Transforming Lives at Bilibid Prison

Bilibid is the largest centralized prison in the Philippines. It is like a small city. An Ateneo de Manila University drama team produced a play inside the jail with the entire cast made of inmates. They were surprised how the play transformed the lives of the inmates.

eastwind journals

April 27, 2021 (archive tr35)

By Bernie V. Lopez,

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When drama Professor Ricky Abad of the Ateneo de Manila University, told me he had a dream of producing a play in the BilibId prison, where the entire cast were jail inmates, I told him he must be joking. That was an impossible task. At that time, I was giving bible lessons to the inmates. So, I arranged for Ricky to meet the Bilibid officials, who were excited about it.

Last August 2016, he assembled a small team of faculty and student drama experts to embark on the impossible. From the onset, there were difficulties. Could they teach prisoners to act and perform? It takes years of training to teach people how to act, what more in a jail.

After the resounding curtain call, with top Bilibid officials present, the cast was asked to say something. This was what two of them said, their words reconstructed.

Inmate no. 1. “This is the first time in my life that I am speaking in public. I am a shy person. I have not done anything like this before. I am surprised at myself. I can speak bravely, even in front of Bilibid officials. I never thought I could be an actor. The play gave me confidence. I want to thank the organizers of the play. Thank you for changing our lives.”

Inmate no. 2. “Before, I had a very low opinion of myself. I felt inferior to everyone. And I was mostly silent, unable to express myself. But now this play has changed me completely. Now I understand how important it is for one to believe in himself. It makes a lot of difference.”

Some of the prison officials were in tears after listening to the inmates talk. The greatest gifts we can give prisoners are self-esteem and self-confidence. We have the power to change them and uplift them spiritually. Acting was a permanent change in their lives.

Ricky’s hand-picked cast was not made of hardened criminals but of teenagers with minor offenses at the Medium Security Section. Most of the kids were no-read-no-write, zero education. They mostly had zero self-confidence and zero self-esteem. They had a low opinion of themselves. They never talked. They hardly expressed themselves. Everything was bottled inside them.

Ronan, the scriptwriter, wrote a 20-minute drama tailor-fitted to the Bilibid situation. His approach was simple but ingenious, letting the kids blurt out their feelings bottled inside them on stage. In a sense, the play was written ‘verbally’ by the inmates themselves, speaking of their lives and feelings. That was the key, to motivate them to talk, to express themselves. All the unwanted worms came out. Indeed, Ricky and his Ateneo drama team made a dent in the spirituality of the Bilibid inmates. Now, even in the absence of the Ateneo drama team, they can perform. Ricky assigned and trained an inmate director.

Many schools do not have a course in confidence building. Confidence cannot be ‘taught’. It can be ‘experienced’ or practiced. A drama play was a perfect tool.

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More Inspirational Articles

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Author’s Credentials. Blogger – ex-Columnist (Inquirer) – Healing Ministry – ex-Professor (Ateneo University) – Documentary Producer-Director (freelance, ex-ABS-CBN, ex-TVS Tokyo) – ex-Broadcaster (Radio Veritas) – Facebook “Bernie V. Lopez Eastwind” / Pages “Eastwind Journeys and Journals” and “Mary Queen of Peace”.


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