welcome to new bilibid prison.
before this visit, this is all i knew about bilibid. its wide, high, and thick, white walls. i see it in the news and in movies. that's just about it.
just this february, i was invited by 2010 toym and towns awardee, and rock ed founder, and all around amazing woman gang badoy to sit in her creative writing class at bilibid. "really, bilibid? as in, inside?" that was my reaction when gang first told me about it. i couldn't believe that someone i know actually teaches there, and more than that, that regular people like me can actually go in, without any relative or contact inside. YES, of course i took the chance to go.
along with me, gang also invited 2009 toym awardee, top philippine fashion designer, and design mogul rajo laurel to share his thoughts and see what possible projects he can do upon meeting the class.
*notice how i emphasized that gang and rajo are toym awardees? its my sercret dream (well, its not a secret anymore after this, haha!) to do something great enough with my life to deserve a toym award. i don't know what exactly it is yet, but it is one of my big dreams, and hey, its free to dream. :p
entering bilibid, i was pleasantly surprised. pleasantly surprised because it was beautiful. it was a nice, organized, peaceful village. yes, village! there's a park, there are rows of establishments, churches, stores.. lots of plants, handicrafts, benches.. a real village! i wish i could share pictures but my personal camera was not allowed inside! and neither were mobile phones! i hope my description through words would be enough. :) i'd ask you to close your eyes and imagine, but then you wouldn't be able to read this.. hahaha, so that won't work. :p
as soon as we got passed the wide, high, and thick, white walls, there were rows and rows of steel gates and security checks that we had to pass. scary and intimidating, i must admit. as soon as we passed the final gate though, the mood totally changed. i kid you not, the sun was shining, the breeze was cool, the birds were chirping, and the friendly smiles of the inmates greeted us! don't get me wrong. i know they are in bilibid for a reason and that they are serving time for something they might've done. but they were really, really warm to us. as we walked by, we felt like such vips because gang is such a popular figure in bilibid, greeting people left and right! we joked with her that if there were elections inside, she can totally run, and win! hahaha! they were nice enough to walk us with umbrellas through the compound. we passed a huge park where they had lots of gazebos, a basketball court, tennis court, and lots of plants. we passed their hospital. we passed their countless tables of handicrafts that they were selling. from wood to plastic to cardboard to paintings, these men had serious arts and crafts talent! we passed a row that i found so inspiring. they had such respect for each individual's religious beliefs. there was a whole row of churches, from a catholic church to a mosque, to a mini iglesia church, to jehovah's, and many, many more. you hear of stories of people in prison who get to read the bible many times over. when you get to go inside, you can definitely see how your life can be completely devoted to God. we passed rows and rows of classrooms. from painting to soldering, to alternative learning classes. yes, you can actually finish your studies and graduate while inside bilibid. religion, education, vocation, a sense of community. from that short five minute walk from the gate to the classroom, these are the things i saw were important in life inside bilibid.
we got to gang's creative writing class and we all did a little self-introduction to be able to break the ice within the group. gang likes to invite friends from different fields to her class, like rajo and myself, to allow her students to conduct interviews, and then write about it for class. some of her students like writing poems, some like writing narratives, some prefer tagalog, some prefer english, some write more casually, and some more formal. as they read their works one by one, there were so many times that i wanted to just cry out of overwhelming emotions. i just had to stop myself because it would've been to oa to cry out of nowhere! the point of view of someone who has had so much time to think on his own, is so powerful. about how and why they are serving time, without going into too much detail, about how they miss their families, and how they have found purpose in their life while inside bilibid. a lot of them thanked God for being in prison for 5, 10, 15 years, because it is here where they found solace and peace, and it is here where they discovered talents and passions they never thought they had.
aside from learning about each other's lives, rajo decided to take things a step further by challenging the class to make furniture. as soon as rajo took out the photo of his peg, the class starts crowding around, and others who weren't even in the class went in just to see what the new project is and how they can help! rajo wants to make a way for them to create pieces that he can then sell here outside, and proceeds of course would go back to them! isn't rajo amazing?!
after the class, the students eagerly walked with us to take us around for a tour of their nice, little community! photos weren't allowed by cameras from the outside, but there was an "official camera" which is where all these photos i'm sharing with you are from. while we were walking, more stories were exchanged. about how the inmates after some time become teachers at the school and ministers in the church. it was very inspiring.
a lot of the students asked me, "bago ka pumasok dito, anong ideya mo ng bilibid?" i honestly said that i thought bilibid was a concrete building with steel bars, that its dark, that inmates are just in their cells, with limited hours a day to go out. they simply smiled at my answer, giving me a so-ano-na-ang-tingin-mo-ngayon look. :p they knew that they were more than able to show us that bilibid is not a scary prison as we might think a usual prison would be. this was maximum security, but they are a peaceful, progressive, happy community inside. :)
our last stop before leaving bilibid was the base of the kulay org. they are a group of painters inside bilibid and boy are they talented! some of them have been painting for years, some of them just learned how to paint while inside. most are oil on canvass and some will seriously rival artworks we would see in galleries in makati! rajo fell in love with this one artworks with birds, and we all fell in love with the mixing plate which gang got to bring home! signed by the artist pa!
and i was able to take home a few things!
a painting of jesus christ.
at the start of the class, gang asked everyone to stand up one by one to introduce themselves before rajo and i introduce ourselves. one of the students, mark, stood up, said his name, then politely asked me "ma'am, katoliko po kayo?" i said, "yes." and then he did some hand gesture to a friend standing by the door. by the time he finished introducing himself, he handed me this beautiful painting and said, "regalo ko po para sa iyo. sa totoo lang, pagpasok ko dito, hindi talaga ako marunong sa pagpinta. dito na lang ako natuto." i told mark i will proudly display this in my room.
a personalized mini rocking chair.
that actually serves as a celphone holder while charging! who would've thought?! i also got this sweet gift from another student in the class, rowen. in just a few minutes, they were able to etch my name in the wood! they gave the same item to gang and tammy as well! i remember rowen telling me as we walked out, "simple ka lang pala in person, just like pinky webb, when i'd see her visit hubert here, simple lang din siya."
a handful of letters and poetry.
they just scribbled a bit, tore off a page from their notebooks, and handed it to me. they were all so appreciative of the time rajo and i spent with them, and they were hoping we could come back soon. they all signed their letters with their name, dorm number, then the words "bureau of corrections, muntinlupa", as their actual address. for me, nothing beats the age old practice of handwritten letters.
packs of focaccia bread.
yes, as in pillow like packs of focaccia bread with olives and cheese! a few minutes in the oven toaster, and its crispy on the outside, soft on the inside! really delicious! and i'm not just saying that. this focaccia bread is sold in the bakery inside bilibid. yes, there is a bakery inside where you can buy all kinds of goodies! see, it is not a not-manly thing to bake! haha.
i never thought the words "welcome" and "bilibid" could be used in the same sentence. but i did feel so welcome in bilibid. the biggest thank you from the bottom of my heart to gang badoy, rajo laurel, tammy david, and to all my new friends at bilibid! it is not everyday a girl gets to hang out with inmates, and learn serious life lessons from them. i will never, ever forget this experience and i hope to visit again soon. :)