As Catholics, we are all humbly called to serve. But never have I imagined that serving in prison will ever be in my list.
Before the first day of our service, we were given precautionary instructions which made me feel more scared than secured—instructions that reminded me that they are criminals, thieves and sinners. In my mind, they are individuals behind bars who have gotten too greedy or too selfish to think of what is right. My preconception is that these are individuals who have thought only of themselves, robbing their sons and daughters of a father, robbing husbands and wives of a life partner.I entered thedetainment grounds thinking that these individuals need to be converted. One incident changed all my preconceptions and converted me.
I attended mass at Makati City Jail for the first time in 2013. The volunteers, me included, went to the chapel ahead of time to prepare for the mass. Line by line, in an orderly manner, the inmates started to arrive. As the room started to fill, I could feel the mix of emotions in the chapel masked by the smiles on the inmates faces. The mass started out solemn, just like any other until we sang the Lord’s prayer. When it got to the part where they asked for forgiveness, tears rolled down their eyes as they raised each other’s hands.
Louder, stronger and full of love, they sang:
“At patawarin mo kami sa aming mga sala,
Para nang pagpapatawad namin sa nagkakasala sa amin
At huwag mo kaming ipahintulot sa tukso,
At iadya mo kami sa lahat ng masama.
I am surrounded by inmates who are vulnerable, afraid, and who are seekingGod. At that point, I heard God’s call to serve. To share my time, talent and treasure to those who not only need food, but more importantly need God in their lives. I am grateful to be God’s instrument of his love in prison. Every smile, every “thank you, po”, and every conversation has been meaningful and had touched my life in ways no other experience can give.
As a form of gratitude for the invaluable experiences, I had spent most of my birthdays (which fall on December 24) with inmates. For there is no greater gift I can receive than the graces of untainted love, sharing and compassion.