Time soars really fast! I could hardly believe that it has been 20 years now, since I set my foot in the portals of my beloved BJMP. I barely noticed that I am already this old. I had been trying to hang on to my 30's and quite successful except that my knees and joints constantly remind me now that I am no longer not. Then one day, there it was, a post from a classmate congratulating Public Safety Basic Recruit Course (PSBRC) Batch 34, 35 and 36. Wow! We will officially be 20 years in service comes July 1, 2017. Not bad… I now can proudly say, I made it!
Contrary to the belief of most people in the community, being a Jail Officer is not easy. It takes a lot of passion, dedication and most importantly a big heart to understand our brothers and sisters who are scorched of the stigma of prison.
It was on July 1, 1997 when we officially took the oath as Jail Officers. Right after the Oath Taking, we were sent back to our respective places since Jail National Training Institute (JNTI) was fully occupied and cannot accommodate us. If I remember it right, 4 of us whose names I won't mention ( I have not ask their permission) went back to Borongan for adaptation of jail work before going to mandatory training.
How distinguished looking we were in our BJMP uniform. Me and my buddy who was a close friend, a neighbor and a Nurse by profession became a head turner instantly in our closely knitted community. Well, who wouldn't be? We are both slim, tall and oozing an aura of confidence. I am not sure if other people will understand what I mean, by just merely wearing the uniform will give you that gait of authority and self-assurance. No wonder, almost all the parents we met have wished their children to be in the BJMP. To mention a few of the comments we received:
"Wow! You two look great, can my child apply in your Bureau too? She just graduated from high school, is it okay?"
Others would say "My son cannot land a job, I will just tell him to apply in the BJMP."
Oh no, they don't know anything yet about the Bureau. We would courteously inform the parents and anyone for that matter that to be qualified in the service they needed to pass the mandatory requisites, series of interview and possess either RA 1080 Eligibility or a CSC Professional Eligibility and the least is the CSC Sub-Professional Eligibility way back in 1997, before the enactment of the Professionalization Law .
I always took pride in wearing my uniform. I would even volunteer to go to courts and other offices for an errand. I liked the admiring looks I get from other people. Me and my buddy were the first lady BJMP whom they have seen in our locality - Borongan. Although there had been a lot of female Jail Officers from Borongan before us, unluckily they were assigned at the National Capital Region (NCR).
After our short stint in Borongan Municipal Jail, we were called back to Central Office for the PSBRC Training. We know very well of the rigorous exercises, daily joggings, physical struggles and the hunger that we have to endure. We heard lots of stories of the formidable JNTI, but it did not dampen down our spirits.
We all reported to BJMP Central Office as scheduled. We could clearly see that everyone was wearing spotless white T-shirts. Alas, we all look alike! Boys in crew cuts, just a small patch of hair left on top of their heads and we, ladies in very short bob cuts, no lipsticks nor accessories to distinguish our gender. Everyone was pulling a bag or two, packed to its brim. Expectedly, we would be staying for two (2) months in the training center so, we ladies have been prepared. We have at least 2 sets of rubber shoes, one for inspection and the other one for daily use. We brought along with us white linens, white towel, socks, T-shirts, undergarments and of course, our beauty regimen! Huh... little did we know that we won't need any of those in there.
I could still vividly remember the memories on that transpired as we arrived in Taguig (JNTI). We were hesitant in getting off from our chartered bus for we saw a lot of the trainees in their unmistakable haircut and sinewy built waiting for us. They have that sly look on their faces! Gosh, I wasn't feeling good, my stomach started to churn. I looked at my classmates, they too has that nervous look on their faces. Now came the shouting. No one seems to be talking in a normal tone, they were all shouting at us.
"Hey you, yes you! You look so scared, don't be.. we are not going to hurt you!"
"Why are you staring Mr. You, poke your eyes!"
"You don't smell like recruits, you will be "amoy dragon" in no time!"
What is he talking about? What is "amoy dragon" ? It didn't take long for me to know what "amoy dragon" means.
All of a sudden someone stood in front of the basketball court (oval) and shouted "RECRUITS FORM!"
We hurriedly run into the oval carrying our heavy bags and immediately form into platoons. One by one, stern looking trainees whom we later called seniors stood in front of each one of us, with that clever look on their faces again. This is getting scary.
Here comes again the command " EVERYBODY JOG ON PLACE, KNEE HIGH! BRING YOUR BAG WITH YOU, DON'T PUT IT DOWN!"
I lift the bigger bag, saddle it on my shoulder, bit the smaller bag tightly with my teeth, and place the handle on my neck for support. We jogged ... whenever we try to stop, the senior will immediately shout at us, stretch their arm to waist level and order us to reach it with our knee while jogging on place. After sometime, we were ordered to perform knee benders, push ups you name it, we had it... in cadence. While we were doing this, our seniors were shouting at us " IF YOU WANT TO QUIT, QUIT NOW!"
Some of us were already retching, we were silently crying. Others had collapsed. But the ordeal which we later learned as "reception" continued until it was almost 6 o'clock in the evening. We were ordered to proceed to our barracks in duck walk position. We ladies were silently cried while on our way. We could hardly make it. The physical exhaustion we endured was imaginable.
We went up the barracks and ordered to change into dry clothes or the so called "dying uniform" We were assigned to a bed in an alphabetical order. Later, we were called again to the Covered Court and ordered to go to the Mess Hall for dinner. No dinner is complete without the before meals exercises nor dinner underneath the table and sometimes inverted meals.
It was hard for the ladies to eat during the first week. We gag while trying to consume the food ration. We would place most of the food inside our brassier so we could throw it out secretly.
Bathing was another problem, there was no ample supply of water during those times. We bathed, brushed our teeth and washed our clothes given with one small pail of water and always on the count of 10.
Soaps would literally stuck in our hair. Our smell was unbearable! The pungent smell of dried sweat, unwashed clothing, the smelly wet socks and feet... the distinctive smell of the new recruits... AMOY DRAGON!
Haircutting every Saturday was difficult. Ladies would sat on the stairs in one line from top to bottom and would cut the hair of the one in front of with anything that you could manage to get. Mostly, small piece of very blunt scissors used by school children or a blade. We cut our hair free style... always lopsided!
Later on, everyone gets hungry. We were like owls during the night... our senses so strong that with just the tiniest whiff of food we will scamper to where it comes from. Our ears were like those of a rabbit, always at attention to the tiniest sound of a plastic or a food wrapper being torn.
We have a male classmate who was very daring and has mastered the art of sneaking food... we preferred the "Hopia" small yet filling, which made it easy to sneak to the classroom or to the barracks. He would place it inside his cycling shorts and unselfishly share his loot to us ladies.
The first month was the hardest. Waking up early to perform the arduous exercises in an empty stomach and to top it all was the need to hurdle the academic stints. To fail in the quizzes and examinations would mean being restricted and no benefit of getting a pass.
End of the challenging forty five days came. The horror was finally over. We were no longer the lowest mammal. New recruits were arriving soon. We can now at last have extra food!
I remember the first time we went out of the camp for a pass. All the restaurants and the stores nearby were jam-packed with the newly recognized trainees. We ate all the food we want. We bought new shirts, rubber shoes, everything we needed in the camp. Funny, some of us had stomach trouble due to indigestion.
We started to enjoy JNTI routines. We are now the Seniors! We enjoy the extra food and our most awaited PASS where we could go out of the camp to visit friends and families.
Life in JNTI was hard yet it has occupied that special nook in our hearts that we will never forget. The shared pain, sorrow and joy have given an indestructible bond among classmates and batch mates. PSBRC training will forever be in your memory that we will never get tired of reminiscing.
PSBRC training will make you tough and strong. It will teach you discipline and will prepare you of not just the work ahead of you but of life itself for it will develop and hone your character.
Now, 20 years in service comes July 1, 2017. I have to assess myself. Am I successful in my career as a Jail Officer? Have I done what was expected of me?
Although I am not an expert, I am so flattered and grateful to be with the people who are so enthusiastic and passionate of the Therapeutic Community Programs. I experience first-hand the gratifying and heart-warming response of the people who are considered deviants. I have laughed with them, I listened to their stories and made them feel that they are alive and still part of the community and had undeniably treated them with much respect that they too deserve.
I somehow helped touched the lives of these people. I have helped in giving them a glimmer of hope. We may not be able to change everyone, but it would be rewarding enough to see one or two who will be given a fair chance in life. So, have I done what was expected of me, am I successful? Without batting an eye and with no hesitation ... YES I HAVE, YES I AM!