This morning (well, late afternoon to be honest) I woke up to the pulsating hums of an incoming Skype call. Eventually I rolled off my futon and shuffled the mouse to find out who it was and was pleasantly surprised. On the other end was a friend who is currently locked up in Quezon City Jail, Manila's infamous pre-trial detention centre.
Since mid-October, QCJ inmates have been given access to a small computer lab where they can use Skype to have e-dalaw (electronic visits) with friends and family. The program was designed to help combat depression and to stem the influx of weapons that are often smuggled in by visitors. For those inmates whose relatives live in remote areas and can't come to visit, the Skype calls have proven to be incredibly valuable.
During the 4-minute comminuqué, our conversation was often interrupted by laughter and shouting from other jailbirds chatting on nearby computers. As far as I could tell, the atmosphere in the lab seemed quite warm. Which is somewhat contrary to what one might expect from a jail that has been described as having "19th century living standards" by one former resident. However, I was also told news had broken that a large pig was mulling about the jail's basketball court, to be slaughtered for New Years dinner. So that may have been the source of the elation, given QCJ's less than stellar culinary reputation.