City jail: Their home

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

IN THIS world where every person is bounded by rules and laws, those who don't abide by these can land in jail. The cell becomes his home, the guards become his gods. He is called a bad guy and a nuisance to society. And the whole punishment doesn't end there.

"Neil", 30, is among the 987 inmates who are restrained from enjoying the liberty of life in the outside world.

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It's hard for him to cope up with depression being imprisoned for five years and two months for illegal possession and delivery of drugs, paraphernalia and conspiracy. He yearns to be with his family who has not visited him for the past four months because they live in Cagayan de Oro City.

Neil is a trustee who assists the jail guards and is part of the Escort Team for prisoners who are scheduled for trial. As a trustee, he enjoys some perks, and a good view of what's inside.

A co-inmate was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He was provided medical assistance and has been checked up by a doctor.

But, a string of other prisoners were also diagnosed with TB, it has thus become difficult to monitor all of them. The solution: those afflicted were transferred to an isolation area.

J/C Insp. Ian Glenn V. Ocmen, City Jail Warden, agrees it is difficult to contain diseases in jail because of the cramped space they have. "However, we still attend to their medical needs," he said.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) protects the rights of the prisoners. Though limited, they are granted the Right to Medical Treatment. Still, there are complaints of insufficient medical attention.

Not only medical treatment is lacking, so is food, hygiene, and space.
The inmates get three meals a day consisting of a viand and rice. No fruits, no dessert.

Insp. Ocmen says that while they have to make do with very limited budget, their major concern is that "nobody goes hungry."

Neil can only dream of the food he used to get outside.

"Food inside here is unlike the food we get to eat outside. But we're not complaining about the jail guards. Most of them are nice," he said in the vernacular.

Sanitation and hygiene is a problem because there are just too little toilets for such a filled-up jail.

Each cell has only one toilet and bath. One cell is packed with 20 to 60 inmates.

The inmates often share soaps and towels and at times have to make do with just washing with water.

That's why schools like the Ateneo de Davao University have taken steps to help contribute to the prisoners' sanitary needs. Students are encouraged to donate soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, and hand towels in their Theology 121 classes.

Insp. Ocmen said these contributions are highly appreciated.

He agrees that with the congestion the Davao City Jail in Ma-a has to contend with lead to bigger problems like poor sanitation, health hazards, and aggravation.

There's consolation in the fact that Neil doesn't have any complaint about inhuman treatment they are getting.

Insp. Ocmen also assures this too.

"There should be emphasis on peace, especially inside the jail," he said.

"The Davao City Jail is a community, itself. We work together (inmates and jail guards) and we are honest in saying that they couldn't work alone without the help of the local government, the NGOs and the whole society," he said, hoping that the same partners will grant them bigger space.

The "bad guys" may just have to have their freedom curtaled, but they still deserve proper treatment. Neil hopes that he, with his newfound family inside, be given a little more consideration as they serve their time behind bars.

"We really need counselling inside here too. Most of the inmates experience depression and anxiety," he said.


This article is among a host of articles submitted by Masscom students of the Ateneo de Davao University for their advanced journalism class under Ms Gemima Valderrama.

City jail their home

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