mean there's no one to shake them down when they come back? These guys actually thought they could keep large items like speakers and amplifiers hidden in the jail! That either says something about their intelligence or the jail policies. I'm betting on the latter. Heck, why didn't they just bring in weapons? Then they could have really done some damage.

But then comes the outrage:

From what police were able to confiscate during the shake down, it has been determined that the Leone incident was not an isolated one, as it appears that the two culprits, along with other inmates, have made it a habit to escape the prison facility and wander around looking for unsuspecting victims, before returning to the TCF.

"Based on what we have discovered so far, we can say that it's not safe anymore, anywhere," said a DPS official. "The scariest thing of all is the fact that this isn't the first time that something like this has happened. As embarrassing as this may be, it has been uncovered and there's nothing we can do about it except let the public know."

NOTHING? How about NOT allowing prisoners to leave so often? Why can't the jail have set policies for furloughs, with permission only granted by a Justice? What about conducting regular shakedowns, ESPECIALLY after furloughs?

Based on the family relation between the victim and the police commissioner, a police officer told the Samoa News that he does not know if the attack was a way of indirectly harming Sotoa "but regardless of who the victim is, the fact is, things like this are happening, and they're happening at the hands of people who are supposed to be locked up in cells for the protection of the general public."

Finally, a police officer sees the picture. The jail needs a complete overhaul. I mean, can this seriously be happening on American soil? Granted, it's American Samoa, but my point still holds.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Jessi's New Puletasi

Jessi had a traditional Samoan dress (Puletasi) made for Melissa's wedding. Here is my elegant wife in her new dress.

I especially like the collar on the dress. The design consists of black sea turtles and flowers on a forest green dress. The skirt is a wrap-around, kind of like a lava lava.

What a beautiful woman!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

IBM Beach

Kind of a weird name for a beach, I know. It's probably got another name, but I just don't know it. Today we went to IBM Laundromat Beach. It's named that because it is right across the street from the IBM Laundromat. Don't let the name of the laundromat (or the beach) fool you; these are no high-tech computer-run washers and dryers. IBM is probably the owner's initials (still no word on any trademark infringement problems).

One of the best things about IBM is it has good sand. Some other pluses are that it is located across Pago Pago Harbor from Rainmaker Mountain, which is really beautiful, and that the snorkeling past the reef is outstanding.

The surface water can be dirty at times, but it's bearable. We swam past the reef at high tide and it drops probably 50+ feet. When it's sunny, you can see practically all the way down, and there were some absolutely beautiful coral and fish!

After swimming, Jaydn got a kick out of stuffing sand down his shirt (although it didn't feel so comfortable later).

Me standing under Rainmaker. Maybe this is good luck. Maybe Rainmaker can make some rain fall on me!

Jaydn decided he wanted to dig the biggest hole in the sand he possibly could. When he got down to a level where there was only huge rocks, he asked for our help. Mark and I helped him get out as many rocks as we could, finally exerting all our efforts on a 40+ pounder. It's amazing what pointless activities a dad will do just to hear his son say, "oh my gosh mommy, look what daddy did!" Mark obviously felt the pressure as well. And Jessi, well, she just wanted to take pictures of our ridiculous accomplishment.

After watching Mark and Dad make fools of ourselves, Jaydn, of course, had to show off his manliness as well.

After the beach, we got ice cream and drove up to the cable car monument. On Flag Day 1980 (April 17), some Air Force jets flew over the sky of Pago Pago to commemorate United States' rule of the territory. Unfortunately, they crashed into the cable car which connects Mt. Alava to the mountains on the other side of the Harbor. As a result, the pilots and many others were killed.

The cable car never ran again. It has languished since then, gathering moss and graffiti. Unfortunately, it is an eyesore. I could think of a few treasured government perks that could be done away with to pay for a new cable car. But that's a whole different story.

What might have been...
The view from here did provide for some good pictures, however.

Then we drove around trying to find the Blunt's Point WWII gun. We ran across a good picture of Faga'alu. You can see the outline of the coral from here.

Finally we found the gun. But word to future visitors to Blunt's Point--you have to sneak around the water tower at Blunt's Point to get to the gun. It's hidden behind and over the water tower. And, unfortunately, it is another neglected monument of American Samoan history.

All right, enough exploring for us! We're pooped.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Flag Day - Going to the Caves

Today was Flag Day for the Territory. Flag Day is the biggest holiday for AS, and is akin to US Independence Day. Except Flag Day doesn't celebrate independence per se. On April 17th, American Samoans celebrate April 17, 1900, the day that Tutuila was taken by the United States Navy and made a US territory. They celebrate old-fashioned colonialism.

We decided to avoid the festivities and went instead to some caves on the oceanside in Leone.

The caves were pretty fun. Over thousands of years, water has pushed through the lava rock making caverns that eventually turned into blowholes. These caverns and blowholes are so big now that you can pretty safely swim through them. You swim into the caves through an opening from the ocean. Here, Mark and Jaydn are sitting right at the mouth of the caves (I shouldn't have used my flash!).

We all went in, but Jessi later took some pictures of us through the blowholes. Here you can see me and Jaydn, and Mark and Liz, our friends.

Here I got a picture of Jessi in the caves as well.

Some time afterward, the tide started to come in and the water level was rising in the caves. While the higher water level made it so we could safely jump into the caves through the blowholes (Jaydn didn't, of course), the water would push you up toward the ceiling of the cave so getting out was kind of a trick. Usually it required swimming under the water until you got to the opening where you could climb out. It was really fun.

We also got some snorkeling in, and Jaydn saw several sea horses (which we hadn't seen in the ocean before). Afterward, we found some pretty cool puddles created in the lava rock.

After our trip to the caves, Jaydn and I took in some absolutely-free-Pizza Hut-Flag Day Celebration-blow-up toy fun. Heck, it was Flag Day, so I let Jaydn jump off the blow-up slide. I was the only one supervising, anyway!

Dance Performance

On Monday we went to an island dance competition at McDonalds (EVERYTHING here happens at McDonalds). We have some friends' kids who were dancing in the show, so we came to give our support. Plus, ever since Jessi started dancing, she has really enjoyed going to dance performances.

All ages of youth danced, and their costumes were beautiful.

Some of the numbers were really neat so I videotaped them. While doing so, however, I noticed that Jaydn was dancing pretty crazy to the Samoan music on the grass to the side of the stage. I just moved the camera over and caught a pretty silly guy who had no inhibitions about all of the people around who were watching. It was funny.

I didn't get any still shots of some of the older group dancers, who danced and sang at the same time. Samoan choral singing is really uniquely beautiful, and I think the key to its beauty is the enormous amount of energy that each singer has. I mean, these dancers were moving all over the place and still singing remarkably well in several part harmony. I'll never cease to be amazed at the music I hear here in AS from Samoans.
Another thing about Samoan music is that it is always loud--whether it is on the bus or at a dance recital--really loud! This next picture is kind of dark, but just look at the foot of the vehicle and you'll see Jaydn and his friends making the international "that's too loud" signal.

Here's Jessi's visiting teaching companion and her family--the Esekia's. Their two oldest daughters danced in the show.

I really liked the cloud in the sky and wanted to get a picture of it, so I told Jessi and Carol to stick their heads in the picture. As you can see, one little guy was not very happy right at that moment!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Renting a Movie in Samoa

We've been here for 9 months and Friday was the first time we rented a movie. We usually just borrow from people, but when you want to see a new release, you have to rent!

Samoans still haven't figured out that no-fee membership makes you more money. The top rental store in AS charges a whopping $10 lifetime membership fee for renting movies, and the movies are $3 after that! Who wants to pay $13 for their first rental?

Our friends figured they'd open a rental store. They named it CTR, after the ring (go figure). I thought they might go without rated R movies, but no. Maybe that's why they call it CTR (choose the R movie?!). CTR has $5 lifetime membership, which is better, but still not quite Blockbuster.

So finally I ran across a store that charges $1 lifetime membership. At $1, what's even the point of having a membership fee? I mean, they're making practically nothing on membership. Anyways, I figured this was the best I could do in AS (why didn't I just get Netflix?).

Their selection was horrid, but at least they had the new releases I wanted. I had to wonder, however, if a store that charges only $1 per membership could afford to hold actual DVD's. ;) I looked around, wondering if the video I was renting was a bootlegged copy (it's happened here before!).

After I picked my pix, the lady at the counter told me, "the movies are due back tomorrow. But we have a special on Saturdays, when the movies are due back in 2 days!" Wow. Not much of a special, considering that there aren't many (if any) video stores open on Sundays, and this lady's "special" was just a different way of saying, "we're closed on Sundays."

I had to show ID when I signed up for my $1 membership, but I was stupid and gave them my Samoan driver's license (with my SS# plastered on the front). I realized my error when she had written my information--with social security number--on my membership sheet that they kept at the store. I asked her, "you don't really need that number" or "why do you need that number?" or something like that. She just laughed. Partly in jest, I told her I didn't want anyone stealing my identity. She laughed again. "Oh, Samoans don't do those things." I didn't know if she meant "don't know how," or if she was playing me for the fool by pretending that Samoans would never dream of stealing someone's identity. The bad thing is, either way, I think she convinced me because I left the store without ever complaining again.

After I paid ($3 a movie, $1 membership fee) she handed me back the $1, saying "your membership is free this time." Huh? Only this time, of course.

Why didn't I sign up for Netflix?

Back to Vatia

On Saturday we went back to Vatia. The water conditions were perfect for us to swim past the reef and enjoy the beautiful coral on the other side. Vatia's coral is probably some of the best on the island.

Jaydn enjoyed floating on the waves in an innertube. He's been kind of sick, so it was nice that he was able to come out and swim without feeling too bad.
This is Marcus, Mark and I talking under the huge banyan tree.

The best part of the trip was when we didn't get a flat tire!

Another Crazy Samoan Sign

This is a sign that I saw on the way back from Vatia. What I want to know is how the rental business is interconnected with the funeral and escort service businesses. Are their funerals exclusively for the people who rent their properties? The same question applies for the escort service. Or is it that people can rent caskets?

My next question is, in this highly-concentrated Christian society, where immorality is shunned and church attendance is high, would there actually be an escort service!? And if it's not what it normally means, then what kind of "escorting" do the Skyview people actually do?

Anyways, it sure sounds like the Skyview people have their hands full. Kind of a "jack of all trades; master of none" scenario if you ask me.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Larsen's Cove

We had a two-beach weekend this last week; we visited Larsen's Cove. Larsen's a small hike from the Vaitogi village. While we normally go to the beach in small groups, this time there were probably 35 people in our group.

Once we hiked down to the opening for the beach, it was still a good 10-20 feet climb to get to the sand.

The snorkeling here was not that great, but the beach was beautiful. There was a nice big rock cliff in the center of the beach to provide shade.

The rocks sort of curled in around the Cove. The trees on both sides grew right over the water, and the water formed small caves on each side which were fun to explore.

Me in front of the beautiful rock cliffs.

I had to get a picture of the hanging coconut trees. They must be pretty strong to grow sideways.

Here's Jessi, Melanie and Deepa talking on the beach.

Jaydn, Trey and Keya got buried in the sand.

Here's kind of a dark picture of Jessi and I--married for eight years in May! I guess I'm a pretty lucky guy, huh?
As we left to hike back to the car we were captivated by the beauty of a sunset-touched golden field of papaya and banana trees surrounded by lush green hills.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Alega Beach

Yesterday (Good Friday) we went to Tisa's Barefoot Bar & Grill; the Samoan name for the beach is "Alega Beach." While Good Friday is not a day off of work in the states, it is here. It was one year ago on Good Friday that I found out I had passed the Idaho Bar (so the "Good" part of the day took on an additional meaning).
When we arrived, Tisa asked me, "so have you come to use my beach?" Um, yeah. It's still strange to think that whole beaches can belong to one person or a family.

The sand at Tisa's is probably some of the best on the island. Another perk is that it has lots of shady trees.
Jaydn has a new hobby when we come to the beach--catching crabs. Not the really big ones, of course.

Jaydn and his friends like to catch hermit crabs and put them in one centralized location. They caught quite a few here.
Below are our good friends Jason and Krista Corry (and their two boys above).

Jessi and Krista cooling off in the water--

Little sandwich eater--

Jaydn and his friends enjoyed the rope swing.

This is little Nate Roth, Jay and Carol Roth's boy, 18 months old. What a cutie. Who couldn't resist taking a picture of this face?

What a nice beach day!