Philippines, Day 17: Into the Maximum Security Prison6 min read

On Saturday morning- today- we came to the dental office for one last visit. On the way here, we went by the house where Dad was born and first grew up in. It was not much compared to the house we’re staying in that he later lived in. The bakery that used to be across the street from them, Moonlight Bakery, is not there anymore. Dad said that he didn’t even recognize the street anymore.

Right now we’re sitting in the waiting room at the dental office, waiting for Dad to get done. We are going to meet Pastor Palotes, but Dad doesn’t know if we’re going to the prison or not.

Pastor Benjamin Amar came into the waiting room and started reading a magazine. I didn’t even recognize him until Dad came out and they started talking.

We went to his car, and he told Dad about his history as a pastor and presently as a missionary to the prisoners. He took us to a shopping mall where we had an American lunch. I had a slice of Chicago-style stuffed pizza and I decided to have Coca-Cola Light (Diet Coke in America), just to say that I tried it.

Next, we went to the prison for the service that afternoon. Before we could go in to see them, we had to get our arm stamped with the seal of the Department of Justice- Bureau of Correction. Pastor Amar jokingly warned us to not try to erase it. Without the seal, you aren’t allowed to leave the prison unless you’re good at escaping (and then you’d never get out if you’re caught). Every once in awhile, I would see my arm in my peripheral vision and it would look like I had a tattoo. That was really weird. I wonder how people can stand having those things permanently on their skin. It would drive me crazy after awhile.

When we went into the prison, some of the inmates were there to greet us. Some of them had umbrellas that they used to shade us as we walked toward the church. The prison was nothing that I had imagined it to be. In fact, I never really tried imagining what it would be like. It was just like a small city in there. Wives would bring goods for their husbands to sell, so it was just like downtown Manila. People would have little shops set up where they would try to sell things. There were at least three basketball courts and a tennis court too. It was pretty exciting to have the privilege to see it all.

We got to the church and found the good-sized building to be a little small for all the members. They have two buildings, one for the services and one for the baptisms. They are hoping to build a new building since their church is growing so fast. Through the ministry of Pastor Amar and an annual basketball tournament in the prison, the church has really prospered.

The service was really great, especially during the singing time. I would never have known that all those guys were inmates if someone hadn’t told me already. When they sang, you could tell that they really meant what they were singing. I could see why Pastor Amar likes them so well. There was a lot of life in there. The only instruments allowed in there are ones that don’t use electricity (such as an electric piano) because of all the money the government puts out for electricity. Therefore, they only used a guitar, but that worked just as well. Dad gave the message, and though I don’t know exactly what he talked about, I do know it was over Colossians 3:1, 2, and I think it might have been more of a salvation message. Afterwards, Pastor Amar had us bow our heads. He asked those who wanted to get saved to raise their hands. After he had prayed, he said that eight people had raised their hands, indicating that they had just gotten saved. They took an offering and received 248 pesos ($4.51). The money was going to go to some of the older inmates as another way to reach out to them.

When the service ended, we all went outside the building and had our picture taken in front of it with all the church members. Then they took us on a tour around the prison. We went by many other churches, a school, and a building built specifically for those who were artists. The art that impressed me the most was the wood burning pictures. I don’t know how they did it, but they made life-like portraits of people by burning wood in different shades of black and brown. If there was anything I didn’t like, It was probably when we had to walk past the death row building. I was told that there are about 1000 inmates in there. No one in there is allowed to come out or have the freedom that the other prisoners have.

Right before leaving, Pastor Amar drove us around outside and showed us everything else there was to see. We saw the death hall where the prisoners on death row are executed through lethal injection. There were fields of corn and other things that some of the prisoners planted beside the small road we were on. There was a special prison for those who only had to serve a few months in prison. There was also a place for those who had only one month or less left in prison. It was an interesting experience and if I ever get a chance to go back, I probably will.

On the way back home we stopped at two places. The first stop we made was at a body shop to have one of the van’s tires fixed. It had a screw or nail in it and needed to be repaired. We spent about one hour watching the Filipino way of repairing tires. I don’t know how we do it in America but I’m sure it’s a lot different.

In the Philippines, a body shop is called a vulcanizing shop. There can be hundreds of them along the sides of a country road. They are easily recognized by the painted tire out front that says “vulcanizing shop”. They don’t use a lot of machinery in their shops, but what they do have is very old. We watched a guy fix our tire and then use his hands to put it back on the rim.

After the tire got finished, we went back to the Festival Mall again. It was similar to Mall of America- it had four floors and even a small amusement park- and Pastor Amar said that it was bigger than the Mega Mall. We basically just looked around, but we also bought a couple things.

For supper we went back home and ate with Benjamin Amar and his friend who had driven us. That was our last full day in the Philippines.

Breakfast- Rice, chicharone, patupat, fried bananas, pan de sal w/ Star margarine, banana

Lunch- Sbarro’s Chicago style stuffed pizza, Coca-Cola Light

Supper- Rice, fish, chicken adobo, vegetables (some kind of cole slaw), banana, papaya

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