Sharing some good cheer

International Women’s Day

My university fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, visited the female inmates at the city jail last Saturday. It was our way of sharing some goodwill as part of the month-long celebration of the role of women in societies around the world. In the Philippines, the celebration is led by the Philippine Commission on Women.

City Jail

"Members of PAPOAA (the Palawan Alpha Phi Omega Alumni Association) after visiting the female inmates during International Women's Month 2012" retirednoway

Members of PAPOAA (the Palawan Alpha Phi Omega Alumni Association) after visiting the female inmates during International Women's Month 2012

"Visitor Rules" retirednoway

Visitor Rules

You can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats its prisoners. I’m referring more to its humanity than its infrastructure.

In the 1990s, I had a cousin who worked as a county prison officer in Kane county, in Illinois. I visited it several times when I drove out into the country (an expression that means to go into a rural area) to meet him to play basketball and tennis. His prison facility’s infrastructure was typical late-20th century American. In the county, the primary police force belongs to the Sheriff. The jail, therefore, is under the jurisdiction of the Kane County Sheriff’s Office. It was functional, efficient in design, solid, and formidable without being overbearing as is the case with Soviet architecture.

"The towns in Kane County, Illinois. The county jail is in the town of St. Charles." retirednoway

The towns in Kane County, Illinois. The county jail is in the town of St. Charles.

This prison was different. Like I said earlier, you can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats its prisoners. It is so Filipino in its approach to penology. That’s that branch of criminology that deals with the treatment of persons who have violated the laws of the land–as suspects first and, if convicted, as inmates. This prison shows how Filipinos act out the compassion they feel for their fellow men and women.

The female inmates are housed in a detached (free-standing) one-story building. When you go in through the visitor’s entrance, the first structure you encounter is the chapel. Next is the women’s building. The distance from the entrance to the women is less than 10 meters.

"The Prison Chapel of the City Jail. Peering from behind the front is the guard at the Main Entrance." retirednoway

The Prison Chapel of the City Jail. Peering from behind the front is the guard at the Main Entrance.

"Entrance to the Women's facility. Managing the gate is a jail officer. Conversing in the foreground is the current president of PAPOAA and the wardress." retirednoway

Entrance to the Women's facility. Managing the gate is a jail officer. Conversing in the foreground is the former president of PAPOAA and the wardress.

Titles

I was surprised to learn that officers are called “jail guards” by the public and, internally, the government calls them “jail officers.” A better-sounding and equally appropriate title, I think, is “prison officer.” A prison can have multiple jails which is true in this case since the city maintains multiple jails in a single compound.

In the States, because prisons are called “correctional facilities,” officers are called “corrections officer.” I was also surprised, on the other hand, because the supervising officer of the female inmates was called a “wardress.” Wow, somebody went to the manual for that! A wardress is a female warder, and a warder is a person who works in a prison and is in charge of prisoners.

Kumbaya

I love listening to the kumbaya.

“Kumbaya”  is an African-American spiritual song from the 1930s. In the African language called Gullah, kumbaya means “Come By Here” — “Kum ba yah”).

It was popular during the folk revival of the 1960s and then it became a standard campfire song in Scouting and nature-oriented organizations.

The song was originally associated with human and spiritual unity, closeness and compassion, …

Wikipedia

Well, singing kumbaya was comparable to what we did during our visit.
"The visit began with a prayer. Most events do, it seems." retirednoway

The visit began with a prayer. Most events do, it seems.

"The wardress--boss to 18 women." retirednoway

The wardress--boss to 19 women.

"Female inmates. The toddlers are in their safekeeping and belong to other women (prison officers, I think)." retirednoway

Female inmates. The toddlers are in their safekeeping and belong to other women (prison officers, I think).

"The city jail has a total population of 380 inmates. Nineteen of them are female." retirednoway

The city jail, currently, has a total population of 380 inmates. Nineteen of them are female.

"Ten of the 19 female inmates were locked up because of drug charges. Most or all of them were convicted of possessing shabu (methampethamine). The drug is certainly insidious and should be prohibited but why are the users being punished? It makes no sense. The basic premise of Philippine drug laws is short-sighted and, therefore, ineffective in my opinion. Punishing users (whether they're addicts or not) doesn't get our hands around the real problem. What's that, what's the real problem?" retirednoway

Ten of the 19 female inmates were locked up because of drug charges. Most or all of these 19 were convicted of possessing shabu (methampethamine). The drug is certainly insidious and should be prohibited but why are the users being punished? It makes no sense. The basic premise of Philippine drug laws is short-sighted and, therefore, ineffective in my opinion. Punishing users (whether they're addicts or not) doesn't get society's hands around the real problem. What's the real problem? I'll lay out the case in a future post.

"Job Assignments" retirednoway

Job Assignments

"PAPOAA presidents, previous and current , opening the visit" retirednoway

PAPOAA presidents, previous and current , opening the visit

"We distributed goodie bags." retirednoway

We distributed goodie bags.

"I was maneuvered into giving a speech. Two speeches in fact. Thank God for Toastmasters!" retirednoway

I was maneuvered into giving a speech. Two speeches in fact. Thank God for Toastmasters!

"The facility was modest but seemed adequate. Note the proximity of the bunk beds." retirednoway

The facility was modest but seemed adequate. Note the proximity of the bunk beds to each other.

"Of the few major media companies in the Philippines, only ABS-CBN has a local presence. They sent this team to cover the event." retirednoway

Of the few major media companies in the Philippines, only ABS-CBN has a local presence. They sent this team to cover the event.

Click here to see the clip that appeared on television.

"The visitors (PAPOAA) and their hosts (female inmates)" retirednoway

The visitors (PAPOAA) and their hosts (female inmates)

"PAPOAA members enjoying the flow after their good deed." retirednoway

PAPOAA members enjoying the flow after their good deed.

Oh, we did sing!

"We sang alright (but it wasn't Kumbaya)!" retirednoway

We sang alright (but it wasn't Kumbaya)!

Gratitude
And finally, thanks to the people who made it possible!
    • Prison Officer (and paralegal) Edwin Ramirez
    • Prison Wardress Irene Danez-Gaspar
    • PAPOAA previous president Irene Lagrada
    • PAPOAA current president Edong Magpayo

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8 responses to “Sharing some good cheer

  1. Excellent Story..Thanks to Bro. Alex Pronove for creating this post!

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  2. Super LIKE….Nice Blog…

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  3. Very interesting, wonderful photos.

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  4. Rare we can see a man sympathizing with female’s woes sincerely. Upon reading your blog I wonder how much courage you showed to express your support to what seem others call ‘patapon ng lipunan.’ These women, some maybe are already mothers, struggle to find a flicker of hope. Your blog is as great as your mission. See you soon! – Bing Nasiad, St. Scholastica’s Academy Marikina

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  5. wow! finally i viewed your blog bro, its really very interesting and informative, and you really have a good eye and snappy hands in catching good angles, we have nice photos. thank you brother! 🙂

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  6. Godspeed… May you continue sharing your blessings! 😃👏❤️ share share share bless bless bless love love love!

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  7. MAy God bless you all and may you continue to bless others … Godspeed always.. Nice pics. I saw my pictures and remember the days I was assigned to handle the female inmates in Puerto Princesa City Jail.. Worth remembering…3 or 4 years ago!!!

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