Outside of a one-time viewing of videos of Cebu’s dancing inmates, I can freely admit to not giving much thought to the inmate population of the Philippines.
I would imagine most other Filipinos feel the same way. Between the natural disasters that befall our country and the corruption we face at every institutional level, it is difficult to think of our correctional facilities and the Filipinos living in them.
Social entrepreneur Paul Orpiada might have had the same view, until an outreach visit during college changed him. He said he was struck by the physical, emotional, and psychological struggles that the inmates faced.
Some rarely got a visit, abandoned as they were by their families, while others suffered from severe depression that often led to suicide attempts.
“The congested prison cells also deprive them [of] breathable space,” Orpiada said. The sum of these conditions made rehabilitation difficult to achieve.
Right to livelihood
Prisoners are not only neglected by society in general, but also by social organizations. Orpiada said there is a lack of cause-driven organizations trying to rehabilitate prisoners.
Inmate rehabilitation, after all, may not be the sexiest of causes, given that they are complicit in the crimes that landed them in prison.
Yet Orpiada believes they still deserve our attention, particularly as when comes to defending their human rights.
“They also have a right to livelihood, a basic privilege to be given good and dignified opportunities for the welfare of their and their families’ futures,” he said. “These people should not be left to simply idle away in confinement but be empowered toward better tomorrows.”
To achieve this goal, Orpiada formed a school business that eventually evolved into a social enterprise known as Karaw Craftventures.
According to Orpiada, the goal of Karaw Craftventures is to create sustainable livelihood opportunities for the women inmates in Naga City District Jail through an in-prison skills development program, which would hopefully reduce recidivism (habitual relapse into crime or criminal behavior) and poverty upon their release.
“This community is treated as suppliers or production units, where 36 inmate-artisans craft the products during their idle time inside the jail,” he said.
The prisoners upcycle scrap and waste materials into products such as plush toys, keychains, bags, shirts, and shoes. The end products are marketed under a variety of brand names – The Ragpet Project, Muñequeta, and Aurora – that are positioned as artisanal, contemporary, and of course, sustainable.
“The interventions to this sector help the inmates maximize their time productively and earn income for their daily needs,” Orpiada said.
Karaw Craftventures sell their products via trade fairs; online marketplaces such as Beanstalk.ph, Bolooka.com, and Lokalista.ph; and partner stores in Naga City and Metro Manila.
Reintegration into society
Bringing the inmates’ products to market is rewarding, but also challenging.
Orpiada cited expectations as one of them. Inmates would expect a large production volume even though Karaw Craftventures is still growing.
“That’s why we are always on the lookout to have project collaborations with government and non-governmental organizations,” Orpiada said, as he explained how the team is trying to keep the work volume more consistent.
Some inmates may also see Karaw Craftventures as a pasttime rather than as a means to an end.
“We can’t deny the fact that most of them actually think that the project that we do is just for them to utilize their idle time more than getting the full benefit of the rehabilitation program,” Orpiada said.
As a result, Orpiada said that the Karaw Craftventures emphasizes to the inmates that what they do for them is for their own good; that they want to help them cope with their situation inside the jail; and that they want to guide them as they reintegrate into society.
Another issue is time. The Karaw Craftventures team, Orpiada included, has been working part-time on Karaw Craftventures, which limits the face-to-face time that they get with the prisoners.
Orpiada is currently a fellow at Watson Institute Philippines, the short-term accelerator program founded in 2014 by youth leaders Andy Rapista, Raya Buensuceso, and Carbs Bayombong. He has decided that once he completes the program, he will work full-time on Karaw Craftventures.
Orpiada’s immersion into Karaw Craftventures hopefully produces more success stories, as was the case with inmate Raquel. A mother of 8, she had been jailed because of multiple estafa cases. Her family would not visit her during her incarceration, so she felt abandoned and alone.
Raquel joined Karaw Craftventures just as it was getting started. She eventually rose to the position of community head, as she designed beautiful products and showed leadership potential.
“When we asked her about what motivated her to perform well in the project, she said that she really wanted to have a reformed life for the sake of her children, especially for her newborn,” Orpiada said.
It took two years, but Raquel’s dream eventually came true.
“Since her family got to know that Raquel performed well in her rehabilitation, they finally reconciled and accepted her again,” he said. “She got a new job and still continues to get commissioned works for Karaw Craftventures.” – Rappler.com
Rappler Business columnist Ezra Ferraz brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Connect with him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz
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