Travel Therapy: Wise Words from Filippino Prisoners

I am absolutely in love with the Philippines. From the pristine beaches, to the lovely people and the many experiences available, it is certainly a number 1 to go visit- just don’t expect anything to be on time and you’ll be fine! 

I found out about an open prison in Palawan- an island in Philippines, where people could go visit and meet some of the prisoners. I jumped at this opportunity, as having completed my dissertation on Women In Prisons and previously worked for Fine Cell Work – a charity helping to rehabilitate prisoners through the art of needlework, I knew I had to see what prisoners in the Philippines were all about. 

The idea about Iwahig Prison is that the prisoners are there to work, whether it be on the rice fields, farming, building new developments or making furniture. They are allowed to roam free around the huge grounds but have to work for the majority of the day. All of these prisoners have been hand picked from Manila prison and had to go through rigorous testing in order to make it. Such as fitness, behaviour, mental health records from 3 professionals etc. 

Upon entering the prison grounds I was struck by how beautiful it was, lushus green rice fields, beautiful birds flying around and well made buildings. I saw inmates working away and all would smile as we drove by in our tuk tuk. I was almost pinching myself that I was technically in jail right then! 

Dropped off at the main entrance I heard backstreet boys coming from inside, as I walked into the room I saw a group of men all dancing a routine to I Want It That Way…. Quite an interesting sight considering these men looked pretty hard and with most of their bodies covered in tattoos! I wasn’t quite sure if I felt that these men were like performing monkeys or whether this was a creative way to raising money for their needs.  

Afterwards, dancer Jason (presumably he gave himself a Western name!) came over to me to show me the various things on sale that prisoners had made, all of which were extremely impressive. He told me that a percentage of the money made would go to the prisoners who desperately needed money to give to their families to visit, as they were often at least a flight away back in the capital Manila. The crimes within the prison ranged from high- life sentence prisoners, medium- 20 years or less and low- 5 years or less. They all lived separately depending on their category but would all work together during the day. He said this was great as gave them all a chance to integrate and learn to work together. 

He told me his dancing group was the best job to have! Everyday he gets to meet new people, so he never gets bored, and he very much enjoys seeing people smiling at his performance as it makes him feel like he is doing good for others! The only snag- they have to dance everyday from 6am-9pm whenever a new tourist enters, and as he is now a 40yr old man his back isn’t quite holding up, but he won’t let his place go! 

I chatted to Jason for a couple of hours, his story was indeed a harrowing one. Aged 14 living with his family in Manila, they got robbed by armed men, he and his father were shot after trying to defend their home. He awoke in hospital to find out his mother and sister were raped and murdered and his father never survived. A year later he took his revenge. He is now in prison for life, but he said that there was no life after what happened to his family…. He had the staple prison badge- 2 tear drop tattoos (for x2 murders) but had a very warm face- quite contrasting aspects! Jason asked lots of questions about me and then proceeded to give me some life advice – maybe he could sense I was in need of some!?

He told me the key in life is to forgive, not only others but yourself. To wake up everyday thankful that you’re alive and here, he looked at me and said I bet you don’t do that as it wouldn’t occur to you that you wouldn’t be alive- thinking about, he’s quite spot on! He said don’t be bitter. Fight what you can but know when to let go. My favourite- if a boy ever breaks your heart don’t let them see you cry! And his last advice: always have a smile, keeps you positive even if you don’t feel it! At that moment there I knew I had to soak up all his words because if a man jailed for life after seeing his family raped and murdered can be like this, then everyday I must make sure to wake up reminding myself to do the same… 

As I said goodbye he whispered to me to add him on FB, and then grinned saying he had an illegal phone in here and had used a fake name for his profile! Funny how social media can make even the hardest of men do silly things!!!

Il finish with a Video of the dancing Inmates! 


Travel Therapy: Capetonians

Coming from Namibia where my last post was about how open my peers were about mental health issues and anxieties; I was expecting not much difference with the people I would be meeting in Cape Town. This was an error on my part. 

The truth of the matter is that it is quite a taboo subject over there. Now I could try and hypothesis about the history of South Africa and the affect it has had on all its people. But I am no historian and fear I won’t do it justice. So I shall merely discuss the people I met and issues they faced. 

From a Londoner’s point of view living in Cape Town is the dream, you have the city, you have the mountains, the beach and the great partying. But there is certainly a dark shadow that casts over the city. When talking to friends I had met, they too were facing the everyday struggles and anxieties we face but on a different scale. It would seem as a male you are not supposed to talk of your inner trials and tribulations, it comes across as weak. And as a woman it comes across unattractive to feel low/depressed. It almost felt like everyone needed to have this outer shell that showed their mates they were totally carefree and fun. 

I had a friend who got such bad depression/anxiety he couldn’t even get into his car. So secretly his mum took him to the doctors. He saw a therapist for a while, but told no one, knowing that if he did he would be judged and that certainly wouldn’t help his deeply low feelings. 

Unfortunately this isn’t a lone story, I’ve had friends dealing with bereavement, breakups, unemployment and all have the same underlying issue, seeking help was almost tougher than having to deal with the issue itself. I was trying to wrack my brain to see how my fellow peers could change this, how they could all learn to be more open/ accepting of these issues. Then I saw a feature on tv about the caravan man! 

This guy, a psychology student, wanted to raise awareness of the situation young Capetonians face and wanted to offer help. So he drives around in his multi coloured caravan offering insight into the situation and free therapy sessions. Whilst I’m very aware one caravan will certainly not cover the number of people out there needing help, it is certainly a great kick start into tackling this situation. 

Personally, I love the idea of bright colours and bringing positive vibes to people. Who knows I could be coming to an area near you with my multi coloured van!