sr. romy: “when you have free time, if you have nothing to do, just come here!”
me: “yes! definitely!”
the priest this morning, in his ending comments towards the conclusion of mass, referred to “this place,” as “a place for transformation and conversion.” it was clear to me that he tried his hardest, with his most careful word choice, to not use the word, “jail,” or “prison.” from my experience this past friday, and this morning, it made sense to me – this again, was unlike anything i could have ever imagined. surprising experiences…yet again. i’m starting to see a theme here on mission.
every week, two social workers and i, visit the jail, and spend time with the CICL – “children in conflict with the law.” in the jails here, we do not call them juveniles, but rather, 18 and below, you are considered a CICL. this past friday, we did autobiographies with the inmates, and selfishly, i was really glad, because it helped me get to know them at least in more detail, who they were, and what their outlook was on life.
i was surrounded by 7 CICL, 18 year olds, 15 year olds, a 17 year old…most of them with visible tattoos, wearing “normal’ street clothes, and they all looked no more than 15 years of age. right off the bat, i didn’t know the offenses, but i listened to them as they shared their outlooks on life, and their hopes/dreams for the future.
one of the biggest difficulties was language. but i wouldn’t even say that was a HUGE barrier, in the sense that, while i was straight up told, ” you need to learn ilocano, ” i would have to disagree. the tagalog is helping me a lot, and while i do not understand every word that is spoken, especially the ones spoken in ilocano, i have found that in many of the ministries that i have been involved in here, because of the passive nature of the culture, sometimes just feeling the connection between my heart and theirs, and looking at each of my brothers and sisters, directly in their eyes, gains me that instant access. and that’s how i felt on friday.
one of the boys was very hesitant, did not want to share their autobiographies, and towards the end as i was getting ready to leave, he said a sincere thank you to me, and i told him i would be back to see him next week. another boy was very reluctant to share, and i had to leave, because i had mass – well, he saw i really wanted to hear his story, and i was walking out, then he gave in. their stories are worth listening to. their lives are worth it…worth, so much.
if you know me, you know that one of my most life-changing experiences was here in the philippines, when i worked with orphans and street children, many of whom were living lives as prostitutes, being trafficked, or abused. and well, my heart crushes every time i hear one of these stories, and this has ultimately led to my desire to use my life as mission…
on friday, i asked one of the boys why he was there. he said, human trafficking. i said almost instantly, wait, why are you in here, if you were trafficked?
i stopped. and then i realized. and i asked, “wait, were YOU being trafficked? or were you the traffickER?” and he said, “i was the trafficker.” and i was silent.
my mind started to process, my heart started to catch up to me, and we continued the sharing. whoa. a lot of realities were presented to me that afternoon, and to tell you the truth, i can not wait until next friday, until when i can see them all again, spend time with them, and provide them with a space to reflect on their lives, and who they are. they’re all so young, and have been through a lot – abuse, drugs, and have committed crimes, like, rape, murder, theft, trafficking…but, i am learning to love in a whole ‘nother capacity.
this morning, i returned with sr. romy to attend mass. i met the other religious sisters, i met other inmates, and they were so nice. i was surprised at how free the inmates were inside. they were allowed to walk all around, and since not all of them wore their “detainee” shirt, at times i was confused as to who was actually an inmate. i spent most of my time this morning in the women’s dorm. i was so surprised to see that there is a cooking station they have created in the center of the large room – with a little shop attached to it, where the women can purchase different supplies or different cooking needs. they explained to me, that if they don’t like the food that is fed to them, they will put their money together, purchase some food from the men [who have a contract with outside vendors, in which they sell the food in the jail], and then they will cook their own meal. i was just so surprised! i was like, what? you have this privilege! amazing.
during visiting hours, which i was also present for, in the huge quad in the middle of the jail, families came and brought rice, all types of food, and they shared a meal with their family member/friend who was in jail. vendors were walking among the family members/friends/inmates, and i can not even tell you how wonderful it was to see the “detainees” holding their children. i didn’t know their stories, but it didn’t matter. it was a beautiful reunion after reunion. this one man held his daughter so tight when she ran in. it was really nice.
i was happy when i saw familiar faces. some of the CICL boys were there, and they politely waved at me. it was nice because they saw me first, and they waved! i met some other CICL through the metal bars, and urged them to go to the next friday meeting, since i didn’t have a chance to meet them before. then i met two other boys, an 18 year old, and a 20 year old, who immediately called me “ate crystal,” and told me that they pray that they will be released. i pray for them too.
it’s a really difficult environment to be in, but crazy that only after temporarily handing in my california driver’s license, my camera, cell phone, flipcam, i’m in. instantly.
and so, i left, with the desire to return. my prison ministry has begun – but it’s not even that, to me. it just felt really right being there. i think that’s a good sign. 🙂