Visit to the New Bilibid Prison

My husband's friend was sentenced for three years incarceration at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa for attempted rape while drunk. It was his second year in prison when my husband (still my boyfriend at the time) suggested we visit him.

Needless to say, I was at first hesitant not knowing what to expect. It is his first time to visit NBP too, and does not know exactly where his friend is, but assured me he will do the asking and inquiring and I just accompany him. Making sure we have identification cards with us, we decided to devote one Saturday for this activity
Arriving in Alabang via bus from Cubao, we asked jeepney drivers how to go to the New Bilibid Prison. Luckily, all the people we asked were helpful enough to direct us to the jeepneys plying the Muntinlupa route. The jeepney we took dropped us at a road intersection where we were instructed to wait for jeepneys going to NBP or take a tricycle (rickshaw) if we want to go immediately. We waited for more than 15 minutes but no jeepney came so we asked a tricycle to bring us there. The driver was very helpful and served as our tour guide to the NBP.
Not knowing about the various areas of the Bilibid Prison, we only realized how big it was when we were there. There is a separate prison with very high walls with lots of barbed wires for the maximum security prison and there's a least secured prison for lesser criminals.

We described the offense and sentence to the driver and it was him to told us that our friend must be in the Minimum Security Camp. Along the way, he showed us the area where previous president Joseph Estrada was incarcerated, where the prisoners can play and exercise, where the hardened criminals, murderers or those with life sentence were placed, where the prisoners work the fields, and even pointed some huts which is used as rest areas by prisoners working in the farm.

My first impression is that the Bilibid area is just like a village park. You first come across the gates and guards and the tree-lined streets and there's a wide open area like a  football field. Continue traveling and you'll see vegetable gardens, root crops, and rice fields. Outside the gate of the prison is the terminal for tricycles catering to visitors. 
At the gate, we gave the name of the person we would like to see and waited. Less than 10 minutes after, a thin shirtless guy stood peeking between the bars and my husband jumped to grab his arms in an awkward hug. Introductions were made, then we registered to go inside.

He brought us directly to the area of Cordillera prisoners and introduced us to his friends there, many of whom are from Ifugao, Benguet, and Baguio City. All of them are men so feeling out of place and embarrassed since we did not bring anything with us, I asked if there's a place we could buy some snacks to share with them. I remember seeing all the guests outside carrying foods so I thought of buying some soda and bread. My husband gave some money to his friend and he in turn instructed one of the guys to go get some snacks.
Meanwhile, I got to talk to several Ifugao prisoners, some young in their 20's and 30's and a couple of older men who were sentenced with 20 years and another for life. One of the younger Ifugao men shared to us that it was in prison that he learned about God and he learned to value his future. He attends the praise and worship on Sundays and goes to school too. When he graduates the next year, he hopes to have a better future when he gets out of jail.

They toured us around a little bit and showed us how their toilets are, their shower or bath area, and their bunk beds. They also showed us where they learn handy crafts and where souvenirs are sold. They also brought us to where they gather for Sunday services and with smiles on their faces, they even sang us a worship song as a sample.
Many of them told us that they never had visitors since they were sent there and the letters from friends and families are very few and far between. Some of the older men who spent a long time in prison also don't know where their families are, specially if the wife remarried and the children also got married. They shared us stories of some prisoners who were released but preferred to just stay there and work in the fields than go looking for their missing families. Others would just do another crime so they get sent back to prison simply because they no longer have anywhere else to go.

Our afternoon was spent there with the prisoners listening to their admission of crime, what it taught them, what their future plans are, and what they are doing now to prepare for it are more than enough drama materials it broke my heart to leave knowing I can't do anything. At least I learned from the experience that when you visit a prison, you better bring some things to share. Shirts, shorts, briefs, soap and shampoo, rice, toothbrush, flu medicines, over the counter antibiotics, some extra money for them to buy foods, even a book would be a big help.
Here are some of the stories we heard from the prisoners so you may know and understand how life is like inside the minimum security compound.

During the heat of summer, water is scarce so they bath and wash their clothes in a very limited time and very little water. You have to be quick with bathing or you'll run out of water. That's usually when they have boils and other skin diseases. Without soap, enough clean clothes and water, many suffer from heat related diseases. We were asked for antibiotic meds for boils but we didn't bring any. :(

Sometimes the food is too little or so "yucky" they couldn't take it. Some of the older prisoners at the minimum security compound managed to get kerosene stoves and pots so they cook their rice meals since the food provided by the prison is not sufficient to nourish them. But without money to buy kerosene, rice, or viand, it's a treat when they could eat something. At one time, 4 of the Ifugao men were so hungry the four of them shared 1 boiled egg with a rice they cooked. Those who help in the fields could bring some veggies from there and that's what they mix into the little rice they have to make porridge.

Some of the more influential prisoners with money have their own huts and their wives or girlfriends come and visit them and stay with them there for a week or more. That's why it's no wonder even when the husband or boyfriend is in prison, the wife or girlfriend could still get pregnant... that is why. The poor guys just have to watch in envy.

With so much time in their hands, the prisoners can opt to be productive or destructive. They could join church and school activities etc., or follow the influential prisoners' instructions and be their "boy" and earn some money running errands.

------------------------------------------------
Despite the many sad stories, all of them were very happy and thankful that some fellow Ifugaos came to visit them. As we left the place, an old man said to me and my husband, "You may forget about us here, but you children will be forever in our hearts. The news and joy you brought us today is enough to last us for the next 10 years or until we get out of here. God be with you!"

I smiled to hide the lump in my throat, turned my back and walked away to hide a tear in my eyes. My husband held my hand as we quietly walked towards the exit gate.

~D'isay

Credit some photos from harryosborne.blogspot.com and sayitnessie.wordpress.com :)

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Visit to the New Bilibid Prison
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