Today, I went to jail.”
I was invited to go to jail.
A friend, Gang Badoy (whom I met for the first time in person last Sunday) was visiting the Maximum Security prison in Muntinlupa and she asked me and a couple of friends to join us.
I gladly agreed to go to jail.
With my newfound freedom from employment, I now have the luxury to accept outrageous invitations like this. Oh, who could resist an opportunity to go to jail??!
The visitors: Gang, Leslie and Mike from RockEd; Jakob an anthropologist from Denmark; Tanya a childhood friend since grade 1 and her friend Laurel a Fil-Am writer based in New York; and Ka Edong, certified KAladkarin.
We entered through the imposing solid gates of the Maximum Security prison, got frisked for any banned paraphernalia (we had permission to bring just one camera, thus I have no photos from inside), got stamped on the wrist twice. I protected these marks on my wrist, it was my ticket to leave prison later in the day.
I was entering the Maximum Security prison where inmates have a minimum of 20 years imprisonment.
But when we got in, I felt safe the whole time. We were welcome guests.
I saw how inmates are able to roam the compound (a lot area close to that of SM Megamall). I saw more than 8 churches of different denominations plus a mosque. I saw that commerce is very much alive with mango vendors, handicraft stalls, streetfood (isaw! sarap!), a bakery and sari-sari stores. I saw a tennis court and many basketball courts. I saw their hospital and a theology school, an alternative learning school. I saw an art classroom and BEAUTIFUL Awesome paintings! Self-expression and creativity is alive and well in the bilibid
I saw a covered gymnasium where RockEd holds their “Rock the Rehas” concerts with the country’s top bands and singers. Awesome!
We settled in at the office of Lamb of God — a paralegal group helping inmates with legal advise and their release papers. This was the venue of many of RockEd’s activities including poetry classes and other learning sessions by friends of RockEd.
We had perhaps an hour and a half of interaction with some of the inmates – students of the poetry class and members of Lamb of God. We each introduced ourselves to the group – visitors and inmates. And continued on in more informal discussions in pairs or small groups to talk about … life.
Life is what I saw in the inmates – Ranny, Gaspar, Chatz, Dolphy, Rowen, Obet, Mike, Puti and Edwin (an inmate, my namesake) and others.
It started when Edwin, in the middle of his self-introduction, decided to read two poems he had written right before we arrived. Edwin’s poems were filled with words of longing – longing to see a “Nanay” (mother) for that is how he has come to relate to Gang. His poems spoke of the joy of poetry and a gift of self-expression, the excitement of seeing friends in person or on TV.
I got to listen to Puti, a good looking man of around 55 years who had travelled the world, had the luxuries of life, had women too many to count and so much more that most men would die to have.
Puti described how he had discovered the Lord while in prison. Puti learned the healing powers we have within us with the grace of God. He shared his insights on the beauty of life – an appreciation he learned behind bars, an inner-happiness he had never experienced in his life of unrestrained physical freedom outside prison.
Breaking of bread
We broke bread and shared pieces of ensaymada from the nearby bakery.
We broke bread as we exchanged stories and origins.
We shared a piece of ourselves with every word spoken, question asked and answered, every smile or facial expression that connected us to one another.
And we broke bread when it was time to leave.
We gave ourselves a chance to say our thanks to the group. Representatives among the inmates thanked us for visiting them. Jakob spoke words in Danish and translated them in English showing his gratitude for the opportunity to be with the inmates and study their artworks (tatoos!).
These were my words of thanks.
Nagpapa-salamat ako sa oras na tayo ay nagkasama ngayong hapon, sa karangalang kayo ay makilala kahit saglit.
Nakita ko ngayong hapon kung paano ninyo nabigyang kahulugan ang inyong buhay sa kabila ng inyong sitwasyon.
Naligayahan akong marinig ang mga nadiskobre ninyo tungkol sa inyong sarili, sa inyong pananampalataya, sa inyong buhay.
Sa maikling sandali na nakasama ko kayo, tila bang mas-buhay pa kayo kumpara sa marami pang ibang tao sa laya na dumadaan lang sa pang-araw-araw na gawain na walang saysay.
Salamat sa blessing na inyong naibahagi sa akin sa hapong ito. Magkikita tayo muli.
(I thank you for the time we had together. I saw this afternoon how you have gave meaning to the circumstance that you are in. I saw how you have discovered much about yourselves, your spirituality, your life. It seems many of you are more alive than many others outside prison who go through life like a machine with little or no purpose in life. Thank you for the blessing that you have shared to me today. I will see you again.)
We closed the afternoon with a prayer led by Gaspar, a 71 year old inmate due for release “soon”.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon:
where there is doubt, faith ;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
(Prayer of Saint Francis)
For what is freedom but the acceptance of our past and the living in the now.
For what is freedom but allowing ourselves to claim the joy that God makes available for us in abundance.
Apart from the limitations we set upon ourselves, we are free no matter what circumstances.
Free to be happy, free to learn, free to live, free to love.