Lighting Lanterns of Liberty in the City of Love!
Lory Joyce Andagan | Dec 05, 2019
Photos by the author
As you enter the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Ungka, Jaro, the different sounds of people singing and chatting will greet visitors. At first, you will first feel apprehensive, knowing that you are in a place that is home to 850 inmates living in the male dormitory, mostly incarcerated because of drug-related cases. This feeling, however, will soon subside as people warmly greet you with a smile on their faces.
In an area inside the jail, hundreds of Christmas lanterns in different colors representative of Christmas are hanging from the ceiling. Fashioned out of bamboo and charols, a translucent plastic material that is used to cover the parol's skeletal frame, these lanterns were made by more than a hundred persons deprived of liberty to fill orders from customers who need holiday decorations. “It was already quite some time that our PDLs make parols during December as part of their rehabilitation. This year is special because they made parols for the city,” says J/Supt Mary Chanette Espartero, District Jail Warden.
A collaboration of private and public sectors, the Jaro City government encouraged residents and establishments to purchase the lanterns to be installed along the roads of the city as part of the area’s Christmas project. Mayor Jerry Treñas says he wants the PDLs to feel that they still belong to society and that they have a big contribution to the City of Love. As early as September, the committee started planning and making the design of the 6x6 foot parols. The PDLs designed the lanterns according to these specifications, some with lightbulbs on the inside to illuminate the parols.
Initially, there were only 1,000 sponsors who participated in the project. Eventually, more sponsors came, bringing the total number to more than 1,700 orders. To meet these requirements, the inmates begin work for the orders at 9:00 AM, ending at around 7:00 PM in the evening daily. Police officers allow them to make as much as they want to beat the production deadlines. “This is an effort made by everyone inside the jail, although some were really picked because they are skilled in making parols. But they also considered everyone to take part in this, especially those who do not have visitors, even just to cut the bamboo to size," explained J/Supt Espartero, "This, at least, helps them to have income."
Labor costs Php 900 for each parol, supplying the funds needed to purchase materials needed such as bamboos and charols. The profits from the lanterns add to the motivation of the inmates to celebrate Christmas with their families, with some scheduling visitation dates to hand over the money they earned from making those beautiful Christmas lanterns. J/Supt Espartero happily says that beyond the additional income, this project provides the inmates an incentive for good behavior and a more productive use of their time. “I always tell them that people outside the jail will visit and order from them, given that they will not hear any negative news about their doings on the inside.”
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She adds that on the part of the PDLs, they will feel inspired and fulfilled about what they are doing. “At least even if they are still inside the jail, the society trusts them that they can still be reformed and are capable of change. As our (BJMP) role, if we change the lives of these PDLs, we are sure that when they are released, they will be empowered to not resort to crime because they already have other skills.”
Last November 16, the parols were lighted simultaneously, lasting until January 2020 to welcome the Dinagyang Festival and the Chinese New Year.