Saestremera: The least of my brothers

Saestremera: The least of my brothers

By April 16, 2024, we will mark our second year of working with the persons deprived of liberty (PDLs), the women, at the Davao City Jail.

Having spent those times with them every Monday of the past two years except when there was a lockdown and special occasions like Christmas and New Year days just a month ago which

fell on a Monday, we were there without fail and we slowly understood them. Especially because

aside from leading them in the pranic healing’s Meditation on Twin Hearts, we have also been giving them pranic healing. That entails listening to what is causing their pains and sufferings: depression, anxieties, emotionally triggered physical ailments, the works.

I remember when we were in our first few months, we were welcomed as always with their smiles and some of them said we had become their weekly “dalaw” (visitors) and they looked

forward to Mondays and our visits.

It left a nice feeling, although I didn’t feel the depths from which that welcome was coming. But “dalaw” was a constant word. My group leader in charge of accounting for the materials and

quality of the crocheted toys I have been asking them to make always says that in events when I need extra plushies, she gives such assignments to those who have no “dalaw”. At top priority

to replace workers who have been released from jail are those who do not have “dalaw”.

It wasn’t until we encouraged them to share their stories that the attachment to our visits made

sense and I saw from what depths they were expressing their thanks.

Given: the jail is a facility to contain people accused of breaking the law. Comfort and convenience are the last things you can expect in a jail. While not as congested as most jails in

the country, the women’s dormitory of the City Jail still has hundreds, almost 90% of whom are

there for drug-related cases. The jail only provides the barest minimum: a roof over their heads

and walls to keep the elements out and yes, food that I have always been familiar with having

spent considerable years of my childhood at the penal colony where my uncle was an officer.

“Kosa, ano bang ulam natin ngayon (Jailmate, what’s our viand for today)?” was an often heard

question spoken out in a jovial tone at the penal colony among the prisoners. “Sinibak na talong

(Axed eggplants)!” Sometimes it’s axed squash or whatever other vegetables that are delivered

by the truckloads. And there is no room for regular kitchenware there. Cooking at the penal

colony was done in giant vats, bigger than those we see in resorts nowadays where guests are

enticed to wallow in warm water. The vats are cemented firmly on a wood-fired stove that looks

more like a bunker than a stove because of its size. And because the kitchen crew has to cook

in these vats on top of the stove’s platform, they do not use ladles. They use shovels with very

long handles. I was in awe of those kitchen activities, which I viewed from a fair distance across

the barbed wires separating the employees’ community from the inmates.

At the women’s city jail with just around 400, there is no need yet for these contraptions,

although I can imagine that these may be how it is at the men’s with more than 2,500 squished


As one woman describes, their food is mostly soupy vegetables (lots and lots of soup) and an

occasional chicken or fish, very occasional. Whatever “luxury” you may want from the store inside the jail, you have to buy them. Having an egg for a meal is a luxury. How to have access

to what the store sells? From money given by family members or friends who come to visit or

from livelihood projects like what we have. Soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes are at the PDL’s own


Meaning, that those who do not have “dalaw” survive with the barest minimum with no soap or

toothpaste to call their own. Throw in all the emotions that being in jail elicits — isolation and

melancholia among them. The occasional “dalaw” are then most welcomed — a breath of fresh

air, a connection to life and love outside, and a promise of a fresh bath and minty clean teeth.

“I was in prison, and you came to visit me,” goes an excerpt from Mathew 25:36 in the Bible. The depth of melancholia long before the Gospels were written is thus understood.

Email:, fb: /saestremera, IG: @saestremera, Tiktok: @stellaestremera


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