A Prison Without Walls is Like a Cell with a Key

I was lucky enough to go to the Phillippines with some of my favourite people a few years ago. While we were there, I connected with a documentary filmmaker to get us a tour of an open-air prison. It was inspiring and illuminating.

I loved writing about it for Atlas Obscura:

Surrounded by mountains rather than walls, Iwahig is twice the size of Paris. Visitors arrive by rented tricycle, or with the help of a tour guide. “Welcome to Iwahig Prison and Penal Colony” is spelled out in brightly colored rocks at the gates, which makes it feel more like the Heidelberg Project than Sing Sing. After a quick stop at security, there is a scenic 10-minute drive past rice paddies, makeshift stores, coconut plantations, corn fields, and countless dogs and goats before arriving in what resembles a town square.

Just like any civic hub, there is a church, a post office, and a recreation center, all surrounded by lots of men working and chatting. Medium Security inmates wear brown t-shirts, and Minimum Security inmates wear blue. It’s not immediately evident if anyone is a member of staff, save for a middle-aged woman who drives through purposefully on a motorcycle. The recreation center is home to the dance rehearsal and performance space, and otherwise functions as a big souvenir shop.

A Prison Without Walls is Like a Cell with a Key