WHAT POWER MEANT FOR ME
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
As early as grade school, I have witnessed various forces radiating with power. Of course, there was my mother—who was in my estimation the alpha and omega of power, whose shadows could confer in my tender mind supernatural powers; then our school teachers and my beautiful classmates. As I entered the intermediate grades, there were other powerful elements manifesting from the woodwork of our school. The so called terror teachers and the bullies—the bulky, sun drenched, oftentimes armed out of school youth and their equally bulky counterparts among my schoolmates.
Luckily, I never experienced first-hand how it was to be bullied during my elementary years. On the contrary, I was even blest to interact and study with extraordinary boys and girls. The boys were pleasantly studious and well behaved, while the girls were very modest and scholarly. For me, my classmates were not only inspiring but lavish sources of power. By their sheer neatness and intelligence, they could get whatever they wished to get. And to think that we were in public school.
During the high school years, the field had been a bit rocky with pock marks. There were all kinds of forces operating in and out of school, in and out of the classroom even. And these forces had powers of varying concentrations. Some were physical and the rest, emotional. These were trying years when teen-agers could not ascertain where they could be classified. They looked matured but their psyche is still a notch older than a toddler. I was one of them. I thought I was strong enough to accept a brutal challenge from a heftier school mate, only to get horrified to feel the strength of his right hand. Good enough, I had a fairly swift footwork to evade the catastrophe. That day I pledged to stay in the gym for some work outs.
Projecting a muscled arm and bulging shoulders telegraph power. It is not only a means to attract the opposite sex but also impress the same gender. For a while, I was a hunk well except for my height. Then, out of the blues, the habit of reading has bitten me almost fatally. I could not sleep, eat, and interact in a day unless I have completed reading a book cover to cover. It was some kind of an obsession; a pathological defect says a book on behavior. I didn’t realize though that through reading, it would give me a philosophical understanding of how to get power and use it without even trying.
After graduating in college and a grueling scholastic period in post graduate, reading gave me a certain degree of power which initially I could not discern. It gave me a lot of ideas; it pushed me not only to learn more skills but nudged me always on the brink and edge of adventure. Reading eventually made me interested in several fields and disciplines. For some time, I was an artisan, scholar, craftsman, academician, physician, lawyer, musician, warrior and sage. Later in life, I would be transformed into a novelist, author and artist.
But the grandest and yet most trying episode I had on the application of power was my career in handling the most dangerous sector of our society—the insular prisoners, they whose maximum sentence is more than three years up to life imprisonment. In my tour of duty, diffidence aside, a mere sway of my hands could spell the future of a convict—whether he would land on his feet on the stage to get his diploma as a school graduate or land face down on the pavement thrown from the top floor of the inmate dormitory. I was on this situation at the age of 26 when I was appointed head of the Reception and Diagnostic Center of the National Penitentiary. It was a very authoritative position. I had full control on whether an inmate will live or die! And for 8 years, the prison facility with almost a thousand newly arrived convicts had been my turf, territory, kingdom, dominion.
Thereafter, I was promoted to the highest post in the appointive hierarchy of the organization as Penal Superintendent IV. I was sent to Davao Penal Colony, then with almost 3,500 inmates. Then to Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm, 3,000 inmates, next to San Ramon Penal Colony in Zamboanga del Sur with 800 prisoners and lastly at New Bilibid Prison complex with 25,000 prisoners. I was the personification of the State’s iron hand in dealing with prisoners. I was the epitome of national torment and virtually the main lever in the government’s foray towards hostage agony and management. I was more powerful than any local government monarch.
For some time power was my regular name and almost presumed to possess cruelty as my nickname. No. It never became that way though. I never handled power as a tool neither I played around with cruelty like a toy. During the course of my incumbency at the helm of total institutions, I was some kind of a big brother, an understanding buddy, a guidance counselor and a patient friend. But just the same, power, the raw and harsh kind still resided in my consciousness.
Power was there as guidepost in my instinct. And I showed it positively by pursuing college education for inmates, tolerating the growth of their creative talents in poetry, arts and entertainment, formulating programs for skills and talent development, conducting research and pioneering in the structural foundation of facilities like women’s correctional in Mindanao.
I could have used power as a matter of course in corrupting my environment, in depreciating humanity, in amassing abuses like ordinary bureaucrats or commonplace politicians.
I could have used power as means of revenge, reprisal and retaliation. For me, I could be brutally frank but not unkind.
I could have used power to demean, debase and destroy but I defer most of the time. There is wisdom in reflection. I had on my hand the machinery for everything devoted to debauchery but I ignored it completely.
Power meant for me embracing the goodness in man even if sometime past he was evil incarnate. Power is a means in my perspective to change not only the mind of a skeptic but introduce a heart to a callous person. I have seen bad men transformed into leaders in their respective community battling the demons of exploitation for his constituents. I was never wrong in treating offenders and accosting them back on the road to normalcy. And to think that almost all heroes and great men in history were imprisoned sometime in their lives.
It was a subdued period of almost 40 years in the prison service, well, 38 years to be exact.
I retired leaving behind power as it fulfilled and nourished hope and positive values in the prison community, classically perceived as domain of hopelessness and futility. I could stare in the heavens and heave a sigh of relief.
Now, without power and merely recalling how I expressed it in the past, I just could not help but smile and feel genuinely more powerful than when I was yielding it.