BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Thursday, November 16, 2006

192nd inmate

I have not been to every prison in the country but I have seen a few -- the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa, the Camp Crame detention cell and the Quezon City jail.

Of the three, I found the Quezon City jail the one in the saddest and most miserable state.

In 1999, I joined a group of crime reporters for a coverage in that place. Nothing shocked me more. The place is way too small that imprisoned convicts and innocent people alike are cramped like animals. The fetid smell of sweat permeates even from a distance. Inmates could hardly move.

During my visit, I saw different kinds of inmates -- the forlorn, the remorseful, the guilty, the stoic, the frustrated, the seemingly contended, the accepting, the sick and the dying.

I thought of the Quezon City jail when I saw the news about Atong Ang, the prison's 192nd inmate. I don't know how Ang survived his brief stay there, just before his transfer to the Camp Bagong Diwa detention center, but I'm almost certain, he must have counted every second.

The dorm assigned to Ang has a 200 percent congestion rate. There are 191 inmates sharing a 100 square meter cell.

Prisons are there as a place for persons awaiting trial and those convicted for various crimes. But the Quezon City jail is more than a prison. If there is such a thing as hell on earth, this labyrinthine space must be it.