Each year, Xavier School gives grade 9 students the opportunity to interact with prisoners from the Medium Security Compound of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City. Half of the grade 9 batch this school year have already had their turn. My Service Interaction was not only a day of laughter and excitement, but it was also filled with meaning and inspiration. After embarking on this journey to meet new friends and hear their stories, we knew that we had to come back.
Last December, in the spirit of Christmas, a group of grade 9 students, Jacob Wee (G9A); Jacob Cue, Sedrick Keh, Leonard Lim, Tyrone Lim, Mackinley Ngo, Matthew Ong, Quade Ong, Edward Tan and Darren Seetekbeng (9B); and Freddie Tan (9E), along with, Mr. Alvin Ang (High School Assistant Principal for Formation), Miss Maricelle Virtucio (Member of the Xavier School Campus Ministry and Service Office), Mr. Joel Hawod (9A Class Adviser), Mrs. Trinidad Manongsong (9B Class Adviser), Mr. Gerard San Gabriel (9E Class Adviser), and a parent volunteer, Mrs. Melody Ong, revisited the Medium Security Compound of the New Bilibid Prison last December 23, 2013, to share the joy of the Yuletide season and bring Christmas cheer to the prisoners. The day went smoothly with several song performances, fun games, and contests like Bilibid’s Next Top Model and Pinoy Henyo, and a simple snack of donuts and pizzas that were served by the volunteers. I can even recall how some of the teachers and students expressed themselves by showing the Top Model within. Filled with much passion, Mr. San Gabriel walked the runway and left everyone dumbfounded with a remarkable pose. The crowd burst in laughter and exhilaration, while rooting for the talented individuals.
Pinoy Henyo was as successful as the first. The energy of the prisoners in playing was a sign of their active participation. In return, the inmates entertained us with heartwarming performances. These performances showcased their talent and creativity. It was also a sign of their gratitude towards the volunteers, their way of expressing the true meaning of Christmas. The volunteers also donated gifts to the prisoners like canned goods and school supplies.
Soon, the hours turned into minutes, and when it was time to leave, Miss Ella Lat, the officer-in-charge for the Alternative Learning System (ALS), spoke on behalf of the prisoners. She thanked the volunteers for spending an entire day of their Christmas break with the prisoners and expressed how the volunteers were able to touch their hearts, as it was the very first time in Xavier history that Xaverians returned to Bilibid for a Christmas get-together.
After our return to Bilibid, I reflected and came to a few realizations. First, not all prisoners have the luck to have relatives and friends visit them, even during the Christmas season. Second, the stereotype that prisoners are the “eyesores” of society is not true at all, as change is truly possible, even for people convicted of a crime. They just need our acceptance, which will serve as their motivation for change. Finally, I realized that we can learn from the stories of these prisoners despite the crimes that they have committed. We can learn from how they have overcome the crises that they have gone through and how they have turned over a new leaf. They serve as eye openers to the many realities in life. Their stories tell us how second chances can lead to changing for the better.
The volunteers were able to fill the prisoners with joy and hope, teachers, and students, working together to share the Christmas spirit. All of us can serve as inspirational beings by doing acts of MAGIS, touching the lives of different people. We must continue to let our light shine, bring out the goodness in everyone, and serve others by sharing our blessings with them. Even if these prisoners have had a rough past, they have been able to take advantage of the second chance that was given to them. It is truly amazing how these prisoners, who were once “eyesores” of society, can inspire us in such a profound way. Luceat lux!