Inquirer Visayas

Baking, craftsmanship and all those skills behind bars

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Servando Amacha feels less of a detainee and more of a cook—a baker, exactly—at the Cebu provincial jail in Cebu City.

Amacha, 45, is one of the head bakers of the newly opened bakeshop inside the  Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) that houses 1,642 people more popularly known as the “dancing inmates.”

Fresh bread, such as pan de sal, Spanish bread, cheese bread and Francis, are sold at P2 each to inmates and P4 to outsiders, according to warden Romeo Manansala.

About 1,000 loaves and pieces of bread, and banana cakes are produced daily, he said. The cakes are sold at P10 per slice.

The bakeshop opened in August when the CPDRC Inmates Cooperative asked the jail management to open a livelihood project for them.

Bakers among them, who had worked in some known shops in Cebu, requested  a bakeshop “so they can continue to practice their baking skills and to have an extra income,” Manansala said.

Jail officials transformed the pantry at the administrative office into a baking area. The cooperative put in P15,000 for the project to buy the baking tools and ingredients.

The provincial government, which manages the  CPDRC, allowed the inmates’ use of a digital oven kept at the province-owned Cebu International Convention Center at the Mandaue reclamation area.

About 20 people work in two shifts—2 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. until finish time—to bake breads and cakes.

The bakeshop also accepts orders from outsiders, usually office employees at the capitol and nearby banks. The products are delivered by a guard using a vehicle donated by Senator Francis Escudero, Manansala said.

Total sales reach at most P3,000 per day, he said. The cooperative gets 10 percent of the earnings while the rest of the money is for operating expenses, purchase of ingredients, and allowances of the bakers, amounting to at least P500 every 15 days.

Amacha, who has been in prison since 2007 on murder charges for killing a neighbor, uses his allowance to buy toiletries. His family visits him only once a year.

But more than the money, Amacha said he was enjoying doing what he loves best. He had been working in bakeshops since he was 16.

“When I’m baking, I feel that I’m not a prisoner but someone who is free. This is what my life was outside CPDRC. Somehow I forget that I’m an inmate,” he said.

Livelihood projects

There are other livelihood projects inside  the CPDRC.

The inmates sell “puso” (rice wrapped in coconut leaves) at P1.25 each, as well as pen holders and artificial flowers made from recycled materials. A bunch of artificial flowers with a rectangular base is sold at P300, while prices of pen holders with an array of flowers range from P150 to P300, depending on the size.

Guillermo Julosino, who has been waiting for a court decision on a murder case filed against him in 2007, makes pen holders with a bunch of synthetic flowers and coin banks shaped like elephants.

“Since I don’t have anything to do inside the jail, I  decided to entertain myself by creating these things. I haven’t lost hope. I know I’m not worthless even if I’m a prisoner,” he said in Cebuano.

Since they started making puso last week, they have received orders for as many as 300 pieces. On the other hand, the pen holders and flowers are usually displayed at the CPRDC lobby during the performances of the dancing inmates.

The CPDRC gained international fame after the 2007 YouTube video of prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Since then, regular public performances have been held monthly inside the provincial jail.

Julosino usually earns about P1,000 every month for three pieces of artwork bought mostly by foreigners and other visitors during the shows.

“We use the money to buy soap, shampoo, toothpaste and snacks. We also allocate enough amount for our family,” said Julosino, a father of two children aged 12 and 10.

If the inmates have extra money, he said, they give it to inmates who need medical attention.

Manansala said the livelihood program was the product of the inmates’ resourcefulness.

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