ESL Success Story
– Parañaque City Jail –
Cherizza (or Jef–what she’s been called all her life) was a 23 year old college undergraduate working as a telemarketer for Insular Life. One day, while at home in Parañaque with her mother, Remy, some policemen conducted a raid at their compound. Initially, Remy was the only one being taken in for alleged illegal drug use, but Jef insisted on going with her mother to the precinct, thinking she would only accompany her to clarify the situation. But at the precinct, they were not given a proper investigation and were instead immediately accused of violating Republic Act 9165 (“Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002”) Sections 5 (Sale, Trading, Administration, Dispensation, Delivery, Distribution and Transportation of Dangerous Drugs and/or Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals) and 11 (Possession of Dangerous Drugs). Charges were filed against them, for which there is no bail. With the help of Jef’s grandmother, they were able to hire a private lawyer to expedite the case and fast track hearings, but still the hearings took place every six months. They were detained in Parañaque City Jail Women’s Detention Center for three years and eight months before their cases were dismissed and they were released.
While inside, Jef was called Pau, and she stayed close to her mother and kept herself occupied. She recalled that choosing to be productive made her discover skills she did not think she had. She joined every activity there is, helped out with special projects, took on tasks and joined each program that service providers were offering. Hence when Lifeline Foundation’s PCJ Initiative, ESL (English as a Second Language) was offered, Pau joined. Though it was an English class, talking with the students about their lives was part of the lesson. Counseling was offered during the lessons and later on, as a separate program.
Jef relayed the struggles and difficulties she encountered while inside the jail. To keep away from any form of trouble and abuse, she minded her own business, although they were initially ganged on, being newbies. She usually hid behind her mother and other women at night just so she would not be seen by the jail guards and be called into the office for special services. In jail the women have to pay to sleep on a bunk or get a mat so they would not sleep directly on the floor. Jef recounted that at one point, she and her mother could no longer afford to sleep on a bed, something they had taken for granted in the past. They used cardboard boxes to protect them from the cold cement. And now, normal things like having coffee to drink, decent meals to eat, shampoo, taking a bath with not just one liter of water, all these and more, are things she is truly grateful for. She has learned to value little things and become more frugal.
Back in jail, every occasion was a big deal and she became sentimental, she said. Things that did not really bother her before,
made her sad and lonely. She cried during her birthday or of the birthday of a loved one, on Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day, even Independence Day. She likewise discovered who her real friends are, those who stood by her and never judged her. They are the same ones who have helped her get back on her feet after her release.
Unfortunately, the stigma of being an ‘ex-con,’ even though she was not actually convicted, is felt and people have not stopped judging her and her mother. She went back to school at Lyceum Alabang, supported by her grandmother, but she did not finish her studies. She said people who had known her from jail would recognize her on the street and call her “Pau” and would taunt her for having been incarcerated. They also accused her of becoming a snob after her release. Her classmates eventually distanced themselves from her. Getting a job after being imprisoned was quite challenging, even though she and her mother were not convicted, but being “arrested with no criminal conviction” was still written on her NBI clearance. She was able to get a job as a receptionist at a laundry shop but was earning below minimum wage. So she left and worked as a house helper for three years.
Jef reconnected with one of her high school friends, John B., 30, and they now have one daughter, and another on the way. They live with Jef’s parents and two other siblings and their families. She is currently buying and selling items online.
She is, understandably, angry at the policemen who detained them without going through due process. She shared that she is easily scared now whenever she hears a loud commotion or sirens. She is thankful that in the community that they are in now, they are accepted and there are no known illegal drug users or pushers. When asked if she will tell her children about her past, she answered with uncertainty. Her partner is not in favor of her sharing her story. For him, he would rather just forget about it and move forward. But Jef said there is nothing wrong with sharing her story, she is not ashamed because she learned a lot from it and if others would learn from it, then it is not in vain.
As proof that Jef is unashamed of her past, after giving birth to her daughter, Jef intends to volunteer regularly with Lifeline Foundation’s ESL and counseling sessions in Paranaque City Jail, the very place where she was detained for almost four years. She wants to give back to one of the organizations that helped her in the past, and to help encourage some of the women who are very likely experiencing the same situations and feelings as she did years ago.