“YOU CANNOT HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO”
When I took a post grad course at the National Defense College of the Philippines in the late 70s, its president, Gen. Jose G. Syjuco would bark at us, his chosen students, an expression “You cannot have your cake and eat it too!” What he meant was that we cannot ask for anything if we have it already. Simply put, that we should not look for that food anymore if we have consumed it already. In other words, he was telling us not to be silly.
In prison administration, the general impression is the same. Some people expect that inmates should behave and yet they are literally lumped in a condition that defies any disciplinary principles. It is as if prohibiting a person to perspire in a window less room with barely a whiff of fresh air passing through at a humid afternoon. It is like goading a person to pray silently in the middle of the marketplace.
Prison climate is supposed to be subdued, peaceful and passive. And rightly so, if the condition is standard and administration fulfills the requirement for humane application of rules, programs and activities. Under this setting, rehabilitation is internalized within the purview of contemplation, penance and discipline. Security is merely an appendage of management and a simple accessory in the overall mandate of corrections. That is approaching what is ideal.
Now let us revisit what is real. Let us look closely at what is obtaining in an ordinary corrective facility. The climate it can be said is tension filled and almost explosive. Congestion or overcrowding is the order of the day. And since, the ratio of staff and inmate is not ideal, manpower management is loose. Control is relegated among elder inmates or those who have stayed longer. Contemplation is lost in disorder, penance is replaced by hatred and discipline nowhere exercised at all. Security becomes the principal muscle to herd inmates to the detriment of rehabilitation programs.
I was called to tame an environment considered the most dangerous sector of society—the National Penitentiary. It is also pejoratively called home of pure predators. It is where the judiciary would send its decided convictions, the life termers, those who must serve several life times over, the derisively termed drug lords, gambling lords, kidnapping specialists, terrorists, radicals, what have you. They are all there packed and more. An individual among the throng constitute a threat, a social if not a national risk all by itself.
And since historically, what would bring down leadership was a single mayhem, say an exploding grenade in some corners of the prison camp, my first gut instinct was go for peace. To grab the proverbial horn and tail of the tiger, if that is humanly possible at all. In other words, given the task of holding on control, I must exude with respectable projection not necessarily to intimidate the denizens of the maximum security wing but to exude with the respectable dignity of an authority who knows fairness by heart. Respect is the only language understood everywhere specially so in the underworld.
And so there I was huddling in the middle of a select group of elders in the prison community. These are the guys who are also respected, deferred, esteemed by the general population. They are not only listened to as a matter of course, they are listened to intently. Their word is as prized as prison rules and their expression as significant as a sacred prayer. Their sentiment is carried all throughout the psyche of the prison population. We agreed to believe in each other. And while there was no black and white, no signatures that bound our understanding of our agreement to keep peace, we embraced the idea of preserving communal concord whatever is the cost. From my end, peace is priceless that I am willing to exchange it with any career ending decision.
I was subsequently tested. The prison community asked for some privileges, I gave more. They want understanding, I gave some more. While they try to justify convenience, I translated it into a program. I even treated their case folders as a sacred document. All because of peace.
And then a word from the top as if saying “stop playing footsie with criminals!” Well, they can call it that way. I was even ready to recommend that the entire prison camp be rigged with bombs so that it can be blown into smithereens if that is what they wished and if that is what the Constitution adheres to. But of course I know the law and I am no fool.
Everyone, starting from the top, wants peace. But it should be earned. It is never won, it is negotiated. One must work for it. For those who think that peace is plain lip service and that it is born out of fear, it is like having their cake and eating it too.