"I’ve been immersing myself in jails (specifically the Makati and Taguig city jails) the past few months for my thesis but I’ve never been to a prison. People would warn me that the inmates in prison are much scarier and more harsh compared to those in the jails. With that in my mind, I was worried that I wouldn’t know how to converse with them when I’d visit. Boy was I deeply mistaken! A few days ago Fr. Eli Lumbo invited my thesis mate, Maita, and I to go hear mass with the inmates in Bilibid. It was incredible and uplifting just to be surrounded by those who still choose to keep the faith strong especially in times when you’d feel like all hope should be lost. The hairs on my arms went up when I observed the inmates go up to the altar to receive Jesus. One inmate looked so scary with his face so harsh but when I smiled at him, he gave back one the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen in my life. I even shook hands with the inmates during the giving of peace. This made me realize that those who are incarcerated are the ones who need love the most. Even just the simplest of kind gestures will make a huge impact on them. The people in PJPSFI who devote their time to the inmates and their families are doing something amazing here for a really good cause!
Thank you so much to the PJPSFI Team; Father Eli, Father Henry, sir Henry, sir Gene, Kaloy, Diana, Charlie, and everyone else who I got to encounter during this amazing experience! Thank you for welcoming us with open arms and for being so kind. Working with all of you made me feel so much at home especially in an area that was out of my comfort zone. The amount of love and compassion that you show to these inmates and their families is just so inspiring and I’m very thankful to be able to be part of this family even if it was just for a short period of time."
- Jackie Ledesma, 4th Year Organizational Communication student from De La Salle University - Manila.
"Personally, I didn’t put an effort into thinking about people in jail and in prison, nor did I go out of my way to take interest in what they might be going through. Quite frankly, I didn’t care much for it. I left my thoughts at the fact that they did something gravely wrong, and now they’re paying for it confined behind bars. So come thesis term, I had to force myself into immersing in the environment of jails and prisons. I would like to point out that although I was willing to do all this in order to pass thesis and graduate, I got much much more than just an experience to get a grade.
Let me walk you through my experience from the very beginning - before I spent time at PJPS. I remember the first time I walked through the gates of the Taguig City jail. Honestly, I was a little scared. I knew the people in there had committed crimes, and I felt I was among those who were capable of putting me in danger. So as I walked through the halls of both the men and women’s quarters, I made sure to put on a face that didn’t look too intimidated or scared. But my experience on that day didn’t end there - my thesis mates and I were given the opportunity to speak with some of the inmates themselves and listen to their stories. Let me tell you this: a few minutes of sitting down, face-to-face with an inmate, really opened my heart and mind to perspectives I didn’t expect to meet. Instantly, I felt my heart drop and I knew I wanted to listen to more of their stories. Moving on to the day I got to visit the Makati City Jail and talk to a group of male inmates, all the more did my heart ache for them. Hearing their stories, how they got caught, and how they found God inside the jail, reminded me just how human as anybody these people are.
In the Makati and Taguig City Jails, I saw the hope in the inmates’ stories. There was still a chance that they could get out of there and start over with their lives. Which is why when the window to visit the Bilibid prison with PJPS opened up for me, I knew I had to prepare myself for whole different experience. From stories I’ve heard, I knew that the inmates in prison had it much heavier than those in jail - if not completely hopeless, their situation comes very close to that.
Fast forward to the day we visited the Minimum Bilibid Prison, which I was told was where the elderly who were about to be released were convicted. I remember the feeling I got when the gates opened and I first saw the elderly men all dressed in brown standing at the courtyard as they watched our car pass through. I was with a few women from the Thursday group, my friend Jackie, and Father Eli. I had a heavy feeling in my heart, and a couple of thoughts ran through my mind. First thought: it’s scorchingly hot out, how do they go through this every day with about a hundred other inmates? Second thought: I can’t imagine that they’ve grown this old while paying for their mistakes. I wasn’t sure what to make out of it, really. Part of me knew if not all, majority of these men had been involved in heavy crimes. But a part of me also wanted to hear their stories - what if not all of them belonged in there and they had to spend all those years missing out on life outside for somebody else’s mistake?
We came in to hear mass with Fr. Eli and the inmates that day. I’m not sure if words are enough to describe the feeling that ran through me at that moment, but it was nothing like I’ve ever felt before. I was moved by the force of the way the men sang their hearts out in praise of the Lord, and the way they shook my hand in sign of peace. And it only took that simple moment to really believe just how much the love of God can bring people together, no matter who they are, where they come from, what they’ve done. That was the day where I found something I didn’t expect to have the heart for.
To end this article, I would like to express how grateful I am for the members of PJPS for allowing me to stay the week with them. In the little time I had spent here, I had gained not just the hours required for my practicum, but more importantly a lifetime worth of new learnings and a newfound love for those convicted. I hope that more people my age could take the opportunity such as the one I had, so that they may discover just how wide the heart can stretch out for so many people who might need love the most."
- Maria Margarita N. Jalandoni, a 4th Year Organizational Communication student from De La Salle University - Manila