We got the chance to be invited by Ms. Khristine Gabriel of Ever Bilena Cosmetics on a prayer service led by the Senior Citizen of the Correctional Institute for Women (CIW) in Mandaluyong last May 6, 2014 and from my point of view, since it’s my first time going inside a correctional, I figured it will be an interesting experience since I have no idea what to expect.
As we stand outside the gate waiting for the officers to check our IDs, it felt like we’re in an old school FPJ film. As we walk inside their grounds packed with little plantboxes filled with flowers, we were assisted by inmates holding out their umbrellas for us – very presidential, I know! They led us into a multipurpose hall where they were singing Christian songs for the opening ceremony of the program.
Every first Wednesday of the month the Lolas of CIW together with Ms. Khristine Gabriel and Mr. Moe Pinpin of Magic Potions, Inc., hold a prayer service and this monthly event also serves as a celebration and gift-giving among the elderly inmate birthday celebrators and since it’s the month of May, we’ve celebrated an early Mother’s Day and Lola’s Day for them as well.
After singing inspirational songs, the program proper has started and it was led by a quirky and funny, old lady. The elderly hostess loves to crack jokes and the crowd will burst into laughter. She’s jesting the officers about how long will they have to stay in there, and they really want to be with their family soon. It’s a hall full of women in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, by the way. They call themselves La Presa Correctional delas Filipinas; apparently they are fond of watching Forevermore too. They’re just making fun of their miseries, because maybe by laughing at their condition, somehow will help diminish the loneliness and isolation they’re feeling.
They have prepared lots of song and dance numbers for us. Though they are withered by time and age, you can still feel the youthfulness and the energy they radiate throughout the hall as they dance to a J.Lo song. They also organized song numbers for Mr. Moe Pinpin in celebration of his birthday. Their songs give off a retro Sunday radio vibe and there’s this one little old lady, though she’s already weak and in need of assistance in walking and going up the stage, she still managed to sing and dance to Let Me Love You Carmelita.
Some Lolas really prepared for this gathering, all made up with their prettiest blouses and some even wearing gowns still in touch their vanity. But there are also Lolas who are weakened by their age already – thin and time-worn. Some are assisted by their fellow inmate when walking; some are supported by crutches and walking sticks.
While the program is full on, I’ve observed that they have their own mani-pedicurist inside. There are small sari-sari stores inside which also sells veggies, fruits, and shrimp paste, it’s like their own little market. On the other side of the hall there are rows of woven bags and other crafts which are made by the inmates.
There’s this one old lady, I think she’s in her eighties, gray-haired and donned with a blue duster and on her hand is a basket full of polvoron, nuts, and other sweets she’s selling. Seeing Lolas like that is like a punch in the gut, it reminds me of my great grandma. Actually, everybody will definitely remind you of your grandma. It is heartbreaking to see old women – no, old people like that. Why are they still behind bars? They’re in their final phase of their lives for crying out loud! Will an 80-year-old lady who struggles to walk or even stand by herself bring threat to society? We all know that in any institutions here in our country, support is running short. Facilities are dwindling. Do they receive proper meals and health care? I bet not. Just imagine your grandparents in a situation like that.
My grandpa once told me that when you reach the “autumn” stage of life, if you’re lucky enough your memory won’t fail you, but your reflexes certainly will. You will be slower, weaker, and bored. He said all you’ll ever want to do is spend time with your family, though for sure your children will have their own families by that time, you’ll feel left out. All you’ll ever want to do is talk to someone, anyone. Anyone who might listen to what you’re gonna say. Because when you get old, you’ll feel lonely, and you’ll think that you don’t matter anymore.
The Lolas of CIW are a bunch of grandmas hoping that someday, they’ll be freed and be with their families again, they’re dreaming of taking care of their grandchildren. A simple yet the most pleasurable thing they wish for, the most pleasurable thing for a grandparent. All they ever want is a visit. Someone to talk to. Someone to share their thoughts with. Someone who will listen to them even if you think that what they’re talking about is absurd.
Behind their grateful and smiling façades, lie the miseries that haunt them – what if time is running out for them? What if they won’t be able to achieve that simple wish they long for? It is a painful thought but good thing they are a bunch of strong-willed women so for sure they’ll be able to jump over their hurdles.
The experience was different, the kind of which you’ll cherish forever. Being exposed to a bunch of old convicted ladies there’s a realization that on our everyday life where everything is monotonous, we are all drowning in our own troubles that we forget that there are people suffering much worse yet they still carry on with high hopes, strong faith, and all smiles. Small things, which we are taking for granted, bring big smiles to their faces and their hearts.
I hope that someday more and more organizations or even individuals will visit them since there’s a growing number of people doing charities, feeding programs, or reaching out to an orphanage, home for the aged, or any institutions. The elderly of CIW are the “forgotten ones”, a visit will definitely boost their moods and outlook in life. Based on what they’ve said, they’ll forever treasure the moments people share with them because they know that these people are busy and finding time to free their schedule to bond with them unquestionably means a lot to them.
Since these Lolas rely on the generosity of individuals and organizations to provide somehow for themselves, we on HUWAW humbly ask you to donate for our cause. Powdered milks, vitamins, and the likes will greatly benefit them.
For more information regarding the donations kindly e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Your support is much appreciated!