Eastern Samar inmates not giving up on Christmas
BORONGAN CITY, Eastern Samar, Philippines — Inmates of the Eastern Samar Provincial Jail (ESPJ) here usually look forward to the Christmas season, expecting more visitors to give them gifts or buy their handcrafted lanterns.
But the coronavirus pandemic dashed their hopes of a merrier celebration this year. Their families could not visit them and orders for their lanterns had become scarce.
“This pandemic seemed to have deprived us all not only of mobility but the things that we hold dear—our family,” said Ruben Candido, 46, an inmate trustee who has been in jail for 14 years for murder.
Although not one of the 79 inmates and 15 jail guards was infected with the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the ESPJ has been on lockdown since March to prevent the possible spread of infection.
Since no one was allowed to visit the provincial jail, what would have been a bestseller during the holidays had only a few takers.
Sale of other Christmas decor also took a dive after households, schools, business establishments and government agencies had chosen to scrimp on decoration for the holidays.
Livelihood in jail
Lantern making has become a way for the inmates to earn money. It also gives them a sense of belonging and provides them a safe outlet to express their creativity.
Acting warden Samuel Afable said the project started in the early 1980s when some inmates tried making Christmas decor.
When jail employees noticed their talent, he said, they pooled their resources to buy materials so they could sell the decor and generate income during the holidays.
Their products were a hit because the lanterns were sturdier and cheaper and buyers could also ask for a customized design.
Despite the pandemic and the lockdown, he said jail employees and inmates decided to continue the project to help inmates fight boredom and loneliness that may lead to bouts of depression.
Small lanterns, made of bamboo, wire and Japanese paper cost P60 to P80, while large ones were sold at P300 to P700 each. Proceeds are shared equally by both employees and inmates.
In previous years, they earned between P30,000 and P90,000 during the season. This year, ESPJ has pooled a measly P6,000 from the proceeds of about 100 small lanterns bought from inmates.
More than 200 lanterns have yet to be sold.
Despite the low sales, Candido said hope remained that their lanterns would be out of their display shelves so they could buy presents for their children this Christmas.
Abraham Elpedes, 59, said his share from the lantern project mattered little.
He used to own a restaurant and a parcel delivery service in Japan for 15 years. He served as mayor of Balangkayan town when he was arrested for orchestrating the murder of a Borongan City judge.
While he has been detained for 21 years, Elpedes was convicted of murder only in June this year and sentenced to 40 years imprisonment.
“I just wish that my family is safe always and my three children, especially my youngest daughter, would see me soon. Christmas is supposed to be family time, but I never had that luxury for 21 years straight,” he said.
Elpedes, who maintains his innocence, said the yearly activity of lantern making was a good prison program that empowered inmates and a good avenue to break down people’s biases and stereotypes.
More than the low sales of lanterns, the inmates said they missed their families who could not visit them during Christmas due to the lockdown.
Fr. Emman Carilla, prison chaplain, and other Church leaders said they would ensure that the inmates would feel the warmth of family during Christmas through a gift-giving activity.
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