“LONG WALK TO FREEDOM”
That was the title of Nelson Madela’s bestselling autobiography. In the book, he earnestly narrated his tale on his 27 years in prison before he was released as a free man. San Francisco Chronicle Review noted that the work “was an engrossing tapestry of recent history….riveting and sometimes painfully honest.”
Thereafter, he went public, became active in his community and spearheaded movements which reintroduced him into the mainstream of national politics. He got the recognition he wanted, led in the struggle to make his country better and his grateful constituency elected him as President.
I wish to lift the title as my expression for bowing out from government service. It was also a long walk to freedom. Fittingly, like Mandela but more than those years he spent since I got out of prison after 38 years as an employee. When it comes of exposure on pain and abuses, the prisoner and staff or employee are equally exposed.
The only difference is that the employee after 8 hours can leave his station while a prisoner stays within a facility for 24 hours. But the difference is more artificial than significant; more synthetic than genuine. 8 hours in prison or 24 hours do not matter at all. It is the feeling of being subjugated to rules and being structured that spell out the experience. Both suffer from emotional assault every now and then. Both are injured psychologically and for a time incapacitated to understand the world around them in the prison community.
In reality, Inmates are even better situated than the prison employee. Inmates are taken cared of, while employees must have to take care of themselves. If administration is found wanting, inmates can just raise a complaint against them and presto. If an employee does this, he is deemed disloyal and gets the axe. The only advantage a prison employee has over the prisoner is his option to quit from working. The employee has the right to resign. Those he is attending to cannot do that. All else are similar and do not have any shade of difference at all.
Nelson Mandela, like former Senator Ninoy Aquino, was confined in solitary confinement for a period. The latter however was short lived and at notch luckier because he was able to bargain from strongman Marcos to be allowed to have medical treatment abroad, this after 7 years of detention. Mandela lived up to age of 92, while Aquino was shot to death at the age of 52. Both became national heroes after they died.
They served time as prisoners for their belief, for their principles, for their ambitions.
On the other end, there are those who served time with commitment, pledge and obligation.
They are the Romy Chavez and the Weng Geronimo, and many more before and after them, who served time in the prison service. Nobody knew them except their close friends, immediate family and relatives. Nobody knew when they started working in prison and nobody knew also when they retired. Both were exposed in the same environment where a Mandala and an Aquino once belonged. Both internalized the same hatred, discomfort, pain and difficulties in the prison community. When they passed away sometime ago, nobody gave a damn.
Not even the organization they offered the best and active years of their lives, except for their peers, gave some kind of ovation for their commitment as counterpart image of those sent by judicial authorities to serve time. They were just seen as a passing silhouette, an ordinary item in a highly impersonal and at times, impolite bureaucracy. No one remembers their role, no one even recalls their deeds and sacrifices, no one even wants to recollect their part in the overall structure of incarceration.
They too had their versions of having their long walk to freedom also but nobody minds them. There is no day observed for the likes of them. Not even their famous wards thought about them. There is no dedicatory, even a token shrine, built in their memory. They were literally ignored.
It is indeed an irony of ironies.