Back by choice: ex-detainee now guard at Parañaque jail

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 10 2017 02:44 PM | Updated as of Jun 10 2017 02:52 PM

JO1 Jessie Alverio checks the situation of the inmates on the third floor of the Parañaque City Jail as he makes his daily rounds. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA – He was once dragged into jail, mauled by police as he refused to be detained for a crime he did not commit. Nearly a decade later, 31-year-old Jessie Boy Alverio is back in jail, this time on the other side of the bars.

In a rarely seen turnaround, Jail Officer 1 Alverio has chosen to return to life in a detention facility, guarding detainees at the Parañaque City Jail with the compassion one can only gain from experiencing incarceration first hand.

He never had second thoughts signing up for the job soon after his acquittal in 2014.

Today, Alverio is among 50 jail guards tasked to keep an eye of some 1,120 inmates at the Parañaque City Jail, escorting them to court hearings.

Primary among his tasks are ensuring peace and order at the crowded facility, and preventing the entry of contraband, including illegal drugs and items that may be turned into improvised weapons.

Alverio would also make sure to go the extra mile by giving advice and even bible readings to detainees who are having a difficult time facing their situation inside.

For the former detainee, looking at them is like looking in the mirror.

"Kapag tinitingnan ko sila (detainees), nakikita ko ang sarili ko sa kanila," Alverio, who lives in Bacoor, Cavite, told an ABS-CBN News team who paid him a visit at work.

JO1 Jessie Alverio tells the inmates in one cell of the Parañaque City Jail to start counting off, as part of his regular duties as a BJMP guard. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

But it wasn't always this way, admitted Alverio. There was a time when he believed inmates were a plague to society. They did not deserve the privilege of receiving visits from their loved ones, he once thought.

Little did Alverio know that he would be an inmate himself, literally dragged by police officers to his cell, wrongfully accused.

A CASE OF MURDER

It was 2008 and Alverio, then a fresh criminology graduate, had just finished taking care of requirements he needed for a part-time job. He had to return a motorcycle he borrowed from a friend who lived in a subdivision in Bacoor, Cavite.

While on his way out of the village, his friend figured in a fistfight with a drunk neighbor after a brief argument over money. Alverio and another friend tried to stop them.

"Tinamaan ng kasama ko 'yung kapitbahay niya na natumba sa semento. Sabi ko, 'tama na'yan baka makapatay ka pa ng tao,'" he recalled.

The morning after, Alverio received a call that his friends were arrested by police for physical injuries. He rushed to the station as he wanted to issue a statement in their defense. They were innocent, he said, as it was the drunk neighbor who started it all.

But while Alverio was stating his case to police, an officer moved to arrest him as he was siding with his accused friends. He said the police had to punch, kick and drag him into the jail as he refused to be taken in.

Later that day, the man who figured in a scuffle with his friends died in the hospital. The complaint of physical injuries against them was elevated to murder.

LIFE BEHIND BARS

Alverio, then 22, wished he was just dreaming. In his first few hours detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology's (BJMP) facility in Bacoor, he had to slap himself several times, hoping he would wake up to a different reality.

For 6 years, Jessie Alverio lived the life of an inmate like these men crowding a cell at the Bacoor City Jail. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

At night he had to endure the heat and sleep on his side in the crowded cell. The comfort room wasn't too comforting. There was no concept of personal space.

Worse was the thought that he was in such situation when he had nothing to do with the murder- he never threw a punch, never killed anyone. Still, he ended up behind iron bars.

During the first few months of his detention, visits from his family were frequent. As time passed, they came less and less. Only his aunt and his long-time girlfriend visited him frequently. Soon, even his girlfriend had to part for abroad.

Such separation from his loved ones was torture for Alverio.

"Yung pisikal na hirap, kaya e. Ang mahirap 'yung mga Pasko, birthday na hindi mo kasama 'yung mga mahal mo sa buhay," he said.

The case lagged in court, like most others that take years to resolve. For Alverio, this meant spending six years denied of freedom.

Yet somehow, he made the most of his time. Alverio learned the ways inside, climbing the rungs of the jail hierarchy.

From a "ranchero," the inmate assigned to food distribution, he rose to the ranks of "mayor" or cell leader.

"Ikaw 'yung parang magulang or tatay ng mga kasama mo," he said of his role as mayor. "Kapag may problema 'yung kasama mo, kailangan bigyan mo siya ng advice."

WAKING UP TO FREEDOM

On the afternoon of June 26, 2014, a fellow inmate woke Alverio up to the best news he had heard in six years.

"Sabi niya, 'andiyan 'yung mga magulang mo at may dalang release paper galing korte. Makakalaya ka na!"

He and his two friends had been finally acquitted, proven innocent after 6 years in detention.

Before he left, he gave a little farewell speech to all his "kakosa," thanked them for treating him well, and promised to continue praying for them.

When he saw his father, who rarely visited him as he did not want to see a son behind bars, he wasn't able to hold back his tears.

The cell on JO1 Jessie Alverio's side is where he was detained for 6 years after he was wrongly accused of murder. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

ADJUSTING TO A DIFFERENT WORLD OUTSIDE

Outside, it was a whole new world for Alverio, who had entered detention at a time when phones still had actual keypads and Friendster was still hip.

"Ano'ng Facebook?" he recalled asking his relatives the first time he had heard of the social media platform.

Despite being in jail for six years, lagging behind the latest trends, Alverio said his dream of pursuing a career on law enforcement did not die. He reviewed his school notes inside his cell whenever he could, preparing for life after his eventual release.

Alverio was determined to take the criminology board exams that year. The problem at that time, he recalled, was that he only had at least three months to review and no money to enroll in review centers.

An inmate at the Bacoor City Jail peeks through a small window of his cell. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

But he did not give up. Like back in his time behind bars, he relied on himself to pull through.

"Nagpasya na lang po akong mag-self review. Ang ginawa ko, nanghihiram ako ng notes at mga libro sa mga kakilala kong criminology students," he said, recalling how he spent the first months of his return to freedom at home, reviewing until the break of dawn.

He took the board exams on October 2014. His efforts did not go to waste as Alverio got the good news on December 2014, just barely 5 months after his release from detention: he passed the board exams on his first take.

"Nagpunta ako sa isang tabi, napaiyak ako sa sobrang tuwa at pasasalamat sa Diyos," he said.

FATE AND PURPOSE

JO1 Jessie Alverio recalls these religious images they used during masses in jail. Faith, he said, was what kept him hopeful inside his cell. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Alverio knew he could not waste time.

The following month, he immediately sent an application to the Philippine National Police National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), hoping to become a police officer.

He also applied for a BJMP position, as a friend suggested, as the NCRPO would only start recruiting by April.

The BJMP office in Region 4 responded first, but it was not exactly favorable.

"Hinold nila 'yung application form ko doon sa Personnel Records and Management Division dahil nga nabasa nila 'yung tungkol sa na-dismiss kong kaso," he said.

Alverio recalled the uncertainty: if his application with the BJMP was affected by his past as a detainee, what more his NCRPO application?

He felt a little depressed, he admitted, especially when he thought of his former classmates who were already police officers.

But just like what he did in detention, Alverio said he let go and let God.

JO1 Jessie Alverio poses by a wall at the Bacoor City Jail where was once detained. The 31-year-old believes inmates deserve a second chance, no matter what they did before. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The dream was to become a police officer, but God had other plans. After 6 years behind bars, Alverio became a jail officer.

This, said Alverio, was where he found his purpose.

"Alam mo 'yung pakiramdam ng inmate e. Alam mong makisalamuha sa inmate. Alam mo 'yung pangangailangan nila. Ganyan din tayo dati," he said.

Whenever he sees an inmate having deep thoughts and troubles inside, Alverio would be there to give advice, help and inspiration.

The 31-year-old jail officer would also make it a point to do an exit interview for newly released inmates. Alverio said he would always take advantage of this moment to tell his life story, hoping to somehow inspire and give hope to the detainees on their way back to freedom.

JO1 Jessie Alverio checks a bag of a woman visiting a loved one inside the Parañaque City Jail. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

"Ang ginagawa ko, ini-interview ko sila, 'Kailan ka nakulong? Ano'ng dahilan? May natutuhan ka bang aral?' Pinapangaralan ko sila na huwag sayangin 'yung pinagkaloob sa kanilang kalayaan ng Diyos," he said.

There were instances, Alverio added, when a former inmate would visit him at his designated post, thanking him for the inspiration.

JO1 Jessie Alverio arrives at his assigned detention facility at the Parañaque City Jail.

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

JO1 Jessie Alverio puts stamps on visitors seeing their loved ones inside the Parañaque City Jail.

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Religious images welcome inmates at the Parañaque City Jail.

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Inmates of the Bacoor City Jail, where JO1 Jessie Alverio was once detained, follow their "mayor" as they move from one area of the facility to another.

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Detainees stand during roll call at the Bacoor City Jail.

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Inmates of the Bacoor City Jail spend some of their free time in a bigger space outside of their cells, where they also do livelihood projects.

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Inmates make their time productive with livelihood activities. The products they make are sold in various events like mall expos.

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Female inmates at the Bacoor City Jail endure the heat of the afternoon inside their cells.

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Inmates are given tasks at the Bacoor Cit Jail. They are always escorted by jail guards as they move around the facility.

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Inmates of the Bacoor City Jail are allowed to play basketball during their free time. BJMP holds summer leagues for the inmates, where teams are made up of cellmates.

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

An inmate at the Bacoor City Jail tries to sleep at a bigger space outside his cell amid the cruel afternoon heat.

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

JO1 Jessie Alverio poses for a photo at the Bacoor City Jail, where he spent 6 years of his life in detention.

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

An ABS-CBN News team was allowed to accompany Alverio when he visited his former cell at the Bacoor City Jail in Cavite, nearly three years after he was released.

There were major changes, he noted. The number of inmates has doubled. Inmates now call each other brothers, instead of "kakosa." Cells are now called dorms. And there are now more reformation activities for detainees.

But Alverio said he could still feel the inmates' sadness.

Watch this video of JO1 Alverio's visit to his former cell.

Asked for his message to inmates losing hope, Alverio said: "Huwag mawawalan ng pag-asa. Habang nabubuhay ang isang tao, kaya niyang magbagong buhay at ituwid 'yung mga pagkakamali niya. Nasa sa 'yo 'yan kung papaano ka mag-succeed."