No. I wasn’t arrested. Just in case you are wondering. 🙂
It was my first time to be in jail. I was nervous. I have always thought of prisons in a very negative manner – a correctional facility for the “bad guys” of society. I expected to see and experience the worst – prisoners taunting us, throwing things while we are looking around, screaming, dirty environment and prison cells.
That was before I entered the compound of the Davao City Jail. When I got inside, I was surprised. I saw colourful homes with curtained windows, flowers, plants, trees and a pavilion with a stage decorated for a program. I saw women sweeping the yard, washing laundry, creating and weaving handicrafts – it doesn’t look like a jail at all.
Yes, the jail wardens referred to the jail houses as “cottages” and the prisoners as “bakasyonistas” or “tourists.” Their quarters are indeed small cottages and if you weren’t informed beforehand, you might think that there is a small community inside. Except that the settlers are all women – a correctional facility for female prisoners.
Slowly, I became more comfortable as our guide, who happened to be one of the prisoners also, toured us around and explained what the “bakasyonistas” are doing, what the particular cottages are for and how the system in that community works. Our purpose for the visit is to learn about how they run the program on ALS or Alternative Learning System as part of the requirements in one of my classes in my graduate study at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
The ALS aims to provide opportunities for these women to study and learn while inside the facility to help them earn for a living through the income generated from the handicrafts that they have created. As for the younger women, this will be an equivalent to a vocational course that would certify them of getting decent and promising careers outside when they have served their terms and are released from the facility.
Most of the “bakasyonistas” were detained due to drug-related offenses. Some accounts are based on a drug-busting operation and they just happen to be included because they were at the scene when the operation happened but were innocent of the crime. A classmate of mine and I were given the opportunity to interview one “bakasyonista.”
Her name is *Rosa. She is 25 years old, 2 years younger than me. She has two kids already and she’s been in the facility for about almost 2 years. She and her husband were separated even before she was arrested. When I saw her, I never felt any apprehension how to approach her. She seems harmless. She greeted us with a smiling face, a bit shy. She carries a very light expression about her while we were conversing. We asked her about how she finds the ALS program and found out that she is one of the staff in-charge with the art decorations of the stage. She said that she loves to do art works and she is also one of the women in that community who weaves ladies’ bags out of straw.
She said that it is a very good opportunity for them that they are studying through the ALS because it gives them hope. It gives them another chance to start something good for a new beginning when they leave the facility. I asked her what she plans to do after she has served her term, she said she plans on putting up her own handicraft store and she wanted to see her two kids as she missed them so much already. She said that she seldom sees the kids as they are studying and her mom and relatives are also too busy to pay her a visit. They get to visit her once or twice a year. I asked her when her term will end. She was silent at first, looked at her hands laid out in front of her and then, she cried.
She doesn’t know for how long she will stay inside the facility. In between sobs, she told us she misses her children so badly. Sometimes, even if the facility seems to be a good community and they are treated pretty well, it still feels lonely. She said that yes, they may be seeing homes, flowers, plants – a regular community, but at the back of her mind, the thought still remains that they are prisoners. That though they may be free to roam around the compound, they still can’t leave the facility and mingle with the rest of society, free to do anything they want.
At that time, while she is talking, I wanted to cry too. But I just held her hand and listened. By the end of her story, I told her with a smiling face, “Don’t lose hope. Have your faith in God. He will give you the strength to overcome all those feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. You will get out of this facility, you will be free and you will be able to see your children soon.”
I changed the topic as soon as I said that to prevent her from crying even more. I asked her what she did on Valentine’s Day. She told us that she was one of the “bakasyonistas” who conceptualized the theme for the stage decoration and yes, she had a date. After saying this, yes, the light, bubbly *Rosa was back again. I teased her. I asked who the guy is. She told us that the guy is one of the male detainees at the men’s correctional facility which is the compound next to theirs.
So I wondered how they got to know each other. She said that it was through a dance group, where she and the guy were members, while they were practicing for a dance presentation. After that, they have been sending love letters to each other through a window. She is blushing while saying all these and I can’t help but feel happy for her.
When our professor told us to wrap up the interview, I asked her if she can show me some of the handicrafts she made. She showed me a purple and blue shoulder bag. Being a fashionista, I liked it right after I saw it. I asked her how much is it. She told me it is worth Php350.00 which is equivalent to US $7. I gave her a 500-peso bill and told her to just keep the change.
I was expecting her to say “Thank you” and only that. But no, she hugged me tight, almost jumping from joy, smiled, and told me, almost crying, how grateful she is. She just could not thank me enough; she told me she will use the money to buy her youngest girl a new pair of school shoes. She then told me to wait because she has something more for me. I told her it is fine as we are also about to leave. But she still insisted, so I gave in. She returned a few minutes after with a coin purse and a belt made of the same color to the bag I bought. She is giving them to me, for free, so they would match my bag.
When she said that, it was I who wanted to cry right then and there. It is a good thing I was able to control my tears. I thanked her and just told her how nice of her to do that and for having a big heart. I told her that I will never ever forget her. I asked her how I can contact her. She gave me the number of the facility and her full name. Afterwards, I hugged her tightly again and she hugged me back just as tight, smiling with a light and happy heart. I, then, bid her farewell.
As I was inside the van with the rest of the class on our way to our dormitel, I began to replay what just happened. Those few minutes that I got to talk to her, see the community and hear their stories, I felt like I have learned a year-worth of experience.
As the facility is starting to get smaller and farther from our view, I can only utter a prayer. A prayer of hope for *Rosa, her children and her family. A prayer for her that she would continue to look into life on a positive perspective despite what she went through, going through and her sacrifices. That she would continue to hold on to her dreams despite all the feelings of loneliness, depression and hopelessness.
Yes, I have faith. I told her to have faith. God is good and loving enough to answer prayers when we repent and ask for His forgiveness. He has a purpose for every single thing that we experience. I told her to be patient. God makes all things beautiful in His time. Just trust and obey.
Lastly, I pray for her heart, that though it may have been broken, though it may have been tainted, it still would remain to be capable of loving and caring.
It was golden. That moment was golden.