American volunteer Katie L. tells of her experience of visiting friends in one of Manila’s high security prisons.
One of the deepest moments that I lived in the Philippines, and in my mission as a whole, was in a maximum security prison called Mantalupa. The community in the Philippines visits the jail, and 5 specific men in it, about once a month. We know their nationalities, their hobbies, and some of their stories.
On my second and last visit, I spoke about the normalcy I felt at Mantalupa. About how I felt like I was simply visiting friends when we visited them. I said that their lives were beautiful to me – they live like a little village. Afterwards, one of the men named Abdul stared at me for a long time. Finally he said, “You know, what you said really touches me. Like in my heart. Like, boom, boom, boom!” (He illustrated by tapping his hand on his chest). I laughed, because I thought he was kidding. He became serious. “I’m not joking,” he said, “Really. You know what? You’re alright. You’re okay. I like you. You speak well. I mean that you speak honestly and openly. You know what I think? I think you’re going to be something. Because you speak like this. With your heart. You could have a successful business or do great things. Because people will see that you mean what you say. Tell everyone. Tell them what you just said about us. Tell them about how normal you find this place – the shops and all.”
I just sat there, floored. I had received one of the most beautiful compliments of my life. In a prison.
I questioned why Abdul would want me to tell other people about Mantalupa. Why describe your cage to people? It is because they want so badly not to be “culprits.” Not to be “prisoners,” but men. They are disowned by society, but they belong to the members of Heart’s Home. And in the strangest, but most beautiful way Abdul and I belong to each other. Even though I was actually a little afraid to visit my first time, I did visit and I spoke. And even though I was probably talking about something silly like mangos or my newly acquired French accent, what Abdul heard was: There can be something good inside you. And I am not afraid to belong to you, to be your friend.
It is a little overwhelming sometimes to have our Friends explain the beauty of our lives to us.