Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa and a recipient of the 1993 Nobel Prize Award, once spoke of his life in prison where “fortunately, I spent a lot of years, about 18 years with other prisoners, and, as I say, they enriched your soul. The type of conversations we had, the experiences we shared.”
Mandela’s wisdom in saying that imprisonment “enriched” his soul somewhat stirred my interest as I thought of my apostolate of presence at the New Bilibid Prison. Indeed, the eight apostolate weekends I spent with the inmates in the first semester of school year 2014-2015 were truly enriching moments for me. The conversations I had with them, especially about their experiences of faith and love, revealed their expressions of hope beyond their present condition.
The New Bilibid Prison is located in Muntinlupa City housing around 14,000 inmates in the maximum area alone. As a reformation house, it aims to restore the inmates to their normal life even as they spend the remaining years of their life inside the penitentiary. The facility’s program for reformation includes work and livelihood opportunities, and education and skills training on various interests and fields such as painting and handicraft. More importantly, the penitentiary provides moral and spiritual reformation.
In my conversations with the inmates, I realized that one thing that sustains them inside the prison is their faith and hope in God. At first, it was not easy for them to accept the verdict of life imprisonment. They went through a difficult process of acceptance and adjustment. But along the way, life-changing realizations helped them to accept their fate and painfully learn the lessons of letting go and just let the will of God reign in their lives.
Many of them admitted that it was difficult, and even up to now there is still pain. But in those occasions when I just listened to their life stories, I was truly inspired by their conversion, their humility to ask for forgiveness, and their firm commitment to entrust and fully submit their life to God.
The experiences they shared allowed me to go beyond their condition and experience what is to be free, and that is to have the freedom to live a life dependent on God alone. That inside the New Bilibid Prison, there is a loving God who goes beyond the bars and who continuously relates, guides and strengthens the inmates so they can be living witnesses of God’s unwavering presence. (Photo courtesy of pinoydailyjournals.com)