by Lorigen M. Paterno
The City Jail of Iligan is situated in Barangay Tipanoy, one of the 44 barangays of the city. It is maintained by a City Jail Warden as provided for under RA 6975. The law, RA 6975 created the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology to address the jail management and penology problem of the country. BJMP is mandated to take operational and administrative control over all city, district and municipal jails. Based on information provided by an officer in the city jail, there are currently 460 inmates detained inside the BJMP of Iligan City. It is with this information in mind that the students of selected CWTS sections collected and donated toiletries (a pack of bath soap, shampoo & toothpaste) for the inmates as part of the Jail Visitation Program of the Department of Political Science and NSTP.
The Jail Visitation Program was created for both Political Science and NSTP-CWTS students, for them to be grounded on human rights values. This is the reason why the jail visitation activity is provided in the CWTS2 syllabus to strengthen the student’s awareness of the detainees’ conditions inside the jail as well as the student’s appreciation of the rights of the accused.
In our 5th year of jail visitation, we celebrated with the world the International Women’s Day at the city jail on March 8, 2015. There were 150 CWTS students together with selected faculty members of the Departments of Political Science and English, all of which are also CWTS instructors.
We brought another batch of CWTS students the following Sunday, March 15, 2015. This time around 170 students came in contact with the detainees.
Since it is our fifth year, the usual happy and welcoming faces of the inmates when our students arrive are not new to us, the CWTS instructors. But what usually amazes us and amuses me particularly, is the reactions of the students before they come in contact with the detainees. They are usually fearful and have a nervous look in them. But after 15-20 minutes of talking with the inmates, most of them do not want to leave the BJMP anymore.
To quote my students, this is how they see their jail visit experience:
“The jail visit made me value life more in a way that no matter what happens, we should be high spirited. With the different faces I’ve seen, I felt their hope that someday, somehow things would get better and I’ve realized that mistakes should not define us. It was a great experience for it shows us what really life is all about—SURVIVING.”
“The visitation in the jail was scary at first, seeing those people reaching their hands out was stressing everyone out. However after getting to know them inside the jail, I’ve realized that I should be more open-minded to the real information, especially in things that many considered dangerous despite the fact that they lack enthusiasm and understanding. Despite their errors in life, it would be unjustifiable to label them merely on what they had done, but everyone has a chance to grow and change. Overall, it made me realize that every choice we make, we live through its consequences. After all, we are all just humans, created with flaws and crafted with imperfections, but we don’t have the right to discriminate people immediately just by their mistakes.”
As a CWTS instructor, I would like to inculcate to my students not only to value of human rights but most importantly to respect the dignity of a person, despite the mistakes or wrong choices they have made. Last year, I asked one of my students how he would assess his jail visit experience. He surprised me with his answer, “those who have undergone a horrifying experience with a criminal should not be placed in a situation where he or she needs to face a person who may have done the same.”
It took me a while to have an answer to this. Despite this response from a student, I learned to not make this activity a compulsory one. I also learned why this activity is very important. I want my students to learn the value of looking at things in a different perspective and understand the other side of the story.