Sunday, 8 May 2011

Mother finds redemption behind bars

Manila Bulletin

MANILA, Philippines — Many jail inmates waiting for their cases to be decided in court spend their days behind bars sulking over their predicament. Not Jacqueline Aban Torrefiel.

Forty-nine-year-old Nanay Jacky, as her fellow detainees and staff at the Cebu City Jail Female Dormitory call her, is the picture of someone who has faced down the odds and is driven by a strong commitment in life.

Nanay Jacky was arrested in 2000 on a drug possession charge. “It was the most painful experience in my life,” she recalled, speaking in the local Cebuano dialect. “For the first time, I was away from my children and all I could do was cry and cry for days.”

After her husband Virgilio, an army officer, died, Nanay Jacky survived by accepting orders sewing clothes in her house in Barangay Pasil, Cebu City. It was backbreaking work but she persevered for the children’s sake.

“But despite my meager income, I always see to it that I bond with my kids. I bring them to the malls and buy them whatever my extra money can afford,” she said.

Being separated from kids added to Nanay Jacky’s anguish while in jail.

But it was also there where she found the spiritual strength that she had lacked.

“I thank God for bringing me here. It was a wake-up call for me,” she said.

The frequent visits of her children Jane, now 23, Ria, 13; Bryan, 12; and Lian, 6, also boosted her determination to make something of her life.

Capitalizing on her sewing skills and a penchant for learning new things, Nanay Jacky is spreading the message of hope to the inmates of the Cebu City Jail Female Dormitory.

She is involving them in worthwhile ventures like dressmaking, accessory making, culinary arts, and physical exercises.

Nanay Jacky continues to sew dresses, including wedding gowns with detailed beadwork, and costumes for parties. Her first bulk order inside the facility was for a dozen blazers for the security personnel at the Cebu City Jail Male Dormitory, for which she earned P250.

Nanay Jacky also repairs worn out clothing of other inmates for P10 to P30. “I understand that they do not have money so whatever amount they give is fine by me, as long as I am able to do what I am passionate about,” she said.

She earns P400-P500 per week from outside job orders, which she sends to her children.

She is also training 15 other inmates to be seamstress.

But Nanay Jacky didn’t stop there.

When she was about 15 years old and a third year high school student at the Cebu Institute of Technology, she had been forced to drop out. Instead, she took up vocational courses in dressmaking, tailoring, cosmetology and culinary arts.

Even while in jail, Nanay Jacky was determined to earn a college degree. She enrolled in the Alternative Learning System (ALS), a course launched by the Department of Education (DepEd) in the Cebu City Jail and other jails nationwide.

The ALS gives drop-outs, out-of-school youths and those who are beyond school age but who have not been to school at all a chance to complete their education.

The ALS uses interactive modules and learning sessions are conducted at any available space at an agreed schedule between the learners and the learning facilitator.

In jails, sessions are held three to four times a week. Inmates are taught basic subjects. Nanay Jacky’s favorites are English, Filipino and Mathematics.

Sometime this August, Nanay Jacky is expected to graduate as valedictorian at the class of 19 ALS students. She has earned a Certificate for Basic Computer Literacy and wants to take up advanced classes soon.

“Apart from my children, I dedicate my graduating in high school to my father, Epifanio ‘Boy’ Aban, whose dying wish was for me to finish school,” she said.

Aban passed away almost a year ago.

“By finishing secondary education, I will have the motivation to teach my children the importance of education,” Nanay Jacky said.

She said she is very proud of her children who are themselves honor students and special awardees. “I consider it a very big blessing that my kids grow up valuing their studies.”

Chief Inspector Corazon Noel, the warden of the Cebu City Jail Female Dormitory, described Nanay Jacky as “industrious and a person who loves to learn new things.”

In her spare time, she pores through her notes or researches at the facility’s library.

“Nanay Jacky is someone we all look up to inside the dorm because of her infectious optimism and dedication to learn and share what she knows to her other inmates. She is very dependable,” Noel said.

After graduating from the ALS program, Nanay Jacky is eyeing a bachelor’s degree in fashion design, a step closer to her dream of becoming a couturier.

Nanay Jacky hopes that her accomplishments in jail would count when her case is finally decided in court.

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