Silsilah Graduation Ceremony in the Zamboanga City Jail

For many years, Silsilah has given especial attention to the Zamboanga City Jail. The place is located at the center of the city and the inmates today are about 2, 200 men and 250 women.

I have been there many times since I arrived in Zamboanga City in 1983. In this Oasis News, I focus only on the recent graduation Ceremony of Silsilah on February 10, 2017 without focusing on the many problems that the city jail faces like the overpopulation of inmates in a relatively small structure.

Most of the cases of the inmates are related to illegal drug issues.

For the Silsilah graduation last February 10, I was invited as the guest speaker of the three groups of inmates who had finished the training program on the Culture of Dialogue, Path to Peace of Silsilah. The inmates also had a special time to share their experiences.

I was touched by their stories especially by the story of a young lady (for privacy, I do not mention her name) who prepared well for her reflection. She delivered it with good English telling us her story and how the presence of Silsilah in the city jail had helped her to be transformed. This is her presentation:

Growing up, I had everything from expensive clothes to a luxurious lifestyle. I even had my own nanny till I was 16. In short, I’m the stereotypical spoiled brat! What Cha wants, Cha gets! That’s how I was back then. I was really stubborn. I always wanted to get things done my way. That’s why I was labeled by the people with whom I interact socially as “The Menace.” Privately, my family thinks that I’m “The Problem Child” and in school “the Princess of Mischief.” I must say, I was really quite popular! I was a pain in the neck, a headache for everyone who knows me.
As I got older, I was also getting worse. I got myself hooked on drugs and addicted to alcohol. I was into serious gambling too. I was partying hard like there was no tomorrow. I was into Met, Heroine, Weed and Ecstasy. What can I say? I was a total drug addict – until I got arrested for selling drugs. When the bottom fell out, everything went downhill. I was just a user albeit a serious big time drug user. I was detained at the central police station for almost two months and still was into Met that time. I hit rock bottom when I got committed here for safekeeping. The sudden changes were too difficult for me to take. I felt so isolated, sad, so alone. My so-called friends, whom I really thought I could count on, deserted me. My whole family got really mad at me. My preferred lifestyle drastically ended and with it, my freedom.

The experiences I had here included doing my own chores, run errands and doing the most mundane tasks. It was also here that I truly was financially broke for the first time, having nothing but the cold floor where I sleep and behind the bars in a cell were others like me. I started to feel self-pity. I was slowly losing confidence. I felt like a worthless dumbbell. Despite all of it, I tried hard to look on the brighter side of life. Eventually, I made new friends, became a part of a family. I’m finally with people who get me, who truly understand me. I immersed myself in joining different kinds of activities like Bible Sharing, Bible Study and stuff. Then I joined Silsilah. At first, I just wanted to be part of Silsilah to keep myself busy. Until I finally realized what Silsilah is and its impact on our lives and the challenges it wrought to each of us.

Silsilah taught me what dialogue truly means, its importance to the lives of people, the consequences wrought with the lack of it, the benefits that are reaped when you engaged in it. Personally, I’m happy being here. It made me a better person having taught me that there are ways to overcome conflict and solve issues and generally enhance relationships. It helped me bridge the gap that exists between people of different creeds, different races, traditions, cultures and color.

Basically, it created a path to a clear and better communication with each other. Fostering a community that is open with a clearer perception on how the world works. It also helped me with my personal life. Indirectly, Silsilah helped me regain my family’s trust and confidence which I lost when I was arrested. It showed me how important dialogue is. Not just between friends and other people but also within your family and within oneself. It is a crucial ingredient in keeping your family together. Silsilah gave it all back to me and showed me more, showed me a different world, a more peaceful, calm and dignified way of living.

Thank you so much Silsilah. Thank you for making a change in me.

Indeed, miracles happen also even in the jail. I hope that many of the inmates who are there can have the chance to be free and restart a new life.

Personally, I believe that in the deeper part of the heart of each person there is a corner of goodness and we are called to find this special corner and help rebuild what has been destroyed. Each one can do something and we can transform the world if we move together guided by the principle of the common good and with love.

Fr. Sebastiano D’ Ambra, PIME
Founder , Silsilah Dialogue Movement

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