Bilibid: Seeds of freedom (and hope) within

I met Roberto (not his real name), 25, who was sentenced 15 years of imprisonment for allegedly stealing a motorcycle and having it “chopped”. The accuser seemed to know what Roberto exactly did when the latter was coming home from a wake at 2:00 a.m. He was accused of using the tools found in the accuser’s car to disintegrate the said motorbike. He vehemently denied the crime as he doesn’t even know how to use these tools, more so ‘chop” a vehicle. For awhile, he cried at his fate until he realized he couldn’t forever dwell on what happened to him. He said he needed to understand how life can be so unfair at those who are innocent.

I talked with Marlon (not his real name too), 20 years old, who was serving his 18- year sentence in CICL (Children In Conflict with the Law) unit of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) as he committed multiple murder against his brother’s bullies. He acknowledged the crime when he was 16, thecause of his stay in CICL. He said he wants help in controlling his bouts of anger.

These two cases represent a multitude of crimes committed (or allegedly committed) by about 6,000 Persons Deprived of Liberty(PDLs), the politically correct term to refer to prison inmates, in the Medium Security Compound. This prison facility is one of the seven found across the country. As the Medium Security Compound houses PDLs with less than 20 years of sentence, PDLs are offered reformation programs such as the Alternative Learning System (ALS) for Elementary and Secondary students, a college degree in Entrepreneurship and Business Management, as well ascontinuous training in the School of Fine Arts for those with aptitude for the arts.  

I personally talked to some PDLs such as Roberto and Marlonas I regularly visit the facility. I have also broughtalong my graduate studentstaking their ServiceLearning activities. The encounter between the free and the unfree happens in the context of an academic integration of Service Learning in the curriculum. Graduate students are immersed in the realities of prison life, the continuing struggles of these PDLs for food, cell space, basic hygiene and health needs, as well as psychological wellness. 

My graduate students are mostly managers, lawyers, engineers, business owners and executives, as well as team leads at the middle layers of management in their companies. Majority never had previous exposure to prisons,and haveformed judgments based on what they read or see from media platforms. This explains their anxiety and unease the first time they visit the penitentiary. 

Service Learning “require” students to undertake projects that would address the felt needs of the PDLs using the former’s talents, time and resources. A ‘needs assessment’ happens on the first jail visit, during which one-on-one interaction with the PDLs happens. After the interaction, student groups conceptualize their projects, seek approval from the professor and the Center for Social Concern and Action (internal partner), and the Philippine Jesuit Prison Services (external partner organization). On their second visit, the graduate students implement their approved projects.

Projects range from teaching and provision for physical hygieneto emotional and mental health interventions such as anger and stress management; from tutorials on skills development and teaching competencies to entrepreneurship and livelihood training/workshops. These projects create a connection between the graduate students and the student PDLs. By being exposed to the Bilibid, our graduate students are slowly changing their judgments and perspectives of the PDLs.   

Our trips to the national penitentiary have made my graduate students and I realize the importance of education irrespective of the place where it happens. The student PDLs and their PDL-teachers have classrooms and other school facilities in an enclosed area intended only to those who choose to continue their studies. They also live together in “prison cells”separate from the common living quarters of ordinary inmates.For the PDLs, education allows them to look at their sentence as an opportunity to better themselves, and provides a source of hopefor them to start anew soon. Education liberates and transforms mindsets of both the free and the unfree. 

To be free means not only living behind prison bars, but also being able to decide to be better, and to define one’s future. It could also mean letting go of one’s psychological and emotional prison cells,and living at peace with one’s self. A change in the prisoner’s mindset can liberate him from focusing on his ordeal to seeing a promise of a better future. He can change that mindset with the help of those who care to get him engaged in more productive endeavors. 

Reformatory programs are not just the work of one government agency. It is multi-stakeholderendeavorthat reminds all citizens of a country and of the world that management of change, either personal or communal, is a community act.A change of perspectives happens when the free listens, understands, and provides needed assistanceto those who have less in life. Hopefully, the Service Learning activities we do in the penitentiary will spark that hope among the PDLs, generate empathy and deeper understanding on the plight of these PDLsin the larger society,and inspire others to do their share in the reformation efforts for those who have been lost once or twice in their lives. 

Dr. Ma. Paquita D. Bonnet is an Associate Professor of the Management and Organization Department of Ramon V. del Rosario Collage of Business of De La Salle University. She teaches in the Master of Business Administration Program. She can be reached at [email protected]

Topics: Green Light , New Bilibid Prison , Children In Conflict with the Law , Persons Deprived of Liberty
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