Monthly Archives: August 2013

MONEY: GOOD OR DIRTY, CAN BUY ANYTHING

money

Fugitive from law Janet Lim Napoles surrendered in style after hiding for days.  And why not?  She has the money to do that.  Never mind if the money came through illegally or in a manner of speaking unfortunately through deception and fraud.  The point is, such money whatever its form or origin can procure miracles even in this eclectic world we live in.  After all, money ,good or dirty , looks exactly the same, if not the same from the start.

 

And she gets so much premium from said money notwithstanding where it came from.  She has a good lawyer.  She gets Presidential attention.  The staff of the Chief Executive were all scampering to assist.  Before her alleged rackets were uncovered, she was everywhere enjoying life along with the rich and famous, and she cascaded the same interests to her equally flamboyant daughter.

 

She must also be that generous.  She must also be that lavish and liberal to a number of well placed, influential and powerful persons in and out of government.  She could have shared or probably gave the lion share of whatever it is that can be divided and treated as loot as in spoils in war.  She must be that considerate and ever facilitative, even to the extent of joining personal and private affairs of her clients.  She was after all a dispenser, a fixer, a facilitator, an architect for largesse or that catalyst who can transform, magically, largesse into pocket money for her sponsors.

 

For that she has earned that respect, the adulation, the reverence for which she is now receiving.  She can almost at will conduct an exclusive press briefing in the country’s top news paper.  Her gestures easily understood by men of substance and  people in high places.  They are after all recipients of her generosity and they all lapped up and are satiated.

 

While in detention, she can even push the limits of criminal justice administration by seeking her confinement condition from jail to a country style detention bungalow in Fort Sto Domingo.  President Erap was for a brief occasion an inhabitant of said facility and MNLF founder Nur Misuari.  All, men of history, well, men of substance, whatever be the crime for which they were made to answer.  But this time, a who?  a Janet Lim Napoles wanted also to use the facility and which the courts has eventually acceded.  Janet Napoles in the estimation of some must also be in the league of historical personalities.  This is what money can really bring!  Whether money accumulated through thrift or theft, there is no difference.  For others, as long as you have the money, you get respect.

 

How are now to tell our kids, our loved ones to earn and work using fairness when everyone around us wanted to fool us all the time.  We have been prodding our friends and barkadas, humiliating them a bit just to rib, if only to pay the tax correctly only to realize that these hard earned dough surrendered to government is wasted through abusive government officials in conspiracy with shaded characters.  Worst, there are people in government who would rather corner money through fraud and in the process would look good in the public eye.

 

Lesson learned.  Hard and difficult to make a fortune?  Do it the Janet way and be anywhere you wish.

 

***

 

And what about this denial thing by Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo whose wedding with Madam Shalani Soledad featured one of their sponsors a certain Janet Lim Napoles.  Romulo was quick to say, “I only knew her socially.”  In Philippine socio cultural tradition, a sponsor or “Ninang” is selected strictly, meticulously even, choosing from a long list of people who they could run to for succor if the going gets tough.  If we are to believe Romulo that their Ninang Janet’s name was there merely as a social accident, then the gray matter of some guys must be suspect.

 

Ninong or Ninang in every relationship is sacred.  They are deferred and respected.  They are never seen as uneventful, to be snubbed, to be snagged, to be ignored.  Godparents as the term is known in English is even more pronounced.  God is appended on parents!  Godparents while expected to be there during crunch time to save their godchildren should merit equal defensive protection also.  Godchildren should be, as a matter of respect and cardinal duty, protective of their godparents, shielding them from the glare of malice, from unfair suspicion or plainly, in sympathetic silence.  The couple Romulo-Soledad (my apologies, for this emotional bias)  did the unthinkable by dismissing their godmother as pure social accident in their relationship.  They should be there at the forefront defending their godmother whatever it takes.  Oh, well.

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DEATHS IN PRISON

death in prison

Mortality in prison is almost as certain as daybreak.  It is expected more than it is given.  Deaths come in a form seldom anticipated.  It is not even projected at all.  Every prisoner believes in luck and they would stretch it to the limits of their capacities.

 

Whenever there are casualties reported, autopsy reveals that the cause is natural.  Deaths come swiftly although in most cases, these were protracted and accompanied by agony.  Imprisonment attacks the body through mouths and nose.  If the food is not digested well, assuming it is nutritious, the immune system suffers.  If his environment is limited to congestion, whatever it is that is inhaled definited would attack the lungs and therefore limit oxygen, the food of the brain.  His behavior, his entire psychology there goes into a tailspin.

 

When these two considerations are present in the constitution of an inmate, he is therefore nearing his death bed.  He behaves erratically, then he is goner.  Either he would be reported the next day as a victim of “bangungot” (unable to wake up from sleep),  he would have been too sloppy as to slip off from a watery passageway where his head would hit a hard object that would render him unconscious if not comatose for days until hope becomes dim or out of desperation, he would be found by a surprised group of cell mates hanging by a thread, tongue half way through with bruises everywhere, dead as a door nail.

 

There are also evidences of abuse.  There were signs of intoxication.  There were symptoms not only of substance abuse but drug related ailments.  There were violations on one’s body, tattoos are liberally if not surreptiously imposed, the needles infected with contagious diseases, like hepatitis, aids and the like.  Tuberculosis is prevalent and has claimed almost 80% of those sent for hospitalization.

 

As if this is not enough, some inmates would even enhance their sexual prowess by installing various liquid gels, plastic beads, toothbrush handles unto their organ and thereafter would be rushed for blood poisoning if not demise through gross infection.

 

Deaths are not intended at this historical period of correctional chronicle.  Welfare and various medical intervention including emergency referral are modes applied if only to save an inmate from irreversible damage or untimely death.  There are a number of programs that would protect and assure an inmate of healthy considerations but these however are drowned by the unhealthy, usually toxic experimentations they would secretly would experiment on.

 

There was a time when a group of inmates, thirsting for alcohol would drink several liters of isoprophyl alcohol.  Majority would suffer blindness in the process, some blood poisoning.  There were occasions when inmates would rather drink diluted detergents in lieu of antibiotic and claim healing, only to realize that they have signed their death warrants already.

 

And quite recently, gangs would even be lured to take the law unto their hands due to the exceedingly slow manner of due process.  Inability to pay debts, deception, fraud, double cross are but a few instances when collective honor is besmirched calling for the imposition of the supreme penalty, this time carried out through gangland execution.  There were some refinements though unlike when it is conducted in the free community.  In the prison camp, a violator is shredded into pieces and flushed into the toilet bowl to the bewilderment of prison personnel during a headcount.

 

Of course, there is the classic scenario in every congested prison facility.  Riots are often manifested.  To trim down or localize the situation, it would be described as a personal animosity gone haywire, an exceptional situation that does not border on collective penalty or group restrictions.  Usually, a gang would pay off from the same gang someone to attack a fellow member so that there will be no gang induced complications.  And the other gang would usually approach the same tact.

 

Death in prison is never the opposite of survival.  There is no such thing as survival in prison.  Those who passed through the initiation rites under the regime of incarceration are never called survivors, they become zombies—living in the shadows, living without directions, living for no cause at all, unless of course they would choose to spend their time reading books, learning a craft, honing a skill.

 

There will be deaths in prison, that which is not the meaningful kind.

 

 

 

HOW MASONS ARE CHOSEN

HOW MASONS ARE CHOSEN mason

What makes Freemasonry a fad for a time and to a certain extent a vibrant fraternity of accomplished persons up to the present?  And, why is it that there are those still seeking to be admitted into the fold?  What gives really?  Why join a fraternal order almost as old as the sea, with its obsolete practices, ancient rituals and in a way, unscientific dogma.  What are its attraction and its relevance in the modern world?  How do we make sense out of it?

 

 

Freemasons are selected very strictly from a number of applicants.  Screening comes in different ways.  But what captured my imagination was one approach, which I consider very novel.

 

I don’t know if it was imposed on my application procedure but it surely makes me accomplished.  According to one the lodge’s officer, they have this test of observation first.  The master will gather his members and from a distance would point out at the clueless applicant.  He would describe a fictional situation.  Thus, assuming that all of them have a beautiful wife and strikingly attractive daughters; and, that they are supposed to go abroad to attend a month long seminar.  None of their relatives can assist the family except for one:  the applicant.  The grandmaster  would now toss the question to everyone:  “Will you allow that fellow to stay in your house during your absence?”

 

That would start the process of voting.  The master brings out his Mafioso hat.  He hands over two marbles, black and white, to those around him with instruction that as he would pass around his inverted hat they would drop a marble into it.  The black marble signifies that they do not trust the applicant to stay in his dwelling with his family.

 

The white marble means he would allow him to stay with his family during the period of his absence.  This was a tough decision and I would surmise that members would rather plead deferment if only to allow them to interact first with the subject.  Looks could be deceiving that it may invite expressions like what beauty queen Melanie Marquez remarked one time:  “Don’t judge my brother, he is not a book!”  (A pun on the quote:  Don’t judge the book by its cover.)

 

When a period has been defined, the process is repeated and on the table the master pours the content of his hat.  Members surrounding the table keenly observe.  If they find a black ball among the marbles on the table, then that is the death warrant.  The applicant is denied membership.  Once denied, his record, that which he submitted and accomplished to the lodge will be forwarded to all lodges here and abroad, with information that the applicant has been denied entrance.  That way, he can no longer apply for membership in all parts, nooks and corners of the planet.

 

There are idiosyncrasies in the selection process.  The applicant should believe in the Supreme Being.  Atheists or pagans are discriminated already, they are out rightly disqualified.  The applicant’s spouse must also give her consent.  For starters, he must submit a photo of his whole body.  Members at the start must not suffer from any disability or some losses in his physical attributes.  He should come into the Craft as a real man.  Furthermore, he should apply on his own, better, if done without any recommending member like in the manner observe in Rotary and Lions Club.

 

There are however no mean demands from the applicant.  There are even no pledges or promises to be squeezed from him.  The expectations however are high.  The applicant realizes that almost all those who signed the Constitution of USA were all members of the Craft.  He begins to discover, probably earlier, that almost all the heroes of his country were bona fide Freemasons.  He begins contemplating more on heroic roles rather than on being passive.  He is oriented and pushed more on the active side of helping out and serving the people.  That is already Heroism 101.

 

Masons were known to have been at the crossroads of change, at the vortex of significant historical times, leading and writing history, to a large extent even made an icon, a subject of respect (or disrespect), a figure held as sacred (at times, in disrepute).  They were there in every historical event, some event made, others event makers.

 

After passing through the rigors, getting admitted and initiated, I cannot get through the thought of the selection process.  In my mind, whenever meeting up close a brethren, a fellow traveller along with some friends and acquaintances, I cannot but smile at the thought that here is a familiar group but only one of them, a fellow member of the Craft, as the only person I would entrust my family whenever I am out, on furlough or somewhere else.

ONE MONTH AT THE HELM OF THE NATIONAL PENITENTIARY (JULY 15 TO AUGUST 15, 2013)

nbp bucor 2

New Bilibid Prison is also referred to as the National Penitentiary.  It houses 22,000 national (read: convicted) prisoners out of the total prison population of 34,000 prisoners.  That means NBP is host to almost 64% of the entire prison population in the whole archipelago.  NBP is the biggest facility among 7 prisons and penal farms supervised and administratively controlled by the Bureau of Corrections.

 

Sometime ago, the state of Philippine corrections was in a limbo.  DOJ leadership could not understand its situation.  Public perception of prison administration was negative and adverse.  A new prison leadership had assumed the mantle of management and he was clueless on where to start.

 

The prison leadership was therefore in a quandary.  For the last two years, there were almost serial changes at the helm of the agency (two Directors and three Officers in charge were replaced one on top of another).  For the last few months, heads of several prison superintendents likewise rolled one after another, four of them actually and another awaiting administrative charges.  Heads of various divisions were also indicted and literally must have to give their explanation before investigative bodies on their participation in some alleged questionable deals.  That made the management layer of the Bureau of Corrections virtually a ghost town.

 

That was a time when the prison leadership would compel me to move over from my former active post (at Davao Penal Colony) to NBP where for a time, I was also  its off and on Chief Superintendent.  But unlike in the past where I was merely designated as nominal head, I pleaded for a clarity on what I intend to do given a repeat performance.  I intend to act as Superintendent and not as repository of blame like what happened to previous officers who occupied the post.

 

Then the orders came one after another.  I would be Chief Superintendent of New Bilibid Prison, and at the same time Head of the Bucor Internal Affairs Service, acting Assistant Director for Security and Operations, Chairman of Bucor Transfer/ Movement Board, Chairman of Hospital Board, Chairman of the Uniform Board and on selection basis, Chair of the Joint Venture Monitoring Committee.  This on top of my institutional function as Presiding officer of the NBP Hearing Committee and Chairman of the NBP Reclassification Board.  Reading the list of my principal assignments was already a tall order.

 

July 15, 2013 I officially assumed as Superintendent of New Bilibid Prison.  That was also the time when a fugitive (Cadavero case) who was supposed to be received by my office but was not properly turned over.  There was national uproar in what could have been an alleged murderous act perpetuated by no less than the protector of the people, the police officers themselves.  And my agency was suspected to have played a role in the rigmarole.  One press conference after another, until we have properly explained our role and eventually pushed the issue away where eventually the limelight was focused on the police agency.  Prisons has nothing to do with the crime.  We were merely used as props to confuse the public from the dastardly prepared plan to take down an incorrigible character. It would grab national consciousness for a week.

 

 

That was my baptism of fire.  Thereafter, I would sit down to check all the communications passing through my office and woe! I have to virtually edit and amend almost everything.  The NBP administrative flow has gone awry and the NBP staff has to content with whatever would pass through them without guidance from anyone at the top.  There was absence of leadership and the Director and his assistants have occupied the vacuum.  This is fatal to the Director since every flaw would directly go up to his level.  Under my stint, the buck stops in my office.

 

And it would be a very difficult orientation.  While I have slowly introduced order and discipline, there were occasions when the usual disorganized system would creep into the organization.  People who were inured at conducting on their own whatever that pleases them would disrupt the flow of command by getting through without passing through my office; the organization seems acquainted slowly with protocol already.

 

Nonetheless, after 30 days I could express the following endeavors:  Medical referrals of inmates have been controlled and rationalized.  Court appearances of maximum security (including high profile and high risk) inmates have been reformulated.  Entrance of visitors reviewed and evaluated.  There was caution in every security camp and security becomes the principal force in every corner.  The Internal Affairs Service has been convened resulting in the immediate resolution of two out of three cases submitted thus far.  Ordinances were imposed regulating  movements of prisoners, restricting further entrances in the prison camp of personal items and related commodities, determination of a quarantine area in every camp and controlling entrance of unauthorized persons in all prison camps.

 

Furthermore, terms like “sleep out,” “living out.,” “stay in” were removed in the lexicon of prison administration and redefined according to what the rules dictate.

 

From there, I rest my case.

WORKING IN PRISON: CHALLENGES AND PLEASURES

work in prison

36 years in prison.  Had I been sentenced to multiple Life terms, I would have literally spent the same number of years serving time, and by this reckoning, I would have gotten my release papers already and may haps, fading somewhere in remote caves waiting for heavens to claim whatever it is that remains in my mortal body.  But fate decreed that I should spend the same period not as inmate but as prison officer.  While the milieu is similar, the situation is different.

While I was in charge of directing activities, I am at the tail end of response and reaction.  I must be at the forefront of responsibility, tasked to promote discipline and order in what could have been a place intended to house people who were once upon a time irresponsible, undisciplined and disordered.

Working in prison is never a picnic.  I came in as prison psychologist and after a few years, after dipping my head into the emotional whirlpool called prison community, after risking life and sanity interacting with the most dangerous sector in society, the post of prison administrator would come my way.

There were occasions that would require sacrifice and more.  There are a lot of instances when one must forego pleasure and share in the pain of collective loneliness.  There were  periods when patience would run dry.  There were temptations to blow the lid and learn the art of cruelty.  These were times when one begins to be cold and neutral, objective and callous.  Prison, in effect, is never for those with a soft heart and an indulgent mind.  It is reserved for those with a resolve made of steel.

I have seen the best and tasted the worst.  I have been at the crucial beginning of a controversy and at the vortex of every scandal.  I was given assignments at the top and for a stretch of time, even made to suffer the agony of leading without any command.  I have had an opportunity to govern facilities from the nearest to the farthest, exercising control in an otherwise uncontrollable population or exerting forbearance in a situation requiring brutality.  Name the post, name the challenge, name the trial, I have been through all along.

At the end of a long journey, the inmate and I would have shared a similar lesson in life.  Both of us would come through drained of fortitude; both of us would come off consumed of endurance; both of us would literally brush off a future spent in the daily grind of routine, subservience, monotony and predictability.

Work in prison is simply having the pleasure of confronting one challenge after another.

INTERVIEWING THE MERCHANTS OF DEATH

merchant of death

They were the precursors of bootleg industry during the Prohibition.    But times have changed and liquors are no longer illegal, as a matter of fact it is even a formal part in diplomatic circle as a toast during vin d’honneur.

 

And then the arms race and the industry of warfare became a million dollar commerce.  Thereafter, narcotic trade came into the picture.  At the onset, even the underworld was divided as far as illegal drugs are concerned.  Mafia groups could not even unite and would even cause rupture in their operations if only to pursue illegal drug trade.  It was however recently when those involved in narcotics business would win in capturing a large consuming audience over and above gambling, prostitution and other worldly vices.

 

Philippine drug enforcement agencies estimate the illegal drug trade in the country as a one -billion -peso -a -day industry.  It is even greater and bolder than any other commercial venture in the country.  In other countries, like Columbia, illegal drug industry is even more feasible than government contracts.  Drug lords in that country, out of braggadocio, were even offering their government to pay off all its debts!  There was a period in political history when a country would have elected a leader using illegal drug funds, hence the term narco-politics.

 

Those at the forefront of illegal drug trade in their battle and would clash with law enforcement find themselves at the end of line.  Some would successfully elude the law, some would find compromise and skirt penalty through legal machination and others would bear the brunt of the country’s anti drug laws.  The latter would become recipient of harsh penalties as prescribed by law.

 

Those who would be sentenced and made to serve time, the so called drug lords, would also be known as the new merchants of death.  They are legally tucked in the bowels of our society, transformed into a stat in prison and made to live along with  the scums and scoundrels of society, at times integrating and leading the pack if only to survive in a homogenous setting.

 

One day, one of them would brave to have an audience in my office, with me as prison administrator.  I am not in the habit of calling any prisoner.  Doing that would mean that I need something from them.  That is the usual impression.  And so I would require anyone if they have some problems or matters to be cleared which could no longer be addressed by ranking officers, my office is open.  And so there was this inmate whose name sounded foreign who braved to see me in my office.  Foreign prisoners are afraid of prison authorities.

 

The inmate stood at attention in front of my table, to his right was a prison officer watching over his shoulder.  I motioned for the inmate to sit down.  I always see to it that every time I allow an audience from an inmate, his summary prison record has been forwarded already so that I know his profile already beforehand.

 

The inmate before me was the dreaded drug lord, haunted and hunted by government agents for years until finally he was bagged, prosecuted and convicted to serve time for life.  That means he will spend the rest of his youthful lifespan in detention.  On that occasion, the one opposite my table, live as he was, is someone referred to as a merchant of death.

 

But he begged off from the impression.  According to him, “I am just an ordinary businessman.  That is true, I trade on narcotics.  I know it is bad for the body, deleterious to health even.  But the only difference with those whose business is cigarettes, booze and high cholesterol food is the law.  The law decrees that addictive drugs are illegal to be dispensed.  All others, our products limits life, disturb the mind and endanger health.  But who cares.  There are consumers and business principle requires that one should proceed where money is whatever is the situation.”

 

He continued, “If I am a merchant of death, so is the cigarette salesman, the liquor store owners and even hotels for that matter and those vendors in market place selling pork skin (chicharon)!

 

Now, how do I make one out of this encounter.  The inmate appeared before my office complaining that there are persons in authority who would badger him every now and then.  His things would be frisked repeatedly.  He would even be cajoled to come across as in buying peace of mind.  In his previous milieu, he was a god, dispensing and distributing drugs to those willing to trade.  He was the most respected in his sphere.  He can procure everything that he fancies.  He can have almost everything from power to influence.  Everyone has a price tag.  He knows the amount of the good and the bad.

 

Until he encounters one of his kind.  One who intends to replace his godly post in the underworld.  And he is sold in the black market of law enforcement.  Result:  conviction.  He is one among several inmates, who, on a yearly basis, would flock and comprise almost the other half of the entire prison population.  This sector pejoratively called by their kith and kin, this time around, as merchants of death.

 

And, all he wanted was to serve time, alone without duress and threats.

 

 

ALTERNATIVE LEARNING SYSTEM: A CORRECTIONAL PERSPECTIVE

prison education

 

Education in the prison community serves as the backbone of correctional rehabilitation.  As a matter of fact, education is in itself what rehabilitation in correctional facilities is all about.  It is the central program from where all significant programs revolve.  It promotes values, skills, standards and principles: matters that equip the most dangerous sector of our society to reform and recuperate from an undisciplined past.

Prison education was for sometime a fledging program, most of the time, colliding with security concerns.  But there was no other way to realize the mandate of corrections unless education gains ground and a convincing following in the prison community.

It was however only in the early 80s that prison education has been given the necessary impetus in the definition of rehabilitation.  From there various expression of education has been offered formally.  This would include the formal and the informal educational processes.

Under the informal education set up, skills and vocational training programs were organized.  It was conducted under various tutelage, most of the program bearers would come from the private sector.  These skills training were aimed at production.  Through joint venture agreements, the private sector would introduce trainors tutoring prisoners towards a specific skill aimed at producing a product for marketing.

Under the formal education set up, correctional administration has organized schools in all penal establishments aimed at compulsory literary classes, elementary, secondary and tertiary education.  In New Bilibid Prison and subsequently in Davao Penal Colony, tertiary education has been a regular program for the last several years.  In NBP the college program is centered along BS Commerce major in Entrepreneurship in partnership with the Perpetual Help University System.  In Davao Penal Colony, it is AB Philosophy major in Theology through St. Ignatius Institute of Theological Studies , a local branch of Ateneo de Davao University.

But the most dramatic transformation of prison education came at the heels of the Alternative Learning System when it was introduced sometime in the early 2000s.  Slowly, the prison community especially in Davao Penal Colony would change the mood of the prison community.  From a very depressive and gloomy prison climate, the ALS program gradually improved the outlook of the prisoners.  Prison Education became the centerpiece, not only of rehabilitation but also of security.  ALS served as the reagent that would blend rehabilitation principles with that of security tenets.  Prison custodial personnel easily became instructional managers and prisoners almost overnight became zealous bona fide students.

A decade later, the passing rate of prisoners participating in the yearly examination trek would achieve a 100% mark.  The newly organized Correctional Institution for Women in Mindanao, a satellite prison of Davao Penal Colony would likewise register a 100% successful passing rate and with higher grades at that.  Both male and female inmate ALS passers would eventually contribute to a higher grade rating representing Davao del Norte for the whole Eastern Mindanao.

The dramatic transformation of prison from a miserable sanctuary of hopelessly grim inmates to vibrant society of learners came into view at the Correctional Institution for Women in Mindanao.  It was organized in September 2007 and it was perceived as a Siberian prison outpost where no inmate would survive for a year.  The introduction of ALS into the mainstream of its regular program effectively reversed the prevailing dingy environment.  Suddenly the facility pulsated with activity.  Inmates became hopeful and encouraged.  The detention house virtually was transformed into an academe.  It became a template for cleanliness, order and discipline.

To date, the facility has attracted professional visitation from foreign countries, from US, Europe and other countries of Southeast Asia, taking note on how the system throbs into a wholesome educational facility.

It can easily said that the program of Alternative Learning System has directly contributed on this corrective phenomenon and would surely be one significant educational policy on which future penal establishments would likewise proceed to reckon in the course of their respective administration.

 

oo0oo

 

 

COMMONALITY WITH PRISONERS

prison commonality

Sadly, it is only luck that separates a freeman from a prisoner.  Or, rather it is sheer providence that makes the fate of a person different from another.  It is not even the sign of times like the politically instigated challenges or the cryptic judicial changes that sustain this phenomenon but it is there staring man right in his face.  Accidents happen and like rain in an open space, it spares no one, young or old, rich or poor, high and low, have or have not, beautiful or otherwise.  And this situation can be seen in prison.

One cannot even argue from the point of view of guilt.  Scores of cases passes through my office serving release papers for those acquitted.  And mind you, these guiltless guys have spent an average of five years waiting for the final verdict.  To think that a day in the calaboose is already a season in hell.  Now, multiple 365 days by 5 and then count if there is any blessing left in a life span full of pain.

And yet, in perspective, one can find the prison community as a homogenous grouping composed of lucky people.  And why not.  Their complainants are the victims.  They merely reckoned judicially imposed penalties for their acts.  Here is an instance when a community is subsisting on a period of time before the State finally concludes with a decision to allow them to rejoin the mainstream again, hoping that serving time in confinement would instilled a lesson or two or even more, depending on how a person internalize imposed routine, humiliation, subservience and gross familiarity with filth, disorder and mediocrity.

In the prison society, one also finds a stark difference among its denizens.  It is not luck anymore that counts.  It is more on character.  It is no longer providence that matters but attitude.

Here is where a prison authority is also gauged on his presence.  This is where the prison officer finds his commonality with the inmates he is supervising.  The prison authority must have a strong character that never yields to pressures and inducements.  He must have the proper attitude to express patience in an otherwise impatient environment.  He must be fair and conversant with rules.  His discretion is based on law, his outlook consistent with reason.

Sociologically, the prison community is ruled by deception.  Prisoners must deceive themselves daily.  Humanity is basically anchored on freedom and yet prisoners never have this within the closed walls of the facility.  They must deceive therefore themselves that there remain freedom albeit philosophically in an otherwise physically restricted surroundings.  This is the first obstacle a prison officer breaches to reach at the heart and mind of the prisoner.

Character and attitude make this happen.  How the prison facility pulsates depends largely on the commonality of officers and wards.

 

 

 

INNOCENTS AMONG THE GUILTY

prison paint

If there is any nerve wracking, emotionally draining and conscience stretching instance one finds in a particular space, it is in discovering a group of innocents serving time side by side with the guilty in the prison camp.  It is not only a judicial phenomenon but a sociological spectacle.  It is not only an insult to intelligence but an assault on one’s perception of what justice really means.

 

There are instances and these are numerous when a prison officer is informed that a prisoner is to be released on acquittal.  It is almost a routine to hear such incidents, releases on acquittal after the poor fellow has spent almost a decade under the regime of incarceration.  He is naturally spent in the process.

 

There is no way to recover lost years, not to mention lost loves and lost fortunes.  It is akin to living a cursed life.  How these acquitted persons would be absorbed into the mainstream is another question.

 

But buried into the pages of judicial review are those cases where persons who are serving time, properly defended by competent counsel and rightly decided by the judiciary and in fact, without guilt at all.

 

Whether there was a deficiency or abundance of technicality in the legal process, there remain some questions on the accuracy of finding culpability or innocence in appreciating an offense.

 

In the New Bilibid Prison maximum security camp, one can find samples of these disturbing situations.  A prominent case is the death of Dennis Venturina, a Sigma Rhoan, which figured in a fraternity-related violence where members of another fraternity, the Scintilla Juris, would be charged and judicially made to account.  Members of the Scintilla Juris Fraternity were haled in court, for years made to await the verdict, and after a little less than a decade, several would be acquitted while five among the group would be sentenced accordingly.  This penalized group would be known in NBP maximum wing as the “UP Boys.”

 

After more than a decade and a half of incarceration, these prison denizens, donning orange outfit indicating maximum security classification have to undergo the most rigorous initiation ever to have been applied, their fraternal initiation serving as picnic relatively speaking whatever its physical effect on their psyche.

 

And the UP Boys, already wizened by time, hair graying and falling incessantly, wrinkles very apparent on weather beaten faces.  They are no longer the youthful hunks they were before but shriveled inmates dreaming of an instance to breath the fresh air of freedom.

 

One of their peers, Raymund Narag became a celebrity in his own right, struggling from the pit of depression, overcoming his plight through sheer intellectual acumen, succeeded to receive one accolade after another after receiving the verdict of acquittal.  He eventually earned his doctorate in US and became a bona fide academician.

 

In his talks, in most of his lectures, he would oftentimes reminisce his bout with the criminal justice system.  He would echo his sentiment that while he has eluded the pain of incarceration, he would lament the state where his friends, his fraternity brothers, would get into.  “They are all innocents” he would plead to the world.  And there are a lot of them equally situated.  Oh, well.

 

As for prison officers who would dare look into, they cannot but feel the pain and discomfort, agony and distress, unfolding before their very eyes the stark reality of innocence suffering along with the guilty.  For those whose conscience is still undisturbed by the cold neutrality of power, innocence should have been clear, and should have been fought and brought forth in furtherance of justice.

 

As a prison officer, I am deeply affected to the point of rebellion!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE DAY A SENIOR CITIZEN PRISONER ESCAPES

old prisoner

It was a dreary and humid afternoon when I took time to visit the minimum security facility of New Bilibid Prison.  The prison camp is organized to accommodate prisoners classified under minimum security category:  those who are to be released in a year’s time; prisoners whose age range from 65 years old and above; and, prisoners with grave physical disabilities.  The facility is almost occupied by senior citizens and it literally projects a community of elderlies or virtually a home for the aged.

There were incidents when escapes would transpire.  Most of those who would fly from the cuckoo’s nest were those who are just a few days before the release papers are to be issued to them.  Majority are in their 30’s.

But what made the recent escape unfortunate, and well, humiliating, was the condition of the escapee.  The fugitive breached the institutional fence a few yards from his security supervisor.  A daring escapade indeed.  The inmate was required as part of his designation, to clean a few paces from the gate and it would only be a few minutes, enough for the inmate to shed a sweat or two.  There were no covers, no barricades, no obstacles that separate the inmate from his custodian.

The escapee was a rarity in the annals of prison administration.  He was not the usual, stereo typed Tom Cruise look alike in gait and agility.  Neither is he the nimble acrobatic Jet Li incarnate.

Inmate Bernardo Ceniza  was 74 years old, limping and with poor eyesight.  As a matter of fact, he even used a splice of scotch tape to hold his eyelids from disrupting his already blurred vision.  He was seldom visited according to his peers.  He was already waiting for two summers to get his release papers and bid his captors goodbye.  He must have been excited but his prison record revealed that the inmate was suffering from psychosis: one who finds difficulties dealing with realities.  In other words, in all these pitiful description of the ancient man, he must be a borderline case, a veritable vegetable already!

Testimonies from his cell mates, mostly in their 70s and late 80s, had nothing significant about the elderly man.  A check on his bed bunk yields nothing extraordinary: old clothes, old footwear, old bags, run down blankets and unwashed stacks of personal materials.  He had nothing of value.  He was a picture of waste and deterioration.

He could not have feigned weakness to confuse his guards.  He was everything weakness was all about.  He could not have prepared himself to break loose and dash for dear freedom by hibernating to preserve his stamina.  The old man was already a spent being.  One even had the impression that if you leave the fellow even in a crowded market place, leaving him behind for a week, then after a  week later,you would still find the guy where you left him off.  That was how the inmate is, a person whose life and soul, whose mind and capability to live have already evaporated.

I won’t begrudge however those who have heard the escape situation and puked in the process.  It is not the manner how the escape was carried out.  It is not the way when the escape was successfully conducted.  It is not even the bold and daring scenario the fugitive must have mounted to confuse his guards that demands explanation.

The fugitive is pure vegetable, a withered kind.  I am interested how come a facility full of guards, hulking and fully armed, could have been played away by a, well, vegetable.  That facility it pride itself as a prison must be a joke.  A weakling of a cub scout stationed on the post would not have fell to such level of uselessness.

The prison does not speak any more of what a place for incarceration is.  I would not even be surprised if one day, not only such kind of personnel held to account, worst, the place called prison may even be declared as hopeless, the kind word probably is for such habitation to close shop or should have been  earmarked for abolition!

Oh, well. Let’s go home.

 

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