HUMANIZING THE PRISON ENVIRONMENT
A number of schools every summer would indulge their students, mostly those enrolled in the field of Criminology, to visit, ogle and take a trip to the national penitentiary. For their mentors, the idea of accosting their students in the facility may bring their heart on the discipline but for the college student, it was a throwback experience similar to their grade school excursion to the zoo. Indeed, in zoological garden, animals are caged like those found in prisons. The only difference is that in zoos, jungles or the habitat are simulated. In prison, where human beings are temporarily lodged and made to adjust to a condition where human spirit is tested for its resolve.
The difference is not without basis. While it is true that exotic animals are given a treat to live in a condition much like where they came from, the fact that they are restricted and have committed no offense is tragic. For man in prison, it is different since the law not only presumed but convicted the person to suffer the pain of segregation through incarceration for a period.
And so an artificial environment is created for offenders as if they are a sector different from that of humanity. They are pushed to the limits of their sanity, forced to live in a congested enclave mixed with all types of persons with extreme expression of behavioural excesses.
Death and fatalities as consequence of massive uprising in the prison community would define what imprisonment was during the 60s. There was no period which would allow a prisoner to see the light of his release, unless he becomes despondent and eventually become insane in the process. Prison was for a time a hopeless place, a step closer to cemetery, a pseudo hospital where those terminally ill were confined subsequently dream of that time when they are about to expire.
The entry of political prisoners in bulk during the Martial Law years remarkably changed the complexion of imprisonment. Suddenly, the prison community would find voices, courageous spokesmen, those who can also write, petition and make redress, fool hardy enough to confront administrators, stare them directly in the eye and seek relief. Suddenly, the prison community would pulsate with life and a social direction in life. Suddenly, the world view for violence would be transformed into a spiritual, nay, a philosophical one. And then, the prison volunteers who were once activists would find solace visiting their peers and friends. And then a representative or two from the organization, trained in a militant university would acquire a post within prison administration. The combination of all these traits would result in the humanization of the prison community.
Those with criminal proclivity would be sent into a period of contemplation. Abuses at times would be curved and a set of fundamental tack would be introduced into the consciousness of the prison community. The adage “honor among thieves” would evolve into single attribute that would further enhance interpersonal relationships among prison denizens. It would also lay the foundation of a decent bond for collective maturity and peace. Respect would be born and introduced into the language of the prison community. Being disrespectful means being subjected to mob justice.
With this communal development is the humanizing condition of the correctional environment. Even if government is lacklustre in its role to sustain the infra and facility requirements of the prison community, It is the prison community itself and what was retained as an influence by progressive thinkers who were once upon a time a denizen in the field of incarceration that made prison a part of humanity.