Monthly Archives: June 2015
Working in prison is a wonderful ride, more so, if you have as your co passenger people with commitment higher than their ideals. Getting employed in the corrective service has its ups and downs, inspired and frustrating instances, sharp and dull moments, fascinating times and heartaches. It makes a person smart to a certain extent and the more involve one is in the prison community, the smarter he becomes to a large degree.
I have been there and was for a stretch given the rare opportunity to serve the incarcerated humanity.
Personally, I could not ask for more. As a matter of fact, when I entered the prison service it was merely an act of obeisance to my father. It was some kind of a respect to a wish which I submitted to a parent. At that time, I was already gainfully employed in a private firm. For me, the discipline and atmosphere in a multinational firm, including the training and exposures one gains in the milieu were exacting and valued highly. I could not request for additional inputs anymore. Workers in a private firm are always professionally prepared to endure any given task.
This was the kind of orientation I had when I transferred to government service. In private firms, almost everything is impersonal, objective and highly competitive. In government, all these are sidelined, set aside in favor of personal, subjective and cooperative interaction. These were all spread out in the rank and file. I was one among those who embraced government service as if I was groomed to be heroic and gallant along with my peers. Rookies have a general feeling in a way something like that. One cannot measure their idealism until such time that they become senior in the organization. Additional rank gives an officer another angle to express his distinction. He must learn the same fortitude as one who is employed in the private sector. I never turned out that way though.
I was fortunate to have been recognized earlier on. I got promoted smoothly almost every couple of years until I reached the top of the unit whence I was once a neophyte. I never even assumed a position of superiority. I would always look at myself as part of the swarm. If at all there is a need to express my rank, it was always to address a difficult, at times, perilous action. I would rather be blamed than my fellows. I would rather be charged and pushed in a corner to explain, rather than witness a fellow worker undergo a stressful persecution.
Throughout my term, I never departed from where I started in government. I have grown attached to my colleagues, to my fellow employees, to my former subordinates and peers. I never felt that I became a supervisor, much more so, head of the unit. I always thought that I was a part of the team. I was never an individual player except when the going gets tough.
Even the prisoners under my administration were never treated differently. They were always given preference whenever they seek something, usually clarification on their status and the exact period on which they have to spend in terms of serving time. I have devoted a greater part of my work literally memorizing and reading prison rules not only that which is available but those which are also extant, here in the country and those applied in other countries as well. I forced myself to be a scholar of Corrections. It is in fairly applying rules that I get high and could feel stability in an area almost complicated with injustice and wrapped in prejudice.
After all, I am a state prison official paid to watch over and manage the most dangerous sector of the population. And in the course of my duty, I have grown accustomed to consider and ponder that prisoners are not different specie but a class which I would usually call as my friends. I was there to help them restore their faith and concern to humanity.
Prisoners are never sensitive to their environment except on how they feel. It is more of psychology than physics that affects them although to a large extent it is usually the infrastructure that pushes them to commit mayhem. I was there to soften that which makes them inhuman and provide them avenues to express their humanity and revive their dignity. The State does not want to kill them out rightly anyway, a penalty most prisoners want than be subjected to the horrors of psychological maltreatment like incompetence and mediocrity, hence they are given a chance to change, reform or rehabilitated in a situation which only the administrator holds the very key.
I was there in the prison community for the greater part and tried my best.
Now, I am retiring. Age has a way to signal the beholder that time is up. I have spent a fruitful career, controversial it may seem, but rewarding nonetheless. I was always a friend of everyone—superior, volunteers, colleagues and prisoners, whether they liked it or not.
I therefore surrender the key to my organization praying that it would also be given to an officer who respects life, values education and believes in the goodness of Man.
When I was 18 years old, I asked a friend, my classmate in elementary and a buddy, how he would look ten years hence. He answered that he does not even know what will be their succeeding meal for the day and determining what happens in several years was for him more impossible to discern. He never tried as he virtually lived one minute at a time. He passed away recently and probably at a loss too on what will happen to his family a decade after he was gone. Of course, it would be up to those he left behind to do that but he denied himself the excitement of projection.
Anyway, dividing by ten one’s life span is worth as an exercise on planning. And defining each ten up to the 10th, the centennial, hopeful, mark would make some kind a difference. One can reach the highest mark or not but nonetheless, something has been achieved through foresight.
One is given a lifespan to be consumed in a manner one wishes. How it would end depends on how one would spend it. Steve Jobs crossed over at the age of 56 but has accomplished so much. His achievement as he may have envisioned and worked on it made mankind leap several millennia ahead. Alexander the Great died at the age of 26 and war history is barren without mentioning his exploits. His adventure was a defining movement for civilization. They are but a couple of influential giants among the brilliant hundreds that gave humanity its refinements and they have done it in a few years within their respective timeline. They may not have checked it by tenths but definitely they planned it that way. That is what is strategizing is all about. And that is what great minds are constantly focused and engaged.
Ordinarily, from 0 to 10, a person is given a period for growth and nurturance. From 11 to 20th, his training and education must be prepared. From 21 to 30th, he should be gainfully employed. By the time he reached 31 to 40, he should be made.
On his 41th to 50th, on his golden years, he should be preparing for the succeeding phase of his life. From 51 to 60, he should be philosophical and profound in his thoughts. By the time he reaches 61 to 70, he must be prepared to meet his fate. The bonus years of 71 to 80, must be exciting except that his knees could only carry him for a while although his mind may already be fleeting from one dream to another. From 81 to 90, assuming he is still has the cognitive faculty; he is largely dependent on his environment. 91 to 100, he should be qualified to submit his eulogy on himself.
In between those years, a person is given so many opportunities. He may tap or waste it. He may utilize or discard it. He may even choose to apply or ignore whatever it is he would encounter. It could enhance his perception or make it dull. Everything depends on how he would approach life in the manner he would appreciate the things passing through him.
In a flash, his lifespan is there as long as the way he conducts himself. It may tragically end in a jiffy or it may spread out through eternity.
Such in outline form may be said of man’s life in contemporary times.
“I’ve seen faces, places and smiled for a moment, But oh, you haunted me so…” goes Matt Monroe’s ditty which became a theme song in a James Bond movie “From Russia with Love.” Of course, the cyber generation has lost track about it since it was shown in 1963, almost a hundred years ago going by the digital influence of our times. It was a song that depicts the slushy beauty of a land, in the song it was Russia, but for me it was Davao.
I have been to a few places, several countries actually, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Singapore, Sydney (Australia),Tokyo (Japan), HongKong and locally, in Baguio, Laoag, Vigan, Legaspi, Naga, Cebu, Puerto Princesa, Zamboanga, Iligan, Ilo-ilo, Pampangga, Bulacan, Batangas, Tagaytay, well, in almost all cities and municipalities in the country and had spent time in these places and had seen faces too. But none haunted me like Davao.
Kuala Lumpur was spanking and grand but its taxi service was lousy, I prefer the neat, and clean and honest taxi services of Davao. If only for this service alone, Davao tops. Singapore was almost a paradise except for its police state like atmosphere. I prefer Davao’s DDS anytime. Sydney was grander because of its respect for historical or ancient sites except that it is culturally reactive when it comes to its visitors. I was nearly mauled by giant Fijians during the Sydney Olympic and nobody responded to my calls. Very impersonal. I nearly lopped off the ears of one giant had he not run for his dear life! And there was Tokyo, the center of global fashion. I was amused by the crazy short pants and colored hair of youthful Japanese when I was there. Only to see it in vogue in my country 15 years later. The place was very expensive for a cash conscious persons like me. In Davao, your cash can go a long way and the people are not fashion-conscious, generally speaking. Folks here are conservatively decent and smells better.
Baguio was a sentimental choice if only because it was always the carrot whenever my parents wanted us, the children, to behave. The place was for us the equivalent of paradise, except that today, it has become virtually an overcrowded marketplace. In Davao, there are a number of places where you can relax and another where you can haggle for bargain and be vigilant too. Vigan was historical but it was just a few meter stretches. Davao it has been said on record is the biggest city in the country in terms of its size. Legaspi has an imposing angle to watch the grand Mayon Volcano with its perfect cone. Grander still if the volcano is on the verge of erupting. Davao has Mt. Apo, the tallest mountain in the archipelago. Its spring water is called “Dumoy” not only taste great but the cleanest mineral water in the world!
Cebu like Davao is a de facto capital but the island province is but a dot comparatively speaking. While Cebu brags of several tourist destinations, Davao has overtaken it in terms of its exotic contents. Like Davao, Puerto Princesa is the biggest city among chartered towns in the country. Unfortunately, if one is enterprising, Davao is better than its Palawan counterpart in terms of tourist attraction and economic activities. You want to see Davao 40 years ago? Go to Puerto Princesa.
Zamboanga is a small village still haunted by its Spanish influence as revealed by its Chavacano dialect. In Davao, its Japanese and Batangas influence and its language Cebuanon.
Today, Davao is highly cosmopolitan and virtually a conglomeration of various culture. Its social outlook is eclectic. It has the best every culture has to offer. It has a Japanese restaurant which only an authentic Japanese bistro in downtown Tokyo can boast. It has a HongKong eatery which is true to its origin. It has Korean cuisine which is a clone to its Korean foundation. Spanish, Italian, American foods are offered in its genuine style. But of course, Filipino food finds its better competition in this side of the universe and more.
It was only lately that I preferred to stay in Davao instead of Metro Manila (where I was born, educated and had spent a great part of my career) because I could no longer stand the gridlock in traffic, the pestering peace and order challenges, the virtual space living along the fringes of crime and treachery, the stressful movement of a struggling population. Only the youth can survive such an atmosphere.
I am already too old to confront these challenges. I fancy a place where my mind would be settled, my thoughts nestled in ideas, my health nurtured in a stress free environment. I wish to spend my time in a place where my physical condition can be sustained by healthy and amusing surroundings.
Davao may have reached a period of modernity but it is still old-fashioned and rugged. One cannot but be subjective when you are in the area. Its beauty does not lie on its pristine beaches, exotic orchids, lush mountain vegetation, trustworthy people, but may be in the eye of the beholder.
Please bear with me as I think aloud.
Whoever enjoyed incarceration even if lived under an air of privilege must be some kind of a nut.
(Napoleon Bonaparte was imprisoned in an island, in a fortress like mansion ,given a runner and amenities; but just the same, he died a broken hearted man. Had there been media during Rizal’s banishment in Dapitan, the national hero may have been scandalized then sent to NBI detention center for being given a VIP treatment by the guardia civil!)
I have yet to see someone padlocked just for five days inside a five star hotel coming out refreshed and rejuvenated. I have yet to see somebody having a grand time taking a bath in a luxurious tub surrounded by pure predators having a pleasurable time of his life. I have yet to talk to a prisoner who has sunk himself with expensive liquor for days on end and still live longer with a defective liver, still grateful and feeling superior. If at all there is scandalous immersion on luxury inside a penal facility, it is a suicidal sign, morbid and melancholic.
I don’t know why there is fuzz whenever the prison community is seen having a grand time splurging on the fruits of crime. Why be concerned when inmates virtually immersed in drugs when in the process they would just wither and violently end their criminal career in the confines of their cells. I don’t think that drugs ought to be circulated in the free community instead of prison. Better dump all confiscated drugs in prison and let those of clean conscience and with clear re-habitable habits survive. Those who care less of themselves let them perish as they were.
Rehabilitation is a prison program strictly intended only for those who wanted to cleanse themselves and be embraced again by a law abiding world. Those who ignore this call and instead try to conduct themselves away from decency are merely trying to say good bye. They cannot escape from the barrier; they challenge the gods of sanity and eventually expire sooner. Let them be.
In imprisonment there is a constant battle between feeling hopeless and being hopeful. Given the pain, the temptation, the irascible and unstable restrictive environment of the prison community, only those fitted to conduct constructive lives are qualified to survive. Prison is a horrible filtration process. Let it be.
Why be surprised to note that millions of criminal money are in circulation in the prison community, spent on vile, perquisites and vices intended to paralyze the user, when prohibiting it would mean, rechanneling the funds from abuse to financing criminality by syndicates preying on the people in the free community. Why not concentrate instead on running after politicians and government officials squirrelling people’s tax money, laundering it in some places then electing or appointing them anew to exploit people.
When I was a rookie in the prison service, I saw the building plan of the entire National Penitentiary. I wanted to master the terrain before I go into an inspection tour. Thereupon, I noticed that on paper there was a building although in reality there was a vacant space. An officer whispered that the materials to be used in the building were instead utilized by the prison administrator in constructing his own house. I merely shrugged my shoulder and said to myself that nobody was protesting so why would I.
Years and several inmate admissions later, the prison population has grown leaps and bounds, and some inmates could no longer be accommodated sanely in the dormitories forcing those inmates with resources to build their own shanties which were later referred to as “kubol.” This time, the public was scandalized! I held my breath. If government money is stolen, there was silence. But when stolen money is spent for government, people are aghast.
I don’t know where to put my senses now in this kind of situation. If you think imprisonment is fun, think no more!
If one is from Metro Manila (or in some highly urbanized areas) and he intends to move out because he is about to retire (or has retired already), chances of transferring to Davao is an exciting proposition.
That is right, Davao. You heard it correctly. Not Dubai. Not Boracay. Not Davos. Not elsewhere.
Let me put this in perspective first.
Metro Manila may have pursued policies favorable to its senior citizens. Of course, most cities and municipalities in Metro Manila have ordinances protective of the rights and privileges of senior citizens—from buying medicines, waiting lines in banks, bus station, groceries to watching movies. Restaurants, public utilities even department stores respect the considerations due the ageing customer. The humanitarian practice has been legislated and eventually adopted nationwide. And of course, here is usually where their residences are situated and where their children, even their children’s family are virtually positioned. While moving out is some kind of a wishful plan, the thought of starting all over is a challenging scheme, if not a difficult strategy.
On the other hand, there are even those who have worked then settled abroad and adamant to return principally because of the hassles in relocation. Cold weather and cultural difference notwithstanding, they would still remain placid and unaffected. Even if their pension alone could spell a big economic difference, they would rather stay where they are. After all, their children and children’s children have already made the foreign land their very own.
Then why move out if the practical side is to stay put where you are. I met a lot retirees in Davao, all of them from Metro Manila and I was also perplexed by their justifications at the onset. It was when my term exceeded the institutional tradition as head of Davao Penal Colony that I learned the reason behind, of course, on top of their explanations. There was former Chair of Civil Service Commission, Patricia Sto Tomas. She haled from Manila and completed her term as Chairman of CSC. She eventually landed a consultancy post in UN but nevertheless had chosen Davao as her residence. And then there was Civil Service Commission Regional Director Leticia Competente. She is from Bulacan and her children are established professionals and one is even a chief executive of a municipality in said province. She chose to reside in Davao.
Former PNP Chief and former Director of Corrections Oscar Calderon understandably and personally chose Davao. A number of high ranking PNP officials have their own residential houses in Davao. I know a number of businessmen, politicians and those from the academe who preferred to have their own properties and retreat houses in this place too.
There is indeed something that is attractive if not mystical in this part of the country.
Let me count the advantages. Davao is the de facto capital of Mindanao and its business district is therefore as stimulating and big as any major city in South East Asia. As a matter of fact, it is one of the safest cities in the world. Enterprise is peaking all year round; there is employment everywhere and crime index the lowest in country side count. Food is the big difference actually. Vegetable, meat and fruits are great and abundant. It’s cheap and fresh too. Talk about increasing the purchasing power of your peso without holding the banner of activism or dreaming of the good ol’ days.
And then, there is the constant peace and order. No one messes around with the town’s Terminator unlike in some urban areas where the senior citizens are the favorite milking cow if not target of criminal elements. Criminality is on the verge of extinction.
Over in Davao, life is stress free. There is healthy vegetation everywhere from mountain tops to side streets to refresh the eyes and lungs, no traffic headaches, the roads are dedicated to leisurely driving and beaches abound at every turn. Pollution is even unheard of like storms and related calamities.
And if one is born in Metro Manila, one would surely be amazed at the honesty and trustworthiness of the provincial folks in Davao, unsullied and undisturbed by the gross and deceptive character of transients from other urban areas. Manila is just an hour and a half plane ride, faster than commuting from Cubao to Makati.
I have stayed almost a decade in this place and I am still awed at this tropical place. In other parts of the country, when its rainy season, it would be wet for months on end. When it’s dry, it is parched all through out. In Davao, there is sun in the morning until noon and rain in the afternoon and evening—-daily, all year round. If there are days, say four days without rain, it is almost called a drought!
If a retiree intends to live up until he reaches the centennial mark, then Davao must be his destination.
Last night I dreamt something like this. Listen while I recall:
Remove 20% of good housing in the country and virtually we can describe our land as the biggest slum area in the planet! (With, of course, indulgence to some barren and poor communities in Africa) And why not? Basically, it has been said in reality that almost 80% of the population in this region live below poverty line. They subsist on morsels and left overs. Exploitation is even a kind word to describe the consideration people have grown into for years. And the poor have no other recourse but to continue their plight for eternity.
(Note: The following refers to poverty incidence not poverty level. “Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA)’s Annual Poverty Indicators Survey (APIS) showed that poverty incidence among Filipino individuals rose by 1.2 percentage points to 25.8 percent in the first semester of 2014 from the 24.6 percent registered in the first half of 2013.”)
(Note further: In New Zealand, there is no such thing as poverty line or poverty incidence. As a matter of fact, the Kiwi economy is so good that one can find poverty only in the dictionary.)
Over here, this impoverished situation is almost a cycle. The poor keeps on electing the moneyed or exploitative class, who in turn would be protective of their economic turf, engaging in transactions which would keep them above the rest; and to hell with their constituencies. Accordingly, the majority deserve their situation. Fools are better left as fools. They liked it that way anyway. It is not their lot actually but they elect exploiters and eventually consign themselves to be in that condition, hard and difficult it may be but they had no way out but are cursed, cursed by their state of poor selection.
Even the educational system is of no use. Social mobility within its purview is a myth. Students are merely trained to obey superiors, to be subservient to power, reckon authorities and accept exploitation as a way of life. To think and act against this arrangement is an offensive act, considered treason and these are penalized as high crimes. The youth are not educated to be prosperous but be generous with their industry. They are in effect seen and expected to be potential laborers, a cog in the furnace of influential families.
When government wanted to increase the viability of its coffers, it imposes taxes, add on and value added ones. Those in the business sector, those who are holding on the reign of economic power, the captains of industry would merely pass on the burden to the consumers, the public in general and their wealth never for a while disturbed. It is the people that shoulder the entire gamut of requirements. They are after all the buck where all intentions stop including sacrifices.
Collectively, they comprise the fledging village we call slum. It is also referred to as ghetto, shantytown, purlieu or plain squatter colony. It is one area without any pretension at order. Filth is everywhere, smut and rudeness a quality in every corner, one cannot ignore the odor, the chaos, the vulgarity. But there is one quality I admire. A lot of folks in this area are not that stressed. They are all quick to smile as if poverty has never created a dent on their existence. They may not know when they will get the next meal but who cares, they are happy that way. It is that brand of cheerfulness, blatant and almost expressionless but just the same there is contentment, resignation, submission and dependence
There is nothing new.
It would be the face of a regular community during and after the election. And the denizens deserve their fate.
Whenever I would take short cuts to a place I intend to visit and would have to pass through interiors in some dark alleys from one designated place to another like the highway to a public hospital, or from one store to a good restaurant, one must go through a maze of muddied, at times, arm’s length pathway and each bend a kid at times is splayed, ogling blankly or playing with something weird, children and adult alike, zombie like, roaming in a small space, looking like a propaganda poster on malnutrition, living spaces done in makeshift rusted partitions, easily ignitable light materials and yes, the appearance of fate. Everything from movable to immovable depends on fate.
Slum, short cuts, whatever. Whenever I take the easier albeit dangerous road, fate is scattered everywhere. Well, just to reach a place unmindful of safety and quickly, seeing disorder, dirt, penury, indigence, destitution, I too would refer to fate on my way to some places and quip —-BAHALA NA RIN!
Good grief! It was only a dream.
I promised to write something good about the administration of Retired General Franklin Bucayu, former Director of Corrections, reflective of his accomplishments at the helm of the prison service; although initially I find it a bit perplexing to do that. He claimed that as a prison administrator, he made all the right moves and had accumulated quite a number of successful programs. He was correct. I know because I happen to be one among his closest staff officers.
But in a game of Chess, if one is moving the correct pieces and almost triumphant, the winning player would just be grinning in his corner. The winning player will never raise his hand to surrender at all. Director Bucayu did not do that but chose to resign.
In the recent NBA campaign, there was a slogan “Win or Go Home.” In the case at bar, it seems like the slogan was rephrased as “Win AND Go Home.”
Indeed, General Bucayu’s major accomplishments could over shadow his predecessors and his achievements could hold a candle to better prison administrators in the past. And why not? It was under his administration that two major laws (RA 10575 and RA 10592) on Corrections were approved. These laws alone could have spelled the great difference institutionally and historically. No prison administration has been given the rare chance to organize and modernize itself with laws supporting its infrastructure. Past prison leaders could only reformulate ageing prison rules and develop provisions which have yet to be approved by DOJ.
Director Bucayu’s regime had all the hallmarks of attaining what could have been a wish fulfillment by all prison administrators before him. He had newly minted laws to flex his administrative and operative muscles. Although these legislative pieces were contemplated and formulated before his appointment at the helm of the premiere corrective agency, its passage was at his time, its implementation within the timeline of his term.
The significance of the laws could have professionalized the organization with better pay. The other law could have addressed the painful realities of congestion. These laws could have brought Corrections to its golden age. Furthermore, the constructions of bigger prison facilities have been given the green lights to be pursued by National Government. Director Bucayu however never had the chance to see the light of this development by bidding the organization good bye.
He should be succeeding through administrative lines but he still believes that there must be concrete changes in the prison community operationally. For him, congestion has bred problems and excesses notwithstanding legislative intervention.
While analysts would point out that reducing the excess population by farming out inmates to penal colonies to reduce the strain and stress that breed problems like violence, VIP treatment, corruption, substance abuse, maltreatment, General Bucayu’s warrior’s orientation says that it could be nipped in the bud by focusing on personalities that paved the way for the problems. For him cleaning the prison stable would cap his career achievement in the prison service, and this he will initiate using approaches in his command with assistance from his DOJ supervisors. Besides, he inherited this problematic situation, a situation that has been endemic in the prison setting for several decades already. He wanted it changed in a jiffy. Its success would seal his prominence.
He made a plan and along with his superior led a raid that would expose what ails the system for ages and it exploded right in the midst of his territory. It created a spin in media that painted against the backdrop of his perceived weakness. Accordingly, the problem was his creation and that his administration must dearly pay. Forget the past, it was the present who should pay. And from there on, Director Bucayu found himself bashed in all corner until frustration mounted.
Like all prison administrators in the past who were not only well meaning but serious to attain a good historic attribute on their respective terms, Director Bucayu wanted to up the ante by resolving decades old challenges with one blow. The effect would be telling and gory. He would be seen not as the messiah that brought changes into the prison community but the villain who merely tried to save his skin to the detriment of his company. It was infuriating for him to have a burden like this. He never wanted to have collateral damage, more so, on those officers who made his administration effective but were summarily disgraced. There he was a picture of sadness, an officer standing alone.
For General Bucayu, there was no other way but out. It was for him the moment to unfold the curtains. The time was up.
This is a case I also promised to share as a lesson in correctional administration.
As a prison psychologist, I was more exposed in the prison community more than my better counterparts in the civilian sector of the prison service.
Psychologists are even better armed in terms of approaches than their counterparts in the custodial and security department. It is in this light that those in this profession were able to gather a lot of case studies, personal tidbits, anecdotal testimonies, numerous data on behavior and amass incident reports on the social and interactive lifestyle of persons under the regime of incarceration.
Prison is a test bed where one can learn the dynamics of crime, of eluding it and even of preventing its occurrence.
Working in prison is indeed like having a grand time in a real laboratory where one could observe how a person consumes and make something out of his time.
Well, it never came easy for me as a matter of fact; I realized it only when I was virtually thrown into the pit.
I was a fledging neophyte in government service when I could not identify anyone who made possible my entrance in the agency. At that time, it was necessary to be known as a relative of someone from the organization or else, one never gets employed. Such was the situation in the Bureau of Prisons then. But I was an exception, to a certain extent. I merely dropped the name of a prison official as my reference and I got the nod already. But that did not assure a smooth sailing. When my supervisor learned that I had no connection, I was literally given meaningless tasks. One day, I will be fixing all defective staplers, and in another, will compile all case reports, separate it through paper clips and in the afternoon, remove the paper clips and pack the papers into brown envelops. It was a daily grind. It was some kind of a routine without directions. And for that I was paid monthly as a scientist. For me I felt that I was playing into a dishonest charade. And so, I pleaded to be given a duty that bespeak of being a psychologist.
Hospital Ward for Mentally Challenged
That very day, after just a few weeks as a regular employee, I was directed to report to the Chief of the Prison Hospital and assume the post as clinical psychologist in the ward for deranged prisoners! My office mates were all aghast and conveyed their heartfelt sympathy. For them, my assignment was suicidal and virtually the end of my profession. But for me, it was an exciting job.
I lost no time and went immediately to see the hospital chief for work.
The prison hospital is situated on the western area of the 9 hectare maximum security camp of the National Penitentiary—home of long termers. It was a 200 bed capacity hospital with 5 wards. It boasted of a number of physicians, very professional and committed; and several beautiful nurses at that on varied shifting schedule. I felt that this was my preferred working area.
One of the zones was referred to as Ward 4, the area where inmates whose mental condition has gone wayward. According to the hospital chief, a kindly old man, a good physician, senior among the officials, that I was recommended to take charge of Ward 4 to give me exposure in the field of clinical psychology. I could not hide my enthusiasm since the immersion would mean that I would be able to see up close those cases which I could only appreciate from the books and laboratory manual during those times I was studying psychology in my undergraduate and graduate studies. This time, it would be for real. Staying and working in the ward for those with mental illnesses, alright, the so called mentally challenged, would be my ultimate universe for some time.
Interacting in the Cookooe’s Nest
It was surreal and at the same time boring. Right after checking on the charts of individual cookooes , and what has been referred to by their fellow inmates as the crazy bunch, nothing follows. For a while, it gave me an idea how a person with catatonia behaves, how a manic depressive frown, how the schizoid and schizophrenic adapt, the ADHDs, Bipolar disorders, serial crime disorders, paranoia, etc. They were all represented in that 6 meter by 6 meter ward and everyone seemed not to mind each other. They were all subdued and the only time life would engage in the area was when food ration was being served.
I could only repair to a small corner in the hospital, a vacant stockroom which was emptied and made into a space enough to be referred to as my office. It was in that dingy room where I would write down my notes, impressions and references. It was also in that area where I would receive inmate visitors who would indulge me with anecdotes on what imprisonment has done not only to their minds but senses as well. These inmates were not patients but exceptional personalities who found the hospital as a better area for them to stay than the regular cells for ordinary prisoners.
Masters of Crime
They became my mentors on how to deal with life in the most sordid manner. Their stories made my day and gave me enough thoughts that would constitute what maturity is all about. They gave me narratives and tales on how to stay alert at all times. They provided me with practical samples on patience. And the most important lesson I gained was how I can becloud a person’s mind and be a winner at all times. To think that the place has been reckoned as the sanctuary of losers was an ironical consideration. But there I was a student of the criminal mind receiving a tutorial on how to be on top of the food chain without really trying.
In a span of a semester, I could predict crime, foretell one and knew how to solve it. I knew also when to spot a criminal and analyze the very persuasion why his actions turned that way. But the most significant part of my learning was to determine when and where crime would lurk its ugly side.
My notes were almost encyclopedic. It was for me the best reference material I have done. I thought of writing a book on the matter once I am done in the prison service.
That time has come and I am working on it.
It was in the summer of 1977 when I was officially sworn in to work in the prison service as Guidance Psychologist. I was then a 23 year old bachelor, newly transferred from my previous work in a private foreign supervised firm (Mead Johnson, Phil.). I knew little about the realities of government service, only occasional glimpses of public works and a Hodge podge of what certainty looks like employment from the prism of practical acquaintances. In other words, I was a sophomore when dealing with the difficulties and challenges of public administration. Immersed in civil service, I was completely naive.
After barely half a year in prison work, I matured several folds over and have imbibed greater lessons from the prison community more than those two decades of academic exposure. I became truly human, fully cognizant of my environment, keen and ardent in my desire to absorb deeply what humanity stands for and have learned essentially what makes a person totally committed to a principle.
Life in Prison
The prison community is not your ordinary neighborhood. It abhors sanity. A lot of people in the free community even wish it never existed. It does not even approximate a regular locality. It is a transitory town where life is spelled backwards and its restrictive interaction goes against the grain of normality. Accordingly, it is home for the scums and dregs of the free community, a cemetery for vanished souls, a warehouse of emotionally disturbed personalities, a descriptive hell where the future of integrity is lost in the abyss of violent surroundings.
The word trust in this place goes through a rigid filtration process since the environment breeds not only discontent but wholesale deception. Friendship goes hand in hand with treachery. Love is mistaken for hatred. Truth is manufactured and faith a matter of conjecture. Corruption is kids play and violence the recourse in every interaction.
Inmates conjure life in a manner they wanted it spent and not how the barb wires intends to maim their being. It is an endless brawl between life and living. Either one perishes in a saintly manner or exists sinfully by going against the prevailing atmosphere. It is a constant struggle which government must have to endure.
But where civilization is, there will be prison.
And this has been my workplace for the last 38 years. From a base position of Psychologist, I rose from the ranks, from supervisory to administrative up until I reached the Division Chief level. A few more facial wrinkles and years in the prison service, I got into the level as the most senior in the higher rank, the ceiling so to speak next to the post of political appointment.
The position afforded me a closer look and an unenviable perspective, not only in appreciating how the prison community pulsates but how individual prisoner subscribes to a demented life. There is no congested spot in the world where the mind is tormented each second as the planet revolves around its axis such as this place. Death and resignation is the only sign where peace can only be achieved.
There are just too many contemplative moments to learn from.
I am now on my way out of the prison service and like a long termer, about to be released too from the community that gave me wholesome knowledge, not satisfaction for witnessing dissatisfaction, but from the daily struggle of spirits battling the demons of frustration and failures, of abuses and derangement, of boredom and endless temptations.
There are too much lessons, ideas and thoughts one derives from the curse of imprisonment. And passing through and undergoing a period in the prison community through immersion is definitely not a course in liberal debasement but a total learning experience on how to read humanity and what it stands for given the pain of losing in the game called life.
The wisdom accumulated in this place is also called Faith.
Sadly, the prison society is not for everyone.
Nobody can recall that my father (Prof. Carlos Legaspi Tesoro) was a hero, greater even than those we read in our history books. He was unfortunately bumped by his contemporaries but not in the deepest bin of history, at least not as long as my notes on history is concerned.
During World War II, there were numerous accounts of heroism. Soldiers fought mightily hard, statesmen fought using their position of influence, guerillas fought on the sidelines, martyrs fought with their faith, so on and so forth. All of them became heroes, were feted, recognized and even lionized for a while. They all went out of their way to keep enemies at bay and while some survived to live another day, others perished.
My father was not a soldier during World War II. He was not conscripted too in the guerilla movement. He was neither a martyr nor anyone pretending to fight the enemy. He was a lowly acolyte in a provincial church then. He was in charge of keeping the convent which at that time the Japanese Imperial Army held court.
He tried to learn the language of the occupant and sooner became conversant. In just a few months, my father could already discuss military science and philosophy in Nipponggo and could even write in Jap characters to the amazement of his foreign visitors. The occupant armed forces were impressed with the youthful chapel helper. In time, he became even a consultant for social affairs, explaining tradition and customs of the townsfolks.
One day, hundreds of local citizens (in San Pedro, Laguna) were huddled inside the church and were about to be sentenced to the firing squad on suspicion that they were cooperating with the insurgents. It was then that my father appeared before the Japanese tribunal to appeal the case of the condemned. Eloquently delivered, my father championed the cause and innocence of the people. That very day, hundreds and truckloads of people saw freedom. If that is not heroism then I don’t know what it is.
They were the people who populated an entire town and whose descendants are now prosperously living. They may no longer remember what happened to their forefathers. They never knew that the courage of one man made an entire town a living proof of diplomacy. They merely inherited their ancestors’ industry and assets, their accumulated properties and trade. The descendants are no longer keen on their past because it was nearly traumatic and must be forgotten. But had my father merely kept his silence, the place could have been a ghost town for a long time.
The invading army could have easily wiped out not only a town but an entire province. The armed invaders however never resorted to massacre anymore but had grown relatively attached to the community. They left after the war, brotherly and socially attached to the town as if it was their birth place. My father went back home and continued with his studies.
My father, during his internship in the enemy’s camp, taught the fierce invading army the value of peace and understanding through his acts of friendship and cooperation. He interceded in their requirements, organized their social interactions, and evaded trouble in every form. He was virtually a church in the absence of any superior.
My father knew peace more profoundly than those who professed power and supremacy. He had a greater appreciation of amity and harmony more than those who projected then to have an understanding of concord and unity. He exuded spirituality at a time when faith was hidden and tucked inside the armory. Yet his pronouncements were louder than bombs and explosives.
That day my father saved hundreds of people is to my estimation a fitting legacy to call as Father’s Day.