Notes from city jail: Freedom, love, and bath soap please

PATPAT, Malaybalay City (MindaNews/11 July) – Among the few occupants of Celda Dos who owns a pen and knows how to use it is “Rodel”.

After writing down his own “panawagan” (radio request), he took dictations from others as he jotted their personal appeals for help from “the world outside”.

Entry of pointed objects, like ball pens, is restricted at the Malaybalay City Jail in Barangay Patpat.

On the day of the Catholic minister’s visit, he was one of the four “secretaries” of the 32 inmates in his prison cell. While others watched a show from the single television set in the cell crowded by triple-decked beds, Rodel was busy.

“Please wait for this one. Just a line,” another inmate called the attention of visitor Sean Sulugan, who was collecting the notes.

Sean is able to move around the jail. He works for the prison ministry of Malaybalay’s San Isidro Parish. But the management of the jail decided to check the notes if there are some security threats.

After collecting the rolls of panawagan, Sean gives it to the jail guards. They read the notes one by one, word by word.

But there was nothing malicious about the notes. This week, etched in mostly similar ink and penmanship, they just embody the inmates’ desires.

From love or just a visit from long missed families, to legal assistance for their cases, to as basic as the bath soap, they put it down hoping the other end would grant it.

When the notes go on air the day after, some inmates get what they want the following week. But the others need to send the same notes again.

“Uncle, if you have time please visit me, bring things for me. I have no more shirts. Please come if you have heard this. Maybe my case can be settled. Please don’t fail me this time,” inmate J.M. wrote at the back of an old bond paper.

Sulugan does it every week. He collects used papers from the parish office and distributes it to the inmates of the city jail.

Then he brings hundreds of these papers to the church-ran DXDB-AM radio station where twice everyday a staff takes time reading the notes on air. With the station’s 10,000 watts airpower, the notes are heard even in Cagayan de Oro and neighboring towns around Bukidnon.

Some inmates do not mind if the notes are aired publicly, as long as they get what they need.

“My body is so itchy I have no more soap,” an inmate asked a relative. Another one asked for money to repay a debt used to buy soap.

“Please visit me here. Please bring bag and ointment,” another inmate wrote to an aunt in Valencia City.

“To LL, please come and visit me. Kindly bring medicines. I am very ill,” inmate LB appealed to a relative in Libona town.

Another inmate wrote his mother in a remote village: “Please forgive me for disturbing. Please visit me here. Please bring soap, vegetable, coffee, and pants to wear for my hearing.”

“Please visit me. I am sick. Come quick. Bring medicines for hupong (swelling), an inmate asked a relative in Lantapan town.

About 120 notes were passed on that week.

But like the rest of the jails in the province, a common concern among the inmates is the slow progress their cases are taking.

Jail Warden Guy Jason Reyes said some inmates have stayed for as long as seven years in the jail, a facility supposedly for those whose penalty is not beyond three years. He cited the problem of lack of courts, prolonging the disposition of cases.

Inmate TC wrote about the slow pace his case has gone through.

“Please come and visit me. I need your help. My case has not moved. There has been no hearing. Please help me,” he asked JR, a friend from Cabulohan village.

“To MF, my brother in law, please help me with my probation. I want to go out already. It is so boring here,” an inmate said.

And so are the bulk of the notes leaving the jail every week. Some bear the inmates’ homesickness and frustration.

“Wherever you are please spend time to visit me. Please have mercy. If you forget me, it’s ok. If so, I can do nothing if you disown me. I just need to live,” inmate M.B. wrote to an older brother.

“To my wife, wherever you are, please visit me. I need something from you. It is also about our son,” inmate RP wrote.

Another inmate wrote to a classmate instead.

“Please visit me. I have an important intention. Please don’t fail me, you’re my only hope. To those who heard this please relay to her. God Bless you,” inmate JD wrote.

But most of the inmates seek their family’s attention in their times of need.

“Ma, please come to Malaybalay. Please bring the two children TT and J. I miss them badly. Please come to help follow up my case, too,” inmate D.A. wrote to his mother in Kibawe town.

He adds a note at the bottom of the paper, “To announcer, please repeat.”

Inmate AB has a wish for a special occasion: “Please visit me on my birthday on July 17. It has been almost a year since your last visit,” he asked a brother.

To an aunt in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur, inmate KKL wrote: “Please visit me. It has been a long time since anybody visited me. Since I was padlocked here, no one visited me. I will wait for all of you.”

While others sound so sad, inmate KFGB sounded like he was taking it lightly.

“J2X, please visit me. Also, Greetings to my friends, all ‘TBS’ and ‘BS’. Peace be with you all. Keep on going. I hope you can visit me here, if you have time.”

But jail guards attest that some of the jail’s 260 inmates get too desperate in receiving visits. It is also a fact, some inmates no longer receive visits from their families.

One day, an inmate signing as another person, wrote an appeal that went past jail guards’ check.

“Calling the family of [name of inmate]. Please come right away, because your son has died,” the inmate wrote and was read over the radio. The following day his family arrived, breaking months of no-show at the visitor’s lounge.

“Those outside should learn to value their freedom. If you want to see for yourself, visit us sometimes,” inmate “Michael” said. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)