AN INTRODUCTION TO THE PRISON SERVICE: For the newcomer
In 1958, Elvis Presley sang a song “Trouble” in the movie “King Creole”. The song begins with, “If you’re looking for trouble, you came in the right place,” Elvis was of course not referring to prison service when he sang that neither his composer had prisoners in mind when it was written. But it was one phrase which never departed my consciousness during the time I got employed in the then Bureau of Prisons (now Bureau of Corrections). And so were my friends who were surprised to learn that I was working in prison. It was the expression “What???!” and “Oh, my!!!!” which greeted me every time I would show them my ID card. It was a reaction as if I volunteered to be taken as hostage or to a certain degree, an admission on my part for masochism.
In the late 70s, prison service carried a lot of impression. The prison community then had just come through a series of violent incidents. There were riots everywhere and the workers at times were veritably at the center of the storm. In New Bilibid Prison, there was a case where a prison guard while in the process of conducting headcount was sacked treacherously and his head bashed into smithereens. In Iwahig, a prison teacher was mauled and nearly raped after the culprit had decapitated another prison officer. In San Ramon, the prison superintendent was held hostage while his family was mercilessly massacred. In Davao, after every riot, the creek reeked with drums of flowing blood more than the waters that used to drift. That was the agency’s profile when I was admitted into the organization.
Less than 40 years later, prison service would have a makeover. Rehabilitation became a buzz word among prison workers. Although to a certain extent there was little understanding on the term, the word reduced the tension brought about by the violent history the agency had undergone in the past. Factions ruled the organization. There were the traditionalists and the progressives. There were the sadists and the liberals. There were the hard core and the soft hearts. There were the unschooled and the schooled. One can identify with and be a part of anyone or be a member of both. The prison service was a field of diverse interests observed and watched by a helpless and dependent prison community. On which side would prevail, the prison community would just hop along with subserviently.
While it can be said that prison work was the least attractive job for those seeking a career in the past, today it is different. Those in the field of social science would barge through any agency where their academics have trained them. Criminology as a course became an exciting discipline which literally would encourage anyone to dip into the science of prison administration. Prison service would no longer be a pariah course but a turf of humanities. Not that college graduates nowadays no longer have any jobs left except those in hazardous ones like prison service, but the branch of criminal justice administration has become a significant career on its own.
Along with the change came the evolution of the prison community. Gone were the days when those who would serve time were petty delinquents which would take a cue from violent expressions. While the profile of convicts would have little difference at all from their cousins in the past, the intelligence quotient of prisoners has grown by leaps and bounds. They can read behavior more than books. They can understand anything abstract more than anyone trained in numeric. They can anticipate, forestall and predict an incident. They are always a move ahead. They can bring down anyone without exerting any effort and they can precipitate a crisis.
The song of Elvis Presley while it has been declared as ancient and quite amusing, ended with an apt phrase which the newcomer ought to take heart, and it goes this way “So don’t mess around.”