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Pink behind bars

Ryan B. from Barangay Inayawan in Cebu City was only 25 when he was sent to prison. It was there that he came face to face with life hardships – from prostituting for a piece of bread to drug use within a system that sends those who use/sell drugs to prison. As a free man, he tries to have a better life. “I am proof that you can change,” Ryan B. says.

This is part of #KaraniwangLGBTQIA, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBTQIA people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Ryan B., a gay man from Barangay Inayawan in Cebu City, was only 25 when he was sent to prison, supposedly for drug pushing. He admitted that, yes, he used to use drugs; but sometime in 2009, he alleged that he was blackmailed by a person who was connected with the National Bureau of Immigration (NBI).

At that time, “ang ako best friend, Intsikon nga guwapa nga girl, dungan mi mugamit. Pero ang asawa niya nitrabaho sa NBI. Kay bayot man ko, abi niya nga ang iya asawa ako pud gibugaw ba aron ka-drugs mi, aron naa mi gamiton (my best friend, a beautiful woman who looked like she was of Chinese descent, we used to do drugs together. But her worked for the NBI. Because I’m gay, he thought I was pimping his wife for us to have money to spend on drugs, for us to have drugs to use),” Ryan B. said.

Ryan B. remembers how he looked like when he first went out of jail.
Ryan B. remembers how he looked like when he first went out of jail.

And so their “runner” – the one who provided them their supplies – told on them to the husband. “Nitug-an siya sa laki nga mugamit na daw mi. Giadtuan mi sa NBI (He told the husband when we were about to use. The NBI went to us).”

Getting caught using illegal substances/drugs could already send one to jail; but Ryan B.’s case worsened when “nitanom sila’g shabu sa ako pants. Pusher daw ko. Gi-duot nila tanan sa ako-a (they planted drugs in my pants. They said I am also a pusher/I sell drugs too. They put all the blame on me).”

Depending on the amount of illegal drugs that a person is supposed to be “pushing”/selling, he/she could be jailed from 10 to 40 years, according to Ryan B.

While his case was being heard, Ryan B. was kept in the prison in Kalunasan (from 2009 to 2010).

And so Ryan B. personified being gay in prison in the Philippines.

HARSH LIFE

Before he went to jail, Ryan B. had a somewhat okay life. “Naa ko (I had an) Internet café – six units,” he said. He was sending part of what he was earning back to the province (in Negros), where his family was based.

But when he went to jail, “wala jud tanan (I had nothing).” Worse, most in his family did not even know he was sent to jail; only his father, and one of six brothers knew. “Layo pud sila kay taga-Negros man mi. Wala jud dalaw (They also lived far as we’re from Negros. I didn’t get visits).”

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And when Bisdak Pride left after that first visit, “nangayo mi’g carton sa ilaha kung mubalik sila (we asked for them to bring cartons if they visit us again).” These cartons were used as mats for sleeping, since – usually – prisoners just sleep on floors. “Swerte ka kung daghan ka sanina kay ibanig nimo sila; pero kung wala ka sanina dala sa sulod, wala ka i-banig (You’re lucky if you have lots of clothes because you can use these for you to sleep on; but if you don’t have clothes when you enter the jail, you’d have nothing to use).”

In fact, a lot of prisoners die from illnesses that are believed to have been acquired from such an unhealthy practice. “Mga sakit sa baga (Lung-related health problems),” Ryan B. said.

SEX FOR BREAD

Even in prison, poverty is what forces many gay and trans prisoners to become sex workers.

Ang ubang pinireso, naa kuwarta. Masuya ka (Some prisoners, they have money. You envy them),” Ryan B. said. And because even while inside a jail, the prisoners still needed money to be able to buy necessities – including food – then “mapugos ka sa kinahanglan (you are forced by the needs).”

Because “ang mga laki, wala dalaw, mag-sex lang sa ubang laki. Didto, ang laki ang mubayad sa sex (men, when no one visits them, are forced to have sex with other men. There, men pay men for sex).”

For having sex, a prisoner can get paid from P30.00 to P100.00. Those who are, or who claim to be virgins can get P150.00.

Inside prison, “kung aura nimo ibay-ibay, dili ka mahalin. Ila pili didto, laki nga aura bayot; mas mahalin didto, bayot nga laki. Sila ang P100.00 (if you present yourself as a woman, you won’t attract clients. Who they choose there, those gay men who present themselves as straight men; ‘straight-acting/looking’ gay men sell well there. They are the ones who can demand P100.00).”

According to Ryan B., there is also a notion among the prisoners that if one is effeminate, he has been “gamit na kaayo (well used)”, with the frequency of use (i.e. sex) the reason for the effeminacy. And so the effeminate gay men (with the transgender women, who are mixed in the same prison with men because they were assigned male at birth) are not “favorites sa iyot (in sex).”

NEW ORDER

In a way, those running the prison knew (still knows) what happens, and just lets things happen. In fact, Ryan B. said he knew of some prison guards who also had sex with prisoners who are gay and/or transgender.

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Ryan B. also said that “wrong practices” are at times highlighted in prison. For instance, people are known to enter the prison to bring “stuff” for prisoners – e.g. mobile phones that, for them not to be detected, are stuffed inside “mga bilat (vaginas)” of female sex workers who visit; and lighters and drugs stuffed inside gay visitors’ asses. These are removed from these body parts once the visitors are in the prison, given to those that they visit, who then sell them to other prisoners.

The development of newer “systems” is common in prison.

Prisoners can, for instance, be “married”. “Naa pud asa-asawa didto. Ako, kasado man ko didto. Mura’g pari pud, komander mukasal ninyo (There is also ‘marriage’ there. Me, I was ‘married’ in jail. There’s also a ‘priest’, the ‘commander’/person who heads all the ‘mayors’/leaders of each block).”

Being “married” means a gay man or a transgender woman will only be with his or her “husband”, particularly sexually. If he or she cheats, he has power over him or her, and he can chastise or even punish his partner (e.g. “kulatahon” or bash). Those in relationships can also be punished (for instance if they are caught breaking their vows to be with each other), and this punishment (even getting killed) is done to them both.

“Married” couples are also able to stay in the same room/cell, so they can consummate their relationships.

In the case prisoners want to dissolve the “marriage”, they undergo a “process” wherein they are “bunalan ka katulo (hit thrice) – that’s the ‘price’ for divorce.” If “you don’t get hit, then you’re not really divorced – he can still fuck you, and he can still ‘own’ you.”

Ryan B. had a “husband” for a month when he was in prison. But they split up when the “husband” was released.

TURNING ‘RED’ IN PRISON

Ryan B. said that “wala jud condom didto (there’s no condom there).” This does not help the bad HIV situation in prison, with up to 20% of those inside believed to be HIV-positive.

People living with HIV are separated – there is a “sick” room, and they are placed there. Not surprisingly, “daghan makahibawo (a lot of people know of their status).”

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In hindsight, “pasalamat pud ko nga na-preso ko. Kung wala siguro, nabuang ko (I’m thankful I was sent to prison. If not, I may have gone crazy),” Ryan B. said. “I am proof that you can change.”
In hindsight, “pasalamat pud ko nga na-preso ko. Kung wala siguro, nabuang ko (I’m thankful I was sent to prison. If not, I may have gone crazy),” Ryan B. said. “I am proof that you can change.”

PLHIVs are obviously discriminated – “wala mu-sex sa ilaha (no one will have sex with them).” In fact, even those who are known to have sex with them can be discriminated, and no one will want to have sex with them anymore, even if they use condom. “Tsismis man. Dili na mupatol kung natilawan na ang positive. Mahadlok na man sila (People gossip. Those who had sex with HIV-positive prisoners won’t be able to find sex partners anymore. People get scared).”

Condom use isn’t common, too. “One person, one condom,” Ryan B. said, adding that once a prisoner receives condom, he immediately uses it, so that after use, he just returns to having sex bareback. Also, “gibaligya pud, may laki pud mamalit (condoms are also sold, and there are men who buy them).”

But Ryan B. knows of a PLHIV who is a “regular” in prison. “Balay na man tu niya ang preso. Kung kagawas siya, sige balik. Wala pamilya sa gawas, mao mangita way mubalik sa sulod. Feeling niya iyaha pamilya naa sa sulod (His ‘home’ is the prison. When he is released, he returns. He doesn’t have family out of jail, so he finds ways to go back inside).”

LEARNING FORGIVENESS

Ryan B. was eventually released (in 2011) when the witness (their “runner”, the one who told on him and his former friend to this friend’s husband) of the party prosecuting him backed out. In court, the witness was put in a tight position – he was the prosecutor’s witness, but also Ryan B.’s witness, so “napugos siya mupili (he had to choose who to side).”

When the court asked Ryan B. if he had a witness, “sulti ko (I said): Their witness is also my witness, your Honor.”

Perhaps pressured on how to tell his “story” of what really happened, this witness just decided not to turn up to another hearing, thereby affecting the credibility of the case against Ryan B.

Ryan B. actually thought of getting back to those who prosecuted him – i.e. the man from NBI, and his former best friend who he used drugs with in the past. But he changed his mind. “Saying nako: Dili ko mudumot, pero dili ko kalimot (I say: Don’t hold grudges, but don’t forget).”

The man already passed away, while the woman “nabuang (went crazy).”

When Ryan B. was released from jail in 2011, “back to zero for me,” he said. “Bisan piso wala ko (I didn’t even have a peso to my name).”

He had to work as a househelper, and then worked his way up from there. Now, he already has a tapsilogan (eatery), and was even able to buy a motorcycle “akong (my) service.”

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Ryan B. is proud to say that “wala ko mangayo tabang; gitrabahuan nako tanan (I didn’t ask for help; I worked for everything).”

In hindsight, “pasalamat pud ko nga na-preso ko. Kung wala siguro, nabuang ko (I’m thankful I was sent to prison. If not, I may have gone crazy),” Ryan B. said. “I am proof that you can change.”

Ryan B

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).

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