The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.
-Russian Novelist and Writer
From covering the glitz and glamour, as well as the scandals and controversies of showbiz, it was a complete change of pace for me to be among the so-called “dregs of society” at the Caloocan City Jail. While showbiz is said to be vicious, this was reality. I was there with the Public Attorney’s Office that was giving free medical and legal assistance to the inmates.
It was hot, crowded and smelled of sweat. Tattooed inmates fell in line like obedient children and waited patiently for their turn with the doctors and lawyers. But the lines of prison toughies slowly parted to give way to an elderly man who was being pushed to the front of the line in a wheel chair. He was slumped over and appeared unconscious. The 81-year old Lolo Ildefonso is in jail for attempted rape. According to his records, Lolo Ildefonso was caught giving his neighbor’s 10-year old daughter a bath, without the neighbor’s permission.
Some inmates made fun of Lolo Idelfonso’s interest in the personal hygiene of others, but his offense, if proven guilty is serious. So is his health. The prison warden said he threw up blood earlier that morning. After the free check up, the doctor said his blood pressure was so high he needed to be brought to the hospital. The doctor said that if his health wasn’t monitored, he could die of a stroke or heart attack.
Lolo Ildefonso regained consciousness after they gave him an IV, but he couldn’t even remember his name! He talked gibberish and made faces. For some reason, he could only say his age, “81!”
Atty. Persida Acosta, the P.A.O.’s chief of lawyers said they will file a motion to request that Lolo Ildefonso to be brought to the hospital. She also said they will ask for a plea bargain so he could be released due to old age and for humanitarian reasons.
Minutes later another inmate in a wheel chair was brought to the front of the line. He had a long cut on his stomach, and it wasn’t stitches but STAPLE WIRES that held the wound closed! It was literally stapled shut. It was a fresh wound and pus was coming out.
According to Mr. Staple, he stabbed himself out of guilt after he accidentally killed his brother-in-law. He said he hit his “balae” after they quarreled over who would pay for their electricity bill. He kept saying that he didn’t mean to kill his brother-in-law, which is why he stabbed himself to prove how sorry he was for what he did.
The doctor who performed the check-up was worried that Mr. Staple could die of an infection if he doesn’t take antibiotics and keep the wound clean. The doctor however said that the staple wires were nothing to worry about, as some doctors actually prefer stapling a wound – though with medical staple wire – instead of using stitches that are much more prone to infection.
In another corner of the crowded jail, another doctor was attending to a crying teenager. He looked so young, barely 15. But he was already eighteen years old and no longer a juvenile delinquent, which is why he was thrown in with the men. It was his first few weeks in jail after being caught stealing his neighbors’ water meter. He hardly looked the part of a hardened criminal, just a helpless child shedding tears of pain. The doctor found a big boil near his genitals.
When I was putting together my script in the newsroom, my colleagues and I couldn't help but laugh at how the story came out. It wasn't humorous laughter though, probably more nervous or disturbed. Because what else can you say or do when faced with stories like these? It's either you laugh or you cry or you become very angry.
Portions of my tagalog story read, “Pinaliguan ni lolo ang bata niyang kapitbahay.. tadtad ng stapler ang tiyan, matapos niyang saksakin ang sarili... tumutulo ang nana sa sugat, may pigsa sa singit…”
It’s so surreal. It’s so sad. It’s so true.