For the longest time, I had been living a simple life with my husband in Manila – just like what normal couples do. 2017 was a promising year for us given the growing work opportunities that knocked on our doorstep. I had been holding a position as a Team Leader at Harte Hanks Inc. for the last seven years at the time while juggling a passion project I had been nurturing since 2015: the QuickTech Communications Corporation. I was then CEO/President of said company working side by side with my better half as the Vice President and a growing team of bright-eyed dreamers.
In my private life, I kept a low-profile and took to heart being a doting homemaker. Since the work schedule of my husband overlapped with mine, I regularly prepared him his lunch even after office hours at my first job just so we could spend quality time with each other. On his end, my husband also extended his stay at work to make sure we got to share a meal together before I would get back to my night shift – this time in our QuickTech office. This setup was inevitable due to the nature of our chosen career paths. However, we always ascertained our days off were all worthwhile!
The Unexpected Detour
Because of our hectic schedule, we hardly visited Ormoc, thus missing plenty of family gatherings and events such as birthdays, Christmas and New Year’s to name a few. And so came March 16, the day we decided to drive back home. It was the Holy Week, and we were excited for this rare occasion to reunite with our loved ones – so much so, that on our way back, we bought presents left and right with our closest family members in mind.
As soon as we reached our hometown, an unexpected event happened. We were detained in Precinct III of Ormoc City Police. A month passed, lonely, helpless, and desolate in the precinct jail, my gnawing anxiety grew. My husband and I were kept in separate cells, albeit in close proximity.
On April 20, 2018, we were transferred in Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP). Prior to this, I had cultivated negative thoughts of this place. Fear was constantly instilled in my mind especially since I had no inkling of what BJMP was at the time. I was told scarcity and poor quality of food was a major problem. To add, I envisioned fellow Person Deprived of Liberty (PDL) to be rowdy and all-out brutes. As we were heading up to the BJMP facility, my stomach churned. To make matters worse, the minute we arrived, it was only then that we were advised that we would be separated in different areas. Apparently, male and female PDL are designated in quarters with a blockade in between. This basically means I would have less to no chances of seeing nor talking to my husband for as long as we are inside the facility.
As soon as I reached the women’s post, I was physically checked; my things inspected. I could have continued sulking, but later, I found out that the BJMP personnel follow a strict and reasonable protocol. There was a systematic approach in our day-to-day routines. The food provisions which was a primary cause of worry were surprisingly adequate and a full meal set was always supplied. My unfounded impression of people I was going to be with turned out to be a misconception. The rehabilitation process of each individual was a topmost priority. In fact, on days when I was down in the dumps and thought I only had my books to turn to, BJMP offered programs to the best of our interests.
For one, Therapeutic Community was a big help in teaching us values to boost our morale. It served as a means for us to express our gratitude and even our dismay toward others in proper discourse. It was a perfect avenue for us PDL to foster the value of appreciation and conflict management which resulted in a healthy environment. Moreover, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) programs were made available and we were required to take part in them. It expanded my skill set. On the surface, the vocational courses entertained all of us given the hefty amount of time we had. But more importantly, it helped develop our mental abilities through brainstorming, strategising, and producing handicrafts for livelihood. They were even targeted at both individual and team-based activities. At the end of the program, I topped in the overall ranking and it was a proud moment! This led to me being entrusted with the delivery of a graduation speech on behalf of our batch of PDL trainees and before high-ranked officials of BJMP and TESDA. They gave us a privilege to grow and showcase our capabilities and I am forever indebted and grateful of how they took care of us.
Our physiological needs were also catered to. In the morning, we observed a strict wakeup call at 6:00 A.M. to carry out our individual responsibilities. Landscape grooming was first on our list to keep our surrounding clean and conducive for living. Zumba dance classes were conducted every Thursday morning as a form of recreation. Aside from this, spiritual guidance was provided for. On Tuesdays, we had bible study, praise and worship, and contemplative discussions meant to uplift our spirits. Then, Sunday mass was celebrated at 9:00 A.M. For a holistic development, couples are given Lunes-Lunes which allows us to have lunch dates once a week on Mondays. It is a privilege which is given and can be taken should one of the couples not follow proper conduct or misbehave.
A few months into the facility, I had come to realize how blessed I was still for the support system I had which were my family, relatives, and friends. I fostered a deeper appreciation for small things like the freedom I once had. The things I took for granted then such as having the liberty to act at my own convenience without restraint and inhibition (i.e. buying food and drinks at my own disposal) were now in the hands of someone else. The only consolation I had was I was under the care of BJMP personnel who were unbiased and even generous in giving me advice.
…Therapeutic Community was a big help in teaching us values to boost our morale. It served as a means for us to express our gratitude and even our dismay toward others in proper discourse.
Fast forward to June of 2019, my husband and I received good news about our acquittal. Ironically, I stepped out of the facility and celebrated my freedom the day before our country’s Independence Day which made everything all the more meaningful! Even with this elated feeling, I had my fears building up inside of me. Whether or not acceptance would come in fairly easy as I get back to the real world, a sense of belongingness was a question I had yet to discover an answer to.
My resolve in everything that has happened to me thus far was to hold my head high, look up at the sky, and thank the heavens for giving me yet another chance to have a do-over. I consciously decided to take every opportunity presented to me and to create a path for myself. In spite of the shame brought on our family name, my parents and siblings welcomed me with open arms. In fact, I was entrusted with our family business and was recently named its CEO. No longer held back by self-doubt, I, together with my husband, also started our own business in the food industry. It began with humble planning and in small-scale marketing, but it grew over
time. And now, my heart is swelling with pride as our clientele has reached outside our city. We have regular customers, specifically from Albuera, Baybay, Palompon, Jaro, Tacloban, Alang-Alang, Samar, Biliran, etc.
My biggest takeaway from this entire experience is to value all things, great and small. They make up the best parts of you as you tread on in life. This is especially true when you reach rock bottom, go through the process of reformation, and come out anew. Above all else, putting God first always leads you back on the right track. No matter how deeply wounded you might be due to your own mishaps in life, He accepts you full on – no qualms, no hesitation. And He always has a place for you.
To my fellow PDL, I fervently hope and pray that I have, in one way or another, touched you. My greatest wish is that I have left an indelible mark in your hearts, enough to fill you with joy in remembering the moments we shared during my time there. To all our BJMP personnel, thank you for graciously stretching your patience, for lending an ear in our times of need, and for selflessly acting on our requests. I will always treasure everything you have imparted to me.