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old age

I have had a lot of high notes in correctional administration.  And I relish every moment of it.  I was a bubbly young man in my early 20s when public service beckoned and it is in the prison service where I stayed for almost two generations up until gray hair, wrinkled skin and shortness of breath would remind me that public service has a curtain time after all.

It is even ironic that expertise and proficiency would be achieved after years of practice.  And achieving it at a time when time is almost up.  On my way to the last stage of my career which would push me almost at the top, I realized that the game for me is about to be over.  I must convince my superior that those tailing my career path are already ready to take over.  That I must be given the leeway to set sail in another direction, towards the exit door and on that score, fade away, greetings of praise strewn on my way, sounds of clapping in between and more praises and assurances from those I have personally supervised, of having built a solid foundation of friendship in the process specially among my comrades, and I mean all personnel, in the organization.

I know for a fact that government service exacts a high degree of conduct precisely from its rank and file.  A single error, a flaw or a minute incident could blow the lid and the disgrace of suspension from the service if not dismissal is just around the corner.  A career built seriously on the ground of scholarly audacity must never be saddled with such interruption.  And this can be done by bowing slowly, walking away carefully, seeking refuge in some familiar corners, never mind if there are no more powers to be yielded, never mind if some friends could no longer be assisted, never mind if in a minute one finds himself outside the active loop of the organization.

Retirement is just another phase, and to a certain extent, a sad one at that.  It is leaving familiar grounds.  It is leaving behind a coterie of admirers and helpless seekers.  It is entering another episode without the mandatory organizational discipline of filing daily time records, of responding immediately to the call of a superior, of being blamed, of being suspected and of being ignored too when recognition is the topic.  I would also miss those moments whenever I would become a subject of a poison letter.  It is the whole caboodle of experience one undergoes every so often.  It is foregoing the fireworks that accompany work.  It is getting into the grove of unemployment.

Most of my contemporaries have retired already.  Some went abroad.  Some got into a small scale business.  Others went around looking for another job.  A good number however were admitted into the pearly gates a few Samsung versions ago.

This is one period closer to the end game.  It is some kind of a stage where sickness is almost a second nature.  The wear and tear of the body slowly shows up in colorful form.  Whatever has been saved, whatever has been invested seems to find its way either to the hospital or the drug store, the better part however goes inside the pocket of the doctor.

Life is reinvented after the culmination of a career.  Another challenge beckons.  Sensitivity is sharpened once in a while.  A whiff of air at times is seen as godsend, if unguarded it could mean some inconsiderate soul hurled something somewhere.  The body’s chemistry is always at odds with reality.  Old age has come of age.

Most of my loved ones, those who accompanied me from birth have occupied slots in heaven already.  They are now watching over me if I intend to fly fast to reach them or will just observe how I will transform myself from a gutsy looking menace into a wobbly worm like centenarian.  Time is grinding fast or slow depending on how one spends it.  For me, it is the usual movement of the clock, the bundy clock in my office on one hand, the wristwatch on the other.

It is ticking away a period, translating it into memories.  It is preserving a speck of an instance in the whole spectrum of the universe.  It is fading away, slowly, all alone, appreciating the panorama, a beautiful expanse I once was a part of, my home for decades, my philosophical solace—the prison service.






shit happens

One dreary day, after the regular headcount, a keeper submits his report.  However, there is a twist.  One among thousands under his watch is missing.  And so, he takes pain to look for this missing inmate.  He cannot allow his record besmirched much more so for an impending administrative case in the event that the missing ward has finally been recorded as nowhere.  For the security personnel designated as keeper, this is just one of the days he abhorred.  For him this could be something like “shit happens!”


Of course, there is always a happy ending.  After a thorough search, the officer would later be informed that the inmate has been admitted in the prison hospital.  Or, he failed to report back having spent the night with a relative or friend in some dormitories outside of his building.  Well, for the inmate who failed to ask permission and got his custodian into a dizzying plane, a few knuckles on his temple could have spelt also something like being given a plate of shit!


In prison, the issue of missing has despicable angle also.  Aside from accidental slip, aside from “bangungot”, aside from heart attack, there is the matter of absence from the roll.  In this case, the keeper, the patrol and the perimeter guards are haled and investigated for possible lapses and eventually, an administrative charge.  Having been penalized for suspension and serving such penalty, the truth usually would stare administration years later.  Bones and remains of a chopped person would be unearthed in some compost pit within the camp, a victim of internal strife among prisoners.  This is more prevalent than those who would succeed in tunneling through the facility.


For the prison administrator in charge of managing a congested facility, it is not only a matter of shit happening, it is always a case of shit everywhere.


There will always be trouble somewhere.  There will always be misunderstanding and outright confusion.  In a crowded community, one cannot evade being intrigued and getting involved in a quarrel.  For always, there will be those who will impose their will and would impose their influence no matter how trivial it is.  And when this happens, disorder is not far.  And when there is disorder and there is no semblance of control, hell breaks out.


Frustration is written in every alley of the prison camp.  It is decorated not only in a savage way from the facial expression of the denizens; it is marked in every motion where a prisoner wishes to traverse.  All prisoners dream of freedom specially those who have served time at least from the way they were informed.  All of them wanted to be heard and understood.  The phenomenal rise of gangs is born out of this requirement.  Gangs represent the baser instinct, the baser hopes and the baser security of an individual member.


To a large extent, gangs are not only gate keepers but shit keepers as well.





The criminal justice system must be applied in a cold, neutral and objective manner.  It cannot be otherwise or the system would loose its meaning.  It must pass muster from law enforcement to prosecution, from the courts through corrections, until eventually towards community.  That is how it should work.


Considering the fact that of all imperatives of criminal justice, it is in corrections where a convict stays and spends a considerable period of time, a different projection is therefore to be applied.  From a cold, neutral and objective way, corrections must exude a different persona, a relatively contrasting persona from that of the system.  The prison community must perceive their authorities not from the prism of hostility but rather from the point of fair alliance.  That is to say that prisoners must realize that their custodians as parent, as friend, as confidant.


There is no other way unless one intends to breach the principles of human rights and transgress every effort to make prison life a humane community.


Corrections adheres to safekeeping and rehabilitation of offenders.  The only way through this mandate to be applied is through the heart and mind.  It may be off tangent with what has been its traditional past, its recent behavioral relations but working on the welfare of the prison community does not sit well with imposing tortures and harassments.


Offenders have violated the norms of society.  They have disturbed the peace and desecrated public safety.  Their notoriety equates disenfranchisement with social life.  As a result, they should bear the brunt of segregation and enforced lamentation in a small space called prison.  If at all they are beyond redemption, the State could have unplugged all hopes and should have pulled the lever of extermination.  But it cannot.  The criminal justice administration has as yet to fulfill the apex of justice, the true determination of truth.  As it were, there are a number of acquittal in prison, this for a period after review of (some even would take place over) 10 years!


Name every person of substance, any hero even any spiritual leader, be they event makers or event made.  Name any one who has achieved greatness and significance.  All of them have something in common—they were all imprisoned once upon a time.


The guilty and innocents are within the enclave devoted to incarceration.  Like the free community they are there co existing, partaking of life in a restricted and limited manner.  Prison could only offer so much.  But there is one area, which can level this up and promote justice in the real sense—the correctional orientation of its officers.


They should believe that their role is crucial in the mandate of rehabilitation, in the course of behavioral reformation.  From their ranks should emanate the principle of brotherhood, of concern as in family ties and commitment in the pursuit of friendship.  Such persuasive projection to the prison community could lead eventually to a change of perception, from hostility to cooperation, from treachery to collaboration.  Such is the essence of reform, the lifeblood of rehabilitation, the soul of corrections.



Here is a rare case of a prisoner who never believed in his guilt, went through the rigors of imprisonment and found himself not serving time but spending it in another way, much more like an employee than an inmate in the prison community.  It is in treating himself, projecting and acting that this inmate was regarded more as a prison worker than someone incarcerated.  Trust in the prison camp is as rare as an extinct animal and to be trusted is an accolade similar to the conferment of a medal of valor.


Glen H was in his late 30s when he found himself charged with an offense for fraud.  He was arrested and arraigned, jailed and later convicted.  When he was sent to Davao Penal Colony, he was nowhere between life and desperation.  He never knew where to begin.  Except for his confidence and positive outlook, he understood the prevailing rules.  In prison, there is no middle ground—it is always a strict relationship between the ruler and the ruled, between authority and subordinate, between the powerful and the powerless.


For Glen, power resides not in position but in one’s disposition.  He knows this by heart.  His jail immersion taught him the dynamics of communal life.  While the free community afforded him a certain perspective in social interaction, the jail atmosphere influenced him on surviving all-alone by himself.


After a year of jail detention, he was convicted by the courts and shipped to Davao Penal Colony to serve his sentence.  He was lucky to have been sent to Dapecol.  Unlike in other penal establishment, the prison facility no longer has gangs.  It was a leveled playing field for first offenders like him.  He can volunteer to his guard and supervisors to be of help in anyway without courting the ire of any powerful group inside.  In no time, he was an errand, a go-to guy, a clerk, a supervising cleaner, cook, runner.  He was even fond of declaring that he was the original “Iron Man!”  He was in charge of ironing the uniform of a number of prison guards.


Whenever there are prison programs, he would find himself at the center—as organizer, facilitator and moderator.  He thought that fairness, equality and evenhandedness could only be found virtually in prison.  He never experienced these social attributes while he was in the free community.  After five years, he felt that he was not only an offender serving time, but also a prison worker advocating on the mandate of fair play.


Time came for him to bid prison goodbye.  He received a notice that he was granted executive clemency.  He knew that eventually he would leave the community that taught him, of all life-changing lessons, the virtue of honesty.  He would once again rejoin the free community where a person in order to succeed and survive must be mendacious and dishonest.  He knew that everything he learned while serving time must have to be sidelined if only to endure the varied challenges of living at the edge.  Henceforth, he would be labeled as ex-convict and the free community would cast a suspicious look at him.


And true enough.  While Glen was a picture of a reformed man in prison, outside he is once again a predator.  He knew that in the free community, the honest man is rare and it is one specie that easily perishes.



prison gangs

The biggest and the most difficult challenge a correctional administrator faces in managing the prison community is how to compel prisoners to observe institutional discipline.  Not that there is deficiency of rules nor dearth of implementers but prisoners, the present crop, have devolved a kind of leadership pattern within their community which the correctional system must have to match.   


To understand gangs in the correctional setting, one must appreciate its origin and the evolution of its direction.   Before, those who had the guts and the heart to kill and had a record to boot on a number of people taken down were easily chosen as leaders.  In prison parlance, they are referred to as “bosyo” or gang lord.  Years later, the leadership quality would shift from the “mad killer” type to the “intellectual” category.  This leader can easily negotiate, had a charm to speak in behalf of his group and had skills to communicate collective requirements to prison administration.  The intellectuals’ days however were quickly doused with the entry of the so-called “super-rich” inmates, the drug lords, the politicians and celebrity prisoners.  Gangs never selected them—-they bought gangs to favor them and do their bidding.  For a time, they called the shots, bribed their way to fulfill their requirements and paid everyone to make life for them in prison as convenient as possible.  THEN, a new crop of leaders grew from the ranks of prisoners.  They are the courageous, the intelligent, and not only resourceful but with plenty of resources leading the pack.  They comprise a combination of leadership qualities, which can instantly challenge prison administration degree-by-degree, intensity alongside passion and with an unbridled commitment to a cause.


Faced with this brand of trailblazers from the prison community, prison authorities are confronted with the problem of imposing control.  As a matter of fact, the issue of control is the principal consideration in correctional administration.  The question that remains is:  who is really in control?  We start our analysis with the profile of the protagonists on the field.  The kind of leadership, their preparation and their respective readiness to embrace a challenge is to be reckoned in understanding the climate of the prison community. 


Like a traditional baptism of fire or a cultural initiation rite, the prison community greets a new prison leader with a series of violence displayed to get attention.  This is to ascertain if the prison administrator can act on dispatch or would vacillate.   This passage is true when a prison facility allows gangs to predominate its landscape.  While dividing the prison camp into manageable partitions may sound effective, if it is not done into categories and conducted in a manner that would allow a grouping strictly according to community of orientation, then prison administration would be at a disadvantage in controlling communal order.


The prison community is a composite company of inmates who are still hopeful of a better future after a period of incarceration.  They comprise almost 50% of the population.  These are also referred to as the “first offenders.”  The 30% are the physically challenged and almost insensitive to their environment.  They are considered resigned to their fate and some kind of reactionaries.  They are highly emotional and are inclined to be sympathetic of the first offenders.  The remaining 20% are the restless, the aggressive and hostile kind.  They may be considered as a minority but from their ranks are born the real firebrand, the leaders of the prison community.  While this category can influence and push the 30% according to their design, the 50% however is their countervailing force.  How the prison administrator can harness benefits of peace and harmony from this profile is the basic challenge of his profession.


Unfortunately in our society, which relies mainly on how media projects social interest, it is also in prison where they get their comeuppance.  When, prison is silent, the presumption is that the prisoners are living with convenience.  In their estimation, criminals should never be permitted to live in harmony since they are all under punishment and therefore should be submerged in fear.  On the other hand, if there is violence in prison, it is presumed that management is bungling and inept.  In both instances, prison administration is usually blamed and at the losing end.  If only media knows the intricacies in prison work that they will appreciate the sacrifices of the prison workers.  To a certain extent, prison realities should never be broadcasted at all.  There is still the principle of privacy, which should be respected.




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