INNOCENTS AMONG THE GUILTY
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!