BROTHER TAX: PRISON VOLUNTEER
For the life of me, I do not know Tax personally. He is John Nelson Tan and goes by his nickname “Tax” to those within his prison charity circle. I have known Tax merely as the perennial alter ego; buddy and companion of erstwhile prison volunteer Rodolfo Diamante, Executive Director of the Episcopal Commission on Prisoner Welfare, a major division of the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines. But the man must be that crazy to spend so much time in prison working along with zealous prison volunteers knowing his background is not in social work but in commerce.
I have friends in the business community who swear that Tax is one great marketing guy, a savvy entrepreneur who can close corporate deals with ease and simplicity. And to think that one of his commercial ventures is selling Fergusson Tractors and John Deere Farm Tractors spare parts, a hard to negotiate mechanical items unless one is dealing with farmers from US and Europe.
Tax does not fit any of the stereotype prison volunteer I know of. When he was introduced to me in my capacity as prison administrator, I thought that he was just bidding his time, prison visitation a mere break from the hassle of stressful marketing days.
Tax was a very lively person and facilitative as a friend in the network of prison volunteers. He can make a person confident, calm and composed notwithstanding the anxiety incumbent in a prison facility. His demeanour could only mean a spur and not intended for the long haul. He never changed though and he was very consistent as a character. He retained his smile all through out the years in the prison volunteer service along with his friends in CBCP. He came in with a black crop of hair and now has only gray ones to show. That long in his chosen exposure.
What made Tax, or Brother Tax to prisoners if you may, a priceless friend of the incarcerated humanity is not the goods or the goodies he would contribute to be brought in by fellow volunteers, like toothpaste and slippers, but the sincere smile on his face. I am a poor speculator in making out the real or genuine character of a person based on his projection and Tax’s smiling may just be one of the guiles but there is something in Tax’s posture that elicits affection. Remember, Tax is a salesman and all salesmen are trained in the art of deception. He may have that salesman’s charm to start with. Let us call a spade, a spade.
But wait. Tax has chinky eyes and chubby built. At a glance, he is a picture of a generous Chinese trader. On the other hand, he stands as if a Japanese grocery owner. Sometimes he talks fast like a Korean or laughs aloud like a Vietminh. Let us however give credit to the man for his due. He has stayed in the prison volunteer program longer than any crusading prison volunteer I know of, especially those whose profession and business concern is outside prison visitation. He visits prisons as if he has no other concerns except to sympathize. And he succeeds while others merely coast along.
Earlier, I thought that Tax was just an escort, a fly by night companion, a go-getter for some groups. In the prison camp, I would catch a glimpse of him and perhaps check on his behaviour whether he was there to check on inmates he suspected of snatching his wrist watch somewhere near his residence; or probably, watching over the shoulders of inmates, monitoring their movements if they might have knowledge on the loss of his motorcycle to unknown syndicates. He was actually in prison to participate in prayer workshops and testimonial sharing. He looks smart than he really is.
I am about to bow out from the prison service, a bit belated than my elder colleagues who got off earlier, but I have never seen nor felt from Tax any act that would point at waning or shying away.
If there is a perfect figure that could be divined out from a man enjoying stressful prison work, I have no other person in mind than Tax. And he has seen and visited almost all jails and prisons in the countryside, an immersion which no prison administrator may have undergone. What a prison worker this smiling fellow has become. To simply call him a martyr is an understatement.