WHEN PRISON OFFICERS MEET
It was a chilly morning at Tagaytay City one February weekday (2014) when representatives from different penal colonies met to discuss a serious concern about performance. Glancing at the names of the participants made me excited. I would be able to meet my former comrades from different penal establishments not in the area where they are assigned one piece at a time but the whole shebang in one place.
They were all animated to examine a matter that would appreciate the manner of grading, of rating one’s performance vis-à-vis the provision that it should be recognized through monetary rewards. The discussion was almost endless; each participant had their respective appreciation of what appraisal is all about. The point is to bring to the fore the realization that prison service ought to take the lead commitment above everything else, even to the point of sacrificing personal comfort and other considerations. It is in the words of the prison leadership, “Bureau of Corrections FIRST.”
There they were, haggard from exposure of hard work in any weather, haggard for dealing with threats in their workplace, haggard for bargain, haggard for explanation. They were all in the prison service even before the facebook generation took the main floor. They were there when Steve Jobs was still tinkering with the first version of personal computer in the universe. They were on the ground, at times conferred with recognition for a job well done, at times harassed in between being hacked to death or simply broken for trouble shooting violence. They were all there to keep the integrity of their office, to sustain a career and eventually to hold on the reign, holding on the very substance of what corrections is in the criminal justice administration. They, given the condition, the arid and challenging condition, were simply the best government service can offer.
They are sacrificing a lot more than their counterparts in other agencies. They are literally in harm’s way. But the sad part there is that they are even misunderstood. Their apprehension is mistaken as fearful. Their anticipation is seen as cowardice. Their initiative is always suspect. And why not. They would rather be on the safe side. They would rather imitate how prisoners survive through subservience. When their superiors are around, there is no more difference between how a prison worker and prisoner would bow to authority—even if, as a matter of reality, prison officers are the embodiment of authority. They know fairly well that in prison, there is only one authority and they are never a part of it.
Who never wanted a piece of the cake if it means a conferment of recognition? In an environment like prison, everyone understands fairness as equal sharing. One may be great in one area, another in another area. Everyone has its own forte. Everybody has some flaws somewhere. If at all there is something to be shared, it must be shared equally too. Prison workers have been in the thick of disadvantage ever since and they understand their predicament more than those people ogling from outside. They are a part of the prison community and they know what is equal and just.
When prison officers meet they know what fairness is all about.