As regular readers of LIP know, several years ago I became involved with some of the many improvement projects at the Iligan City Award Winning Jail. This jail was first brought to my attention by videos posted on YouTube. My vacation visits to Iligan City also just happen to coincide with ” National Correctional Consciousness Week ” which I believe is a national celebration of all of the Jails in The Philippines. Philippine jails are under the Department Of The Interior and Local Government, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. As with so many things in The Philippines or as it seems to me, there is little or no ” budget ” for many things that are needed. A few years ago, a program initiated by Iligan City Mayor, Lawrence LL Cruz turned improvement projects at the Iligan City jail into a community involvement project and since then many local organizations, materials and equipment suppliers and individuals have supported these improvements.
You may be wondering why I would involve myself in making donations to a facility that is for suspect, alleged and even convicted criminals ? As with many things in The Philippines compared to other parts of the world, things may take longer such as an inmates court case possibly taking many months before it comes up in court to decide if they are innocent or guilty. Some of those inmates may not even be guilty. My donations support the many visiting organizations that provide health and welfare programs, religious and educational programs and more. All of these programs and more go towards rehabilitation of many of the inmates in hopes of them not returning to crime when they are released. This is also my way of saying thanks for the best vacations I have ever had to the City of Iligan.
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On this year’s visit something I never expected happened. As I was walking past the ” minors ” ( Juvenile ) cell which had about 14 juveniles in it, one of them waved to me and asked if I could get them a bar of soap so they could wash themselves. This sounded like an unusual request and I commented ” how do you normally get soap here ? ” The juvenile inmate said that family or friends bring them soap and other similar personal care items as they are not supplied by the jail. I replied I think it best that you ask them to bring you soap. The inmate replied that some of them do not get any visitors at all. I replied that I would look into this. I had some of my Iligan friends that were with me when this entire dialog took place and I asked them if this could possibly be true that these ” kids ” don’t even have a bar of soap ? My friends verified that this could very well be true that some of them do not have any visitors. In some situations the parents or relatives may live far away and don’t have the money to get to the jail. In other situations the parents and relatives may have disowned them because of the shame they may have brought on their family by being in jail. At first, one thought that crossed my mind was ” are these kids trying to scam me out of bars of soap so they can sell them and pocket some fast peso ? ” They also asked me if I could get them some ” Katialis ” , something I had no idea what it was. Once again I told them I would look into this but ” No Guarantee ” that I would be able to help them. A possible problem I saw with this is what could happen if I gave things to a few individuals, could this cause a possible problem with the other 445 inmates in this facility ? How could I differentiate these individuals from all of the others? I finally came up with the reasoning that these are all underage (18 and under) juveniles who, in my own private opinion really shouldn’t be in a place like this in the first place but in this city and at this time there is no other place for them. Some of them were there for some ” heavy duty crimes ” that I will not go into any further. There was also one female juvenile that was in the female part of the jail.
In a meeting with the Warden and some of the other jail officers it was agreed that I could do something for these juveniles if I wanted to and of course everything would have to be in compliance with BJMP regulations. They also verified the fact that some of these inmates do not get visitors and therefore may not have any personal care items. At times I believe there have been bulk donations of personal care items by various organizations, individuals and others for all of the 460 inmate population but it is not an every day thing.
The following day along with some of my Iligan friends we went to a local Mercury Drug and Rose Pharmacy. I found what looked like a nice deal on a 2-pack of bar soap, bought 15 of them. Then I thought about looking at tooth brushes and tooth paste ( travel size tubes ), bought them. I also bought some special kind of combs one of my nurse friends said was good for the removal of skin particles and other things from the scalp. These combs were very short and with fine teeth and only a few inches long. Standard size combs would not be compliant with BJMP regulations for the male juveniles. Katialis, as I found out is a well known and long time product like a salve or ointment commonly used for the treatment of skin irritation, bacteria or rashes on the skin. As I looked through the rest of this nosubhealth.com pharmacy I remembered what I think is the favorite pasalubong of Filipinos and bought 2 kinds of small sized chocolate bars for each of the juveniles. At the check out I thought ahead about the distribution of these things and grabbed 16 small plastic bags as I explained to the check out clerk what all of this stuff was for. They did nothing to prevent me from taking a 16 extra plastic bags.
The following day I asked to have a ” Meeting with the Minors ” which took place in the Wardens office . I asked each of them if they could tell me why they are in jail and they did. One of them asked if they could call me ” Daddy Bob “, especially the ones that have no visitors. I then gave them the things I had brought for them which I am sure they were most grateful for. Although I am not sure of this, I think they were told ( in Bisaya so I could not understand it ) that these gifts are for them only and not to be sold or traded with other inmates. From the impression on their faces and their comments and thanks I think the fact that they felt someone from the other side of the world cared enough to do this for them may very well have some kind of positive impact.
My many thanks to the warden and staff of Iligan City jail for allowing me to do this. I have made many donations to the Iligan City Jail. Some could be considered costly and some a lot less costly. In the privacy of my hotel room that night in thinking about this it brought a tear to my eye that as of now, it was the simplest and least costly of all of my donations that really made the most emotional impact on me. Just a bar of soap, a simple bar of soap. Can you spare just a bar of soap ?