A case of Escape from Freedom


“If everybody was satisfied with himself, there would be no heroes.”
—-Mark Twain
In Vietnam, monks would douse gas and engulf themselves in flames to telegraph a message of protest. In the Philippines, only works of arts made into effigies suffer the same fate. Cardboard in flames as a statement of protest. That was the nearest. Sociologists maintain that Filipinos are never suicidal even in tackling emotional issues. Cases are replete when they are even homicidal or driven to overt behavioral violence, oftentimes directed outwardly.

In Southeast Asia where the Philippines shares a cultural link, politics transcends all barriers of human frailty. Politics in itself is basis for conviction and yes, even in the offertory of one’s life. Monks in Vietnam and Cambodia, even in Thailand and Burma are manifest proof of these formative principles. The Divine Wind or Kamikaze of Japan and even the guerillas of China and Indo China are a chip of a bigger socio-political block. However, there is no such thing in the Philippines. Filipinos are never socially educated to fulfill martyrdom because they are aggressors, neo-Europeans in an exclusively Oriental setting. It probably could have been a consequence of century-old depression brought about by the religious indoctrination of Spanish religious incursion. Whatever, the 1889 revolution against Spain by Filipinos ante dated all known aggression in Asia against foreign invaders.

In Philippine prisons, an unusual incident happened somewhat contradicting sociological stereotypic findings. There was this case worth analyzing. A female prisoner, incarcerated for violence, attempted to douse gas on herself and tried to burn herself as a matter of protest! Here is what happened.

Nanay Sinday, as she was fondly called by her fellow inmates in the newly established correctional facility for women in Mindanao (a satellite prison camp of Davao Prison and Penal Farm in Davao del Norte) is already an old dame of 68. But despite her appearance, she is still spritely, very amiable and incredibly generous. For 9 years, she has known prison as her only home since her family has earlier on deserted her and went separate ways. Nanay Sinday was charged of Frustrated Murder, three counts and must have to serve time for 21 years. She has been in prison for close to 10 years already and has adjusted fairly well. She never knew the meaning of life and friendship until such time she was made to serve time in the penitentiary.

In the correctional facility, Nanay Sinday was a physical wonder. She never missed any chance at any activity, whether cleaning the yard or participating in the construction of offices. She knew how to mix cement, a little of carpentry and plumbing. She was a house helper before that fateful day when she was haled to court for the commission of a crime. She knew a little of everything therefore. A sort of Jack of all trade. Although, from her background, one can even gain an inference that she had spent the best years of her life not in the presence of her loved ones but those of her masters. And that means, like all household helpers, a do-it-all person. It can also be gleaned from her demeanor that her loyalty could have been translated even into admission of crimes by her superiors, although that in itself could be another story. The point is that, Nanay Sinday is a person for all, but never for herself.

Her active lifestyle in prison made her athletic and became one of the instant trainees despite her age enrolled in the corporate partner of prison in the banana plantation. She was proud to be recipient of a daily stipend which she would spend gallantly to her fellow inmates. She was the toast of her little world, where prisoners shower her with indulging massage, attention and care in return for her benevolence.

One day, prison administration announced the list of those inmates to be released in forthcoming weeks. While most endured the waiting game to hear their names mentioned, Nanay Sinday, whose name was also included, heard it differently. She would be released soon and she does not know what life ahead would be like in store for her. She left the free community, a hell she considered, and now she would be back and would wallow back into pain again. She became withdrawn most of the time and would be silent and unattached. She would talk less and would always be alone in one corner of the facility. She was harboring the thought that one day she would be lost and unable to contain her, would forever be gone, swallowed by all the evils that the free community offers for its denizens.

She would rather make a decision. An escape to freedom, so to speak. But she chose something unusual. One dreary evening, she moved her things in the farthest bend of the facility, a place where only a few would enter to set up. She bought a canister of fuel and while kneeling, with her clothing wrapped on her torso up to her neck, she doused liberally on her head and ignited it. A big flame almost engulfed her whole body. The inmates were all surprised at the sight and seeing their Nanay Sinday aflame, jumped all over her until the blaze were all gone. She suffered bruises and a few patches of burned skin but she was well. Inmates took turns in helping her recover and no sooner than the injuries she sustained healed in time.

For her, life in prison, life as a trainee in Tadeco (a giant banana fruit exporting firm in partnership with government) crop packing station, was almost blissful and it was a fitting episode, her happiest and most worthy, a period she would rather fade unto. That which she is receiving is not for her alone but a mere symbol to be shared. She buys a candy with a bill and the change she distributes among those milling near the store. She acts as if she is a patronizing politician or a dyed in the wool philanthropist. And that has been a fulfilling life for her. She never saved a cent because she will splurge it to her community. For her, sharing is receiving. It was probably a dream she has fixated on even when she was still young and getting used to a life of depravity.

Then, another twist would disturb this seeming ideal. Getting her release papers sooner was a reality she could no longer contain and reverse. She does not want to be a part of the free community anymore. She would rather end it at a time she was basking on her dream as giver. She knew what mendicancy means and she abhorred it. Getting discharged from the prison community would make it happen once again and she must escape. She decided to end her story instead. A case which, even psychologists and anthropologists. would find difficulty and challenge in interpreting.


P/Supt IV Venancio J. Tesoro
July 29, 2010


About vjtesoro

A perpetual student of Corrections

Posted on January 12, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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