Cebu News

Special feature: Finding self-worth, money behind bars

Grace Melanie L. Lacamiento - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - Ather own space at a common work table, Maricris Paras, 25, strings plastic beads patiently, careful not to break a design pattern for a tabletop Christmas Tree. Her fingers work in precision, but from time to time, her mind drifts longingly to images of her mother decorating the family tree at their house in Tuburan.

This year, Maricris thought, her mother would not have to bother with the adornments. The tabletop tree she is working on looks promising and when it is finished, it would be her gift for loved ones back home.

Maricris’ excitement builds as the tree starts to take shape. She could only hope her own children would like what she made. The kids, ages three and seven, have stayed with their grandmother since the time Maricris was sentenced to jail in Cebu City five years ago for drugs.

“Ganahan ko nga tungod sa Christmas Tree, mahinumdoman nila nga kauban ko nila karong Pasko (What I hope to happen is that they will feel I am with them this Christmas even just with the Christmas Tree I made),” she said.

Maricris is one of the female inmates at the Cebu City Jail trained to make tabletop Christmas Trees from nylon and plastic beads of different colors, shapes, and sizes. The training is part of the city jail’s inmate welfare and development program in line with the mission of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology to rehabilitate detainees.

The jail’s female dormitory has 250 inmates.


Maricris told The Freeman she used to make necklaces  from  beads but she could not pass the opportunity to learn another dimension of the craft, especially that it would give her the chance to earn income even behind bars.

She volunteered for the program and it was only a matter of time before she could make a decent tree. She said the process was tedious and it used to take her a whole day to come up with one durable tree, often with the skin on her palm peeling off in the process. Her hard work paid off, eventually, and for the past three months, she would end the day with three trees.

Maricris said her family in Tuburan relies on fishing for income and the money she earns from making the Christmas Trees, no matter how small, is already a help. She has saved more than P1,000 since the trees started getting sold in October and wants the money spent for new clothes for her children this Christmas.

Senior Inspector Stephanny  Sotero, city jail warden, said the jail management provides the raw materials that police officers buy from Quiapo in Manila each time they transport detainees to Mandaluyong City. From these raw materials, the inmates create stuffed toys, rugs, and various items made of beads such as bags, coin purses, necklaces, and key chains manually.

Some of these products are even exported to other countries and a portion of the sale, depending on the size of the item made, goes to the inmate who created the product.

September this year, Maricris and some other inmates began making tabletop Christmas Trees out of plastic beads. A month after, they started selling the products in time for the holiday season.

Each pre-decorated tree that stands one foot is sold at P350 while a tree that stands one and a half feet is sold at P350. A tree that stands at two feet is sold at P1,400. Sotero said they also accept customized orders.

Most of those who purchased the trees, Sotero said, are relatives of the inmates, students who tour the jail, and representatives of religious organizations.

“At least they keep their money’s worth. All they have to do is to decide where to place it,” Sotero said.

Honing skills, killing time

Sotero said the livelihood program was intended primarily to give inmates an avenue to earn money for their personal needs in jail like toiletries but it was also meant to help them fight boredom and homesickness.

“They do not stay idle while detained. They can sometimes forget their problems and entertain themselves instead,” she said.

On a more meaningful note, the livelihood programs have become an avenue for the inmates to showcase their creativity.

“Their talents will not go to waste and people shall appreciate them more,” Sotero said.

She said the program has given the inmates a second chance even behind bars and is actually preparing them for possible jobs when they are finally released.

Maricris agreed. She said that to a certain extent, her work has given her happiness while in jail. She and two other inmates are now training 10 others to make pre-adorned Christmas Trees. She is thankful that the jail management has given them opportunities to be productive.

She hopes that even with the products that they create inside the jail, the common perception of the public of inmates as hopeless individuals will change.

“Hinaut unta masabtan nila among situwasyon diri ug dili sila mo-judge dayon sa amoa nga basta mapriso gani kay nakapatay dayon (I hope they will understand our plight and judge us directly),” she said.


Sotero said they are considering of coming up with lanterns made of beads for next year and are exploring the possibility of partnering with exporters for their bead products, as well as trainers who can teach the inmates skills for other livelihood opportunities.

She encouraged the public to take a look at the inmates’ outstanding work and, if possible, patronize the same.

“Why would other countries recognize the talents of our inmates while the Filipinos themselves are not proud of them? They produce world-class products. Let us support them,” she said.

Christmas now

Maricris said it is in prison where she found her purpose in life, which is to utilize and share her creativity, and where she found God.

“Naa gyu’y rason ang Ginoo nganong naa ko diri. Naa gyud diay Ginoo (All of these, including the making of Christmas trees out of beads, are part of His plan. There is indeed a God),” she said.

She said she is excited to see her family, especially her children, when they visit her on Christmas Eve.

“Gimingaw na gyud ko sa akong mga anak. Love kaayo nako sila (I miss my children. I love them so much),” she said, as she slides the nylon expertly through another delicate bead.

She is eager to finish the tree for her family and prays they would cherish her modest Christmas gift just as earnestly as she takes pride in the value of her hard work. — /JMO (FREEMAN)


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