The end of my longing to visit female inmates happened when I fortunately tagged along with a fellow mom (Hannah) way back in 2016. I visited one in Camp Karingal (Quezon City).
And my journey towards the lovers’ camp reflected an insight: leave your baggage behind or else you will not enjoy the trip.
As I entered the camp equipped with CCTV camera, the lady guard conducted a rub down body search on me; checked my hair covering (‘twas good she didn’t require me to remove some of my clothing!); inspected my bag thoroughly; and told me to surrender my belongings to them.
I gaped in surprise and asked the guard, “Can I bring my cellphone?” She replied with a smile, “No ma’am.”
Nothing I can do but to obey the prison visit rules. I left my property at the guardhouse and the lady guard stamped my right palm. Then I got in!
The rest of that Friday morning left me worried for another fellow sister coming on the way a little late. How could she contact me?
Anyway I surrendered everything to the One who brought me there until I was inside the prison office. I expressed my thanks to the Department officials for their warm welcome when I was introduced to them.
As I was led into an area (with hung curtain dividers that split the space), I saw women inmates waiting for their lunch to be served while on the other side of the divided space were Muslim inmates gathered together for the congregational prayer.
I took some time to observe the inmates as I stood behind. I smiled as I was introduced to these women. But their facial expressions reflected their curiosity for a new visitor who came in.
While other women were busy in the distribution of hijab (we brought a box) donated by one friend, a hijabi-advocate (Khadija), I took the chance to chat to an inmate. I sat beside Jona (not her real name).
“How many years have you been in prison?” I asked.
“Two years ma’am.” She answered without showing any trace of sadness.
Perhaps, I thought, getting used to her life inside the camp made her a little tough. I nodded my head in response to her.
My short conversation with Jona melted my heart. This question crept into my mind: “With four children left at home, how did she manage to stay inside the prison camp for two years?”
Then Jona’s lips quivered and tears poured down her face.
“I was not really involved, ma’am.” She tried to defend herself about her case.
“Okay,” I replied and controlled myself from crying or else it would be awkward when other inmates would see me shedding tears!
Instead of judging or condemning Jona for the crime she had committed, I found myself guilty of a shameful crime: I have done nothing to unburden herself of her sufferings.
Jona’s agony of separation from the love of her heart surely tormented her. She missed her family and longed to be home.
A mother like her needs not only the basic human necessities such as food, clothing, health care but also regular visits and long-term assistance (life skills program, vocational and educational programs, and contemplative exercises) to transform her life until she is ready to leave the camp and never get back again.
Oh, hearts of gold, help us pray for Jona and other inmates. You can extend help through the UM (Philippines) or you can go straight to the prison camp. Help us find ways to inspire and lessen the burdens of these incarcerated spirits in order not to deprive them of life, joy, self-esteem and freedom.
The very day I entered the world occupied by broken-hearted lovers, wisdom behind bars existed:
The Pain of Separation.