A TALE OF A RELUCTANT PRISON VOLUNTEER
Joel Villanueva is not your ordinary prison volunteer. But he became one accidentally anyway. Let me tell you his story.
He hated crime and lived within the bounds of law. He never even tried to break his principle and virtually led a life away from corruption and anything illegal. He would have been made already (had he accepted bribes and goodwill fees). He held a very powerful and influential position during the incumbency of President Cory Aquino but he never wavered in the purity of his heart. He declined any offers that would compromise his integrity. He left the government agency though with a broken heart. He never realized that those like him who were appointed to fulfill an obligation of righteousness would break their promise as soon as they assume power.
He resigned and migrated in a remote barrio where he could enjoy his peace and sleep well at the same time. Government is not for him.
Joel is an Atenean and son of an illustrious architect. He is well connected through his school network. (Ateneans are at times very clannish…like gangs.) He is a scholar and eventually has completed his graduate studies in another famous school, THE Asian Institute of Management or AIM. (I enrolled also in this learning institute before but backed out after a day because I could not cope with the scholastic requirements. One of them is to study 60 cases a day. Yes, 60 cases and each case have a minimum of 150 pages. No way will I survive such a punishing and grueling academic routine.) Here is one guy who, like other geniuses, breezed through and completed the masteral program. For me, he is one hell of a guy already and I was privileged to know one up-close.
After his frustrating government stint, he moved to the private sector. He worked with a foundation that advocated on the protection and welfare of the physically disabled. For a while, he was having a grand time since his performance can be sent through internet. He had all the time in the world to enjoy freedom from structure and his intellect grew further. He would also dabble in computer technology and would be recruited as speech writer, project analyst and technical consultant. Such work did not require his full time hence, he still could marshal enough period for his dirt bike. (While exploring further the forested area of Palawan, I would meet and get acquainted with the man.)
I was then newly designated head of a prison facility way back in 1995 and we were in Puerto Princesa, Palawan Province at that time. My penal facility is the infamous, nay dreaded Iwahig Penal Colony. And I got his interest focused on prison work. Like him, I hated illegal activities. Like him, I wanted honesty as an integral part of government service. He resigned but in my case I plodded on. He never cared about the denizen in prison but all he cared for was the services and programs to be delivered. And he was a wizard along that line.
When I was visited by a friend (who happens to be owners of La Panday, a multi-million company, then franchisers of Pepsi Cola Philippines), a proposal was made to transform the vacant portion (around 10 thousand hectares—Iwahig is a vast prison reservation comprising 29,000 hectares) of the penal reservation as sugar cane farm. If it succeeded, the sugar cane farm would have been the biggest cane plantation in the whole south East Asia—but sadly it never materialized. At that time, I was able to convince Joel to be my one-peso-a-year consultant. Joel was in his elements, like a gull floating on warm air. Well, politics ended our commercial venture and I was transferred to the farthest correctional facility (at San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm in Zamboanga) and Joel went back to his technical consultancy on the local government of Palawan. That also ended Joel’s flirtation with the prison service, for a while.
Years later, we would meet again. Joel was involved in the private sector as project analyst and had retained his usual free schedule. He would conduct his business through his computer and would find time checking on his friends for consultancy as free lance adviser. In my case, I would be reassigned to Davao Penal Colony. In 2009, or 14 years later I found out that Joel was still active in his consultancy but was exploring other areas too to conduct his business. I offered Mindanao, my place in Davao, at Davao Penal Colony. He acceded and we were back in harness. Joel immediately became, whether to his liking or not, a prison volunteer.
For a while, Joel was reviewing the prison landscape for whatever commercial potency it might exude. But my penal facility was unfriendly to computer geeks. Even cellular phone signal was hard to come by. He transferred to my base in Davao City and there he bloomed. We were deep into the programs specially those that concern the prison joint venture program. He would conceptualize a lot of projects for prisoners including a hospice for the elderly prisoners. He was lining up a series of projects until his elders would require him to go back to Manila. His father was already weak and he must be, as the eldest, within reach of his parents. We have not finalized yet nor formulated the fruition of our correctional consultancy efforts when he left, leaving me behind with several open ended projects to organize.
To date, with Joel eyeing another province south of Luzon, I am dangling another offer of consultancy not in Davao but in Muntinlupa city, where my central office is situated. The depth of his mind would be needed at the top but he would rather not accept it unless, I, his friend would be stationed right at the helm. At the rate we are going and the interval of several years before we decide on a collaborative effort, at our age, I wonder if we will ever appreciate the inroads we will be contributing to the prison system. A few years more, both of us are already outside of government. By sheer luck, I would suppose, we will be in our 80s. Well, in my case, I still could walk by then. Joel on the other hand , who is my senior by several years, may already be in his 90s and hopefully I pray so that he could still recognize me. If we are gifted with a strong gene, who knows, we may be considered the oldest prison volunteers in the world!