Hello everyone, Today was possibly the best day yet! For we were all able to go to the largest jail in all the Philipines that houses approximately 43% of all of the male prisoners. Yesterday we had a brief orientation given by a very lovely women by the name of Christina. At the end of her presentation she asked us all how we felt about going to the prison and most of us responded that we were both excited, a little worried, but mainly didn’t know what to expect. When the morning finally came we departed for New Bilibid Prison and again had to face the chaotic traffic, taking us almost 2 hours to reach our final destination. However once we arrived all the traffic and the traveling was forgotten and we quickly focused on the journey ahead. We were given a very informative second orientation by Ding. He stated that there were three levels of security at the prison they were maximum, medium, and minimum. In maximum the security the men wear an orange shirt and have been sentenced to more than 20 years. Then there is medium where we spent all of our time. These men wear a blue shirt and are sentenced to 20 years and under, those from maximum can be transferred to medium if they have served enough years decreasing their sentence to under 20 years. Finally there is minimum security where those there are either serving a sentence of 5 years or under or are elderly. He concluded his presentation with stating that we should be open to all that we see and hear and that we should be sensitive to what the prisoners have to say because the prisoners are people just like you and I and deserve to be treated with the same respect and dignity. After the presentation we traveled to the maximum security sector of the prison and as we walked out the bus we quickly noticed how many people were outside of the gate. They turned out to be family members that greatly wanted to visit there loved ones that were in maximum, but had been turned away because there had been changing of the guards the day before due to the president’s order. We were also informed by Precy that we would not be allowed in which was upsetting to us and well as our guides. But what was truly heart retching was that some of those that came to visit were from hours away and Thursday was the only day that they would be able to visit for many many more days, for some they can only come every few months and were not informed that they would not be allowed in. The reason Tina told me that the president implemented the change of the guards was because the guards that were on duty had become corrupt meaning that they allowed those in maximum to build a pool, a bathtub, and many other luxuries that they were not allowed to have. This lack of action by the guards could have been potentially due to the fact that they had been bought out. In trying to keep the integrity of the facility the old guards must all be relinquished of the duties to try and end the corruption in hopes of an equal (chance) environment for all prisoners. However Tina, Precy, and Ding didn’t let this stop them and our journey. We traveled to the medium security and when we were told we would be allowed to enter Tina jumped for joy and stated that she loved to visit medium any chance that she could and we soon would understand why. To enter we had to present photo ID and were frisked by a guard and all males were stamped on their hands so that they would not be mistaken for a prisoner when they wanted to leave. Upon entering the prison it was nothing like I had expected nor had I ever seen before. All the prisoners were out interacting with each other in their own communities. It was so open, there were markets and various vendors selling things trying to make a profit so that they could spend it to buy their basic necessities. We first went to see the artwork that some of the men that were in their art school had made and it was magnificent. These men were so talented, when we walked in our eyes were over loaded with beautiful lush landscapes, breath taking portraits both painted and created by burning wood and many more different and abstract works of art. I truly cannot do the artwork that they had created justice in words for it was so amazing. It is truly great that once inside the prison these men are pushed to reach their full potential whether it be in the arts or education. They are taught that they are better than what they think and encouraged to be all that they can be which I find refreshing in a world that often is too quick to knock people down. Then, we made our way to the school area and along the way were greeted by many smiling faces and many Good mornings and greetings from the prisoners. Also the whole time while we were walking there were men holding umbrellas over us to protect us from the sun. Upon arrival to the school facility we enter a bigger room where there were two rows of desks facing each other. We all sat down at a desk and then a prisoner sat right across from each of us. The man that sat across from me was named Peter, he was 29 and told me that he was very nervous to talk to me. He said that he had never talked to a foreigner before and had not spoken to a girl that was not his teacher for 6 years. He was very sweet because he kept saying that he didn’t want to say anything wrong to upset me or make me feel uncomfortable even in the slightest. As time went on though and we continued to talk I learned about his life, that he loved to be in nature and simply just walk. He had a black cat named Luna whom he cares for and talks to. He has made short films while in prison and his dream job once he is out in two years is to become a photographer. He later got up the courage to ask me why I would spend my time taking to him and asked if I knew he was in a prison. I said of course I knew but honestly talking to him I had forgotten that he was a prisoner and felt like a friend that I was catching up with. This made me think about one of the major points of our trip: solidarity, not to think of those that we see and meet and learn about as separated from us, but in an “us and them” mentality, and to view them as though we are all equal and deserve the same treatment no matter our socioeconomic background. So I responded that we were both humans, we all have past but it is what we do with our present to better our future that determines who we are (He was in school). I wish that we had longer to talk to our buddies ,but many of them had to go to different classes such as accounting. After we ate lunch with them, those that did not have to leave preformed for us. They have a singing and dancing group that performed a few numbers for us and they told us that we should also do a dance number. So after much deliberation we decided to sing Don’t Stop Believing which was not of Broadway quality but made many of the men there laugh and I feel as though it brought us closer in kinship. For there is no easier way to bring people together than shared laughter. We then had to sadly say good bye to all of those that we had met and embarked on our tour of the entire facility. We were shown the dorms of various people that appeared to be greatly over packed. When asked how many people we thought lived there most said 12 or 20 at most, but we were informed that over 60 people slept there with no more than 10 beds in sight. We were informed that most people sleep on the ground and two to one bed. Those that have frequent visitors however get special treatment and get better and more private beds.
Then we walked to the gate waved and thanked those that we had met. Our journey inside medium security had come to an end. However that is not where this day ended. We were taken to the museum of the prison and where lethal injections were done. There were only 7 men in 1999 whom died of lethal injection one of whom was innocent. We were permitted to enter the room where they took place and all the clocks were stuck at three o’clock because that was the time that the lethal injections occurred. This visit also had extreme importance because lethal injection is currently illegal in the Philippines, but if the current President gets his wish the death penalty will resume and lethal injection in that very room will be revived. Today was truly an amazing day and as a group we would like to thank all of those that we met and made it even possible for us to go. This was such a life changing experience and all of us will look back on it for the rest of our lives. I, and I’m sure many others in our group, wish to return one day for it was such a great experience. Thank you again to everyone especially the staff and inmates that took time out of their very busy days to accommodate us!
– Kayla Murphy