Like death and taxes, it was only a matter of time before I found myself in a Philippine jail.
I had spent about four hours at the land transportation office (LTO) waiting to get my Philippine drivers license when I wandered outside and noticed a squat and somewhat intimidating concrete structure directly across the road. I meandered to the front gate and was confronted with a sign stating that this was the Negros Oriental Detention and Rehabilitation Center. Curious, and realizing that this was a pretty good photo opportunity, I asked the guard if I could take a picture of the sign.
“Sure,” he nodded, “Would you like to come inside and look around?”
Ah, the ever effusive nature of Filipino hospitality!
Not having much else to do, and knowing that it could be hours more before I received my Philippines drivers license, I acquiesced.
I was surprised to see that not only was the front door to the jail unlocked, there actually was no lock on it. Hmmmmmm….. I wondered absently if that had an effect on nearby home values. As soon as I stepped through the door, the guard gestured two of the inmates over. He introduced one of them as Johnharken, and stated that he would show me around.
The jail is set up like its own little self-contained village. Enclosed by concrete walls and barbed wire are number of structures, among them five 60-man cellbocks (actually, one of them is for female inmates), a small school, a furniture shop, a television repair center, a pool hall, a kitchen area/chow hall, a conjugal visiting building, and a number of sari-sari’s and carrendarias. The jail has a capacity of approximately 300 inmates but on that day they only had 258, a mix of detainees awaiting trial and provincial and national convicted inmates. Jonkharken himself confided that he had spends 10 years at the center for a murder conviction but his case was currently under appeal. He also stated that such appeals have a tendency to take some time in the courts. The inmates were friendly enough bunch and were used to seeing foreigners there as some come in every week to conduct ministry and Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. I wandered around taking pictures and talking to some of the inmates. Since visitors are allowed, there were a number of kids running around playing, and families sitting around tables or cabanas talking about whatever families in that situation talk about.
I asked Jonharken why none of the prisoners escaped since there is no lock on the front door. He replied quite matter-of-factly that the island is only so big and you will eventually get caught and have more time added to your sentence.
All in all it was a pretty groovy way to kill time while waiting for my license, and if you find yourself bored to tears at the Dumaguete LTO sometime, go for a tour of the jail.