“I WAS IN PRISON AND YOU CAME TO ME.” – Matthew 25:36, by Alli Raval – Prison Ministry Head

October is Prison Awareness Month. We are celebrating the National Correctional Consciousness Week (NACOCOW) with The Taguig City Jail (TCJ) inmates this coming week October 26-30, 2015.

Once a year we place our focus on the prisoner. Look at how often criminals were mentioned in the bible, how they are looked down upon by society, yet the prisoners were among the special ones that Jesus mentions in his final discourse in Mt. 25:36. The last person who spoke to Jesus was a prisoner. Pope Francis has always found time to visit prisoners. Perhaps it is because almost all of the prisoners are from the poor. We see the poor all around us with palms opened knocking on our car windows, but nobody can see the inmate who is locked away from society and whose palms can only extend beyond the small opening of a prison bar.

The San Antonio Prison Ministry brings the touch of Jesus Christ to these inmates. We have various activities for them throughout the year like medical and dental missions, master chef cooking contest, sports activities, film showing, aside from our masses, recollections and catechism classes. Our biggest project in the Prison Ministry is to bring Christ to the home of the prisoners through a chapel.

We helped build a chapel in Makati City Jail (MCJ) and it has changed a lot of lives. Many of them attend the Saturday masses and the weekly catechism classes. They developed a hunger to get to know Christ more and through the years we have witnessed their deep devotion to God and Mama Mary, and the conversion of their hearts. Today we have been called to help build another chapel in Taguig City Jail.

There are 1,000 inmates in the TCJ facility. There are 20 cells for the men and 4 cells for the women. A small cell of around 50 sqm.,accommodates 40-50 inmates. They have triple deck make-shift beds and 1 bathroom which they all share to take showers and wash their clothes. They have no privacy, no visitors and not much time to move around. They do not even have a visiting area. Their families are all cramped in the corridor if they ever come to visit.Their twice a day mealsare small portions of fish or pork and on better days they have chicken necks and rice.

But the saddest part of all is that the time it takes to solve their cases. A simple case takes years, mainly because they have no lawyers. Seeing them, sitting in their personal space, with blank stares and tears in their eyes, hearing their stories and feelings of uncertainty, fear and abandonment deeply touch and break our hearts and our volunteers as well.Most of the inmates in TCJ are abandoned by their families and so they are very excited and happy to see new faces and new people to talk to, to comfort them and pray for them.

We would like to invite any interested parishioner to join us in our activities and spend a couple of hours with the prisoners. You can also donate some toiletry items and food and most of all share your monetary blessings as we work to build God’s church in prison.

When Pope Francis’ visitedinmates in the USA he went down to greet every one of them and embraced some of them. “It is painful,” Pope Francis said, “ when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities. It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society. The Lord tells us this clearly with a sign: he washes our feet so we can come back to the table. The table from which he wishes no one to be excluded. The table which is spread for all and to which all of us are invited.”

“This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society.”

“All of us have something we need to be cleansed of, or purified from. All of us. May the knowledge of this fact inspire us all to live in solidarity, to support one another and seek the best for others.”

“He comes to save us from the lie that says no one can change, the lie of thinking that no one can change. Jesus helps us to journey along the paths of life and fulfillment. May the power of his love and his resurrection always be a path leading you to new life.”