Between friends: Your brother’s keeper PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 22 September 2014 13:37

By Linda Cababa-Espinosa, Ed. D.

 

Last Sept. 1, I had the chance to get into the city jail compound for the first time through an invitation of the Silsilah Peace and Development Services – one of the programs of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.  The objective of the SPDS visit to the Zamboanga City Bureau of Jail Management and Penology compound was to sign a Covenant of Friendship between Silsilah and BJMP which would allow Silsilah to conduct formation education to the inmates, both male and female, to encourage them to transform and lead productive lives in the future upon their release from prison.

Never having been inside a prison compound and sitting in one room with detainees gave me mixed feelings of fear and surprise.  When I turned around where the short program was going to be held, I saw some male detainees seated on the wood – backed benches on the other side of the room.  I couldn’t keep my surprised discovery that most of them were young, probably early twenties to late thirties, and several were actually good looking!  What a pity, I thought, that they have consigned themselves to a life of embarrassing confinement behind bars so early in life, when they could be out pursuing a college degree or higher, or reporting to jobs that would earn them enough to give them an enjoyable life.  And yet, here they were bereft of freedom and deprived of the joys that loved ones and friends and the rest of the world could give.

Nailed around the top of the room were popular maxims that were probably intended to remind them of a better world:  You are your brother’s keeper; What goes around comes around; To understand rather than be understood; and the virtues of Humility and Forgiveness and many more.

I thought that the saying most applicable to their situation was the one that reminded that each of us is our brother’s keeper.  Although in the bible Cain insinuated that he was not his brothers’ keeper, a careful and close observance of our lives have proven that we are, indeed, our brothers’ keepers.  And that is why we should not steal, lie,  physically or verbally hurt anyone because by doing so, we violate our moral responsibility to take care of each other as equal members of the human race needing each other’s care, respecting each other’s weaknesses, and giving more than what we receive in return.

This order to be our brother’s keeper is enshrined in the Second Great Commandment:  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

As we were toured around the cells of both male and female detainees after the program, we saw the majority of them looking at the unexpected visitors that we were.  Others peeped over the heads of those in front with the curiosity of children to get a view of these visitors from outside their world who have dared to invade their compound.  They looked like birds caught and caged with facial expressions that couldn’t be deciphered – sad, angry, puzzled.  Some were actually smiling! I took a moment to compliment a member of the jail band that had played a cheerful intermission number during the program.  His face lit up and nodded his head as a way of saying:  thank you.

We were told that most of the prisoners were inside because of drugs – more the use than the sale. And I thought what a terrible mistake – to trade off one’s life for a few hours of escape from the pain and misery of the real world.  Or trade off one’s life to give vent to one’s fit of anger and harm somebody physically or verbally.  Or to trade off one’s freedom by lying or cheating for temporary gain.  Why don’t we stop before we start?

I learned that the youngest was a 19 – year old male, and one got in 13 years ago on different violations and I thought:  That’s it.  No matter what the reason is for being caged, for the short term or the long term, refusing to acknowledge that we are all our brothers’ keepers is the base of all crimes.

And life is too short, and could be too beautiful, to waste inside a cage.