Enjoying the Christmas season so far?
Good. You should. You’ve earned it. It’s been a tough year for various reasons – you got laid off maybe, or you really took your candidates’ electoral loss to heart, or maybe you got dumped. But life goes on. That’s the thing about Christmas. Being with friend and family, being able to soak up the good vides permeating the air around you – all of that reminds you that you’re still standing and that there are new beginnings you can look forward to.
There is, in other words, hope.
And if you understand what I mean, if you can relate to it in even the smallest way, then you should count yourself doubly lucky because there are people out there who are going through shit so difficult that even just recognising the existence of hope can be a very big challenge indeed.
A Philippine Christmas Carol
A fellow sojourner on Twitter, @voicesfromabox clued me in to the existence of these people with a sobering article about how the flaws of our Philippine justice system ensure that not everyone can take as much joy from Christmas as we can. The article, Christmas Behind Bars, exposes a sort of institutional-level Ebenezer Scrooge that sucks out all the vitality of the season for those unfortunate enough to be caught in its clutches.
I have a client who’s only mistake was to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and it’s been 6 months now and he still hasn’t been arraigned. Upon further investigation, RTC files for Christmas break and resumes on February 1 (January being a month of inventory).
Like Scrooge, the great tragedy of the Philippine justice system isn’t it’s evilness – because it isn’t evil – but its indifference. I have to admit, before I read this article, I was indifferent too. That was certainly not because I was a bad person (I’d like to think that I’m not), but because I simply didn’t care.
I’d love to be able to claim ignorance, but the truth is, I wasn’t unaware that there are people who languish in jails who haven’t been convicted. I work for the Commission on Elections and we have a program specifically to bring the vote to these people who, because of how slowly the wheels of justice turn, are effectively deprived of their political rights. So I do know of their existence. And I’m betting you do too. But I simply didn’t think on it enough to realise that it’s not just political rights that they’re being deprived off; they’re being denied everything that I’ve come to take for granted about freedom – including the many joys of Christmas; including hope.
In Dickens’ a Christmas Carol, Scrooge comes to his redemption by way of three ghosts who alert him to his indifference. The Ghost of Christmas Past brings Scrooge to an awareness of how his preoccupation with wealth has alienated him from his humanity; the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge how his indifference can be harmful to others and hints at how losing his indifference could result in him being able to make a tangible difference for the better in the lives of those around him; and finally the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come, startles Scrooge into the realisation that his indifference has turned him into a monster that no one can manage any kind words for, even in death.
Similarly, Christmas Behind Bars – which, by the way, is insightfully subtitled “A Philippine Carol” – did the same thing for me. It paints me a portrait of myself – an ordinary Filipino – appreciating Christmas in typical fashion, preoccupied with presents and good times; then it sweeps me into the world behind bars, giving me the opportunity to safely witness how different the lives of detainees are from mine and nudging me towards the understanding that this is something I could actually help change; and finally, it shocks me into a new awareness: these detainees are suffering because of flaws, which my continued indifference would make me complicit in perpetuating, that would just as easily condemn me to the same fate if they were ever brought to bear on me.
They would just as easily condemn you too, if you were unlucky enough to ever stray that way.
But there is always hope. @Voicefromabox points the way to this hope by laying a challenge at our feet and daring us to help in reforming the justice system. So now it’s up to us.
Do we ignore the challenge and, after oohing and ahhing at the powerful images of Christmas Behind Bars, consign it to the shadows of forgetfulness made brighter by the Christmas lights? Or do we help the justice system, like Scrooge, bounce out of bed and start working on the changes we know need to be made?
The choice is always yours.
All images used in this post belong to @Voicesfromabox