Kenzo Gutierrez is a 23-year-old Filipino known for his appearance on the Philippine version of reality TV show Big Brother.
Up until the end, I thought I could go home. It was only when the fiscal officially signed my paperwork, did my heart sink to the bottom of my stomach. I was terrified, and in disbelief. I was going to jail.
It started with a stupid bar brawl.
The fight wasn’t over anything important. It was around 1am, two hours after I got to a party with some friends. I don’t remember exactly what happened but a fight erupted. When it got out of hand, the bar’s bouncers called the cops. Drunk and not myself, I kept taunting the police even after my friends tried to control me and take me home. To this day, I don’t know what came over me. The cops eventually cuffed me and that’s when I realised that I had gone too far.
The ride in the police car was a blur. I remember waking up for a few seconds then falling asleep again right after. The alcohol was not wearing off. They first brought me to a village outpost, where I continued mouthing off at the cops. I wouldn't stop, so they brought me to the city’s police headquarters.
They booked me for alarm and scandal and resistance to a person in authority. I entered the jail cell at 5am. There were about 60 men in there and none of us could move, let alone walk or lie down. I don’t think I truly realised, even at that point, what I had gotten myself into. Only a few hours later, when one of the detainees told me to slap a fellow inmate really hard because he had allegedly raped a 10-year-old girl, did I truly realise where I was. Everyone took turns hitting him. They beat him up every day.
It’s a whole other world in there. There’s a de facto “government system” inside, with inmates acting as officials that decide how to handle money or how to treat certain people. Many of the men were in there for the long haul, with serious charges like rape, but there were also thieves, petty criminals, other people who claimed they were set-up by the police. I couldn’t sleep because the cops regularly brought in new guys.
I soon found out my embarrassing behaviour of cursing and threatening cops was caught on video. Someone shot my drunken outburst on their phone. It soon went viral. It was all over the news and on social media. The comments were vicious, and I was humiliated. It was especially surreal, because I don’t remember doing it. That’s how drunk I was. It was depressing to be seen in a viral video like that and to uncover a side of me I never knew existed.
Imagine making the biggest mistake of your life, and having the whole world witness it and comment on it.
It compounded all my emotions, and I wondered about how my loved ones felt seeing me that way. This wasn’t reality TV anymore, this was my life.
I was in jail for five days, from Saturday to Wednesday. It took that long to post bail because it happened to be a long weekend. But maybe I did need to be in there that long for my actions to sink in and for me to learn my lesson. I was sad that the issue blew up the way it did, but I was never angry. Even at that moment, I knew that there must have been a deeper purpose for all of it.
Inside the cell, I had to rely on my mental strength. My mind was all over the place and it was filled with bad scenarios. My anxiety gave me a panic attack. It helped a lot that my family, friends, and fans visited. Whenever they stopped by to see me, I felt a deep sense of gratitude. I was so overwhelmed when my best friends visited. It was a very emotional moment, because I knew they supported me even through my worst times, and accepted me for who I was, even after seeing my dark side. I was happy but I also felt deep sadness and regret for dragging them into all of it. I apologised repeatedly as they comforted me.
By the end of it, I learned who my real friends were and had gained new friends too. Some inmates confided in me and I learned about their families and everyday struggles.
It was eye-opening to be there with them, to understand how poverty and desperation was a root cause of so many of their problems and subsequent actions.
And it was humbling, to realise how much I had, and how badly I had taken all of it for granted.
I vowed to make it up to everybody who was affected by the incident, including myself. But it wasn’t easy. After I got out, I saw the social media comments. They said I got cocky from my stint at a reality TV show, and that I acted the way I did because of my privileged background. I was forced to look inward and face my demons: was what they were saying true? I spiraled hard and hit rock-bottom. I deactivated all my social media accounts, didn’t watch the video or read articles about it. I wanted to isolate myself.
I had to attend multiple hearings until the case was finally dropped a few months after. Finding out that it was dropped was unforgettable. I felt like I could finally breathe again, like I had a fresh slate. Before that, I would wake up every day just thinking about the worst-case scenario. I had low days of depression and anxiety, thinking of what had happened and what worse things could happen. I beat myself up every day for what I did. When the cases were dropped, that’s when I truly felt that I could put it behind me.
Today, almost a year later, I’ve finally started to turn my life around. I’ve forgiven myself, understanding that one incident in my life does not define me and who I could be. This was the first step to focusing instead on being a better version of myself, to ensure it will not happen again. My time behind bars woke me up and changed me for the better. My priorities shifted. Before the incident, all I cared about was having a good time. I am now focused more on being productive and spending more time with my family. I have gotten closer to my grandparents. I don’t drink as much anymore and keep myself busy with the right things.
I still think about the inmates I met in jail. I thought about them especially during the pandemic, and wondered where they got their food since their relatives couldn’t visit during the lockdown. Because of my experience, my heart has grown closer to them. I’m no longer afraid of them. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories and to learn that many of them were just victims of their circumstances. Spending time with them humanised all inmates to me.
Since then, I’ve had a yearning to take a closer look at prison systems and help in any way possible. I’ve given the inmates I met some books about hope, and I learned that they read them every day. I wish I’ve helped them somehow realise that there are always, always better days ahead.