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WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE IMPRISONED

prisoner alone

 

The correctional process starts from the time the accused is convicted.  Corrections presuppose the assumption of guilt.   In corrective service, rehabilitation and safekeeping are its principal mandate.  Under the regime, a prisoner must live under a school environment and in a quasi-disciplined nay contemplative manner, something akin to the institute of wizards in Harry Potter series.

Countless of materials, books even movies were inspired by prisons.  There is something in prison that makes creativity soar to high heavens.  There is also something in the prisoner that makes him extra ordinarily sharp, perhaps sharper than anyone in the free community.  It could be fear or boredom, genius or criminal proclivity, or faith, or maybe the sense of hopelessness, whatever.

Masterpieces in work of art and literature could be found and could have been produced by prisoners themselves.  Remember the novel, Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes?  It was drafted and written in a dungeon (there was no prison cell yet during that time) while Cervantes was serving time.  The novel was considered the best literary piece, greater than any of the works of Shakespeare.  And the likes of such creativity was never accidental at all.  It may however be incidental.

There were also literary pieces, biographical works, films depicting lives of prisoners.  And whenever details of their lives are featured, all the elements of drama represent a spectacle in itself.

But what makes the story interesting is how the prisoner survives the daily grind of routine.  How he manages to keep his mind away from thoughts of defeat notwithstanding the fact that his imprisonment is a direct consequence of loss.  How he would fashion out from nowhere ideas which in the free community he dared ignored—like revisiting faith and reviewing his fate.  He knew that being alone in a crowd is a stiff punishment worse than being alone.  Life is not made to be stale in an artificial cage; life is never designed to be tamed at all.

Yet a prisoner must serve his time.  This is the cost of living in a society of laws.  In prison, he once again reenters a new world which is composed of rules on top of laws.  It is like playing basketball for years on end without “time outs” or quarterly breaks.  To complain is an introduction to breaking down.  To play with rancor is to invite insanity.

Prisoners represent new specie invented by civilization.  They are there expected to be obedient, compelled by courts, held by walls, restricted by technicalities.  Their lives are animated by a barrage of mind-numbing routine.  Familiarity is the order of the day in the prison community.

Here is one instance when denizens of correctional facilities wish for congestion and disorder, for disunity and chaos to find their humanity intact.  These would also spell for them significant privileges and treats.  Human rights are born not in the silent confines of a regularly maintained camp.  It is the effect of conditions neglected almost criminally by the establishment.

In an uncanny situation where facilities remain as it were and where influx of offenders keep on mounting, it is not therefore bizarre to claim that imprisonment is an act considered as Man’s inhumanity to Man.

 

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INTERVIEWING THE MERCHANTS OF DEATH

merchant of death

They were the precursors of bootleg industry during the Prohibition.    But times have changed and liquors are no longer illegal, as a matter of fact it is even a formal part in diplomatic circle as a toast during vin d’honneur.

 

And then the arms race and the industry of warfare became a million dollar commerce.  Thereafter, narcotic trade came into the picture.  At the onset, even the underworld was divided as far as illegal drugs are concerned.  Mafia groups could not even unite and would even cause rupture in their operations if only to pursue illegal drug trade.  It was however recently when those involved in narcotics business would win in capturing a large consuming audience over and above gambling, prostitution and other worldly vices.

 

Philippine drug enforcement agencies estimate the illegal drug trade in the country as a one -billion -peso -a -day industry.  It is even greater and bolder than any other commercial venture in the country.  In other countries, like Columbia, illegal drug industry is even more feasible than government contracts.  Drug lords in that country, out of braggadocio, were even offering their government to pay off all its debts!  There was a period in political history when a country would have elected a leader using illegal drug funds, hence the term narco-politics.

 

Those at the forefront of illegal drug trade in their battle and would clash with law enforcement find themselves at the end of line.  Some would successfully elude the law, some would find compromise and skirt penalty through legal machination and others would bear the brunt of the country’s anti drug laws.  The latter would become recipient of harsh penalties as prescribed by law.

 

Those who would be sentenced and made to serve time, the so called drug lords, would also be known as the new merchants of death.  They are legally tucked in the bowels of our society, transformed into a stat in prison and made to live along with  the scums and scoundrels of society, at times integrating and leading the pack if only to survive in a homogenous setting.

 

One day, one of them would brave to have an audience in my office, with me as prison administrator.  I am not in the habit of calling any prisoner.  Doing that would mean that I need something from them.  That is the usual impression.  And so I would require anyone if they have some problems or matters to be cleared which could no longer be addressed by ranking officers, my office is open.  And so there was this inmate whose name sounded foreign who braved to see me in my office.  Foreign prisoners are afraid of prison authorities.

 

The inmate stood at attention in front of my table, to his right was a prison officer watching over his shoulder.  I motioned for the inmate to sit down.  I always see to it that every time I allow an audience from an inmate, his summary prison record has been forwarded already so that I know his profile already beforehand.

 

The inmate before me was the dreaded drug lord, haunted and hunted by government agents for years until finally he was bagged, prosecuted and convicted to serve time for life.  That means he will spend the rest of his youthful lifespan in detention.  On that occasion, the one opposite my table, live as he was, is someone referred to as a merchant of death.

 

But he begged off from the impression.  According to him, “I am just an ordinary businessman.  That is true, I trade on narcotics.  I know it is bad for the body, deleterious to health even.  But the only difference with those whose business is cigarettes, booze and high cholesterol food is the law.  The law decrees that addictive drugs are illegal to be dispensed.  All others, our products limits life, disturb the mind and endanger health.  But who cares.  There are consumers and business principle requires that one should proceed where money is whatever is the situation.”

 

He continued, “If I am a merchant of death, so is the cigarette salesman, the liquor store owners and even hotels for that matter and those vendors in market place selling pork skin (chicharon)!

 

Now, how do I make one out of this encounter.  The inmate appeared before my office complaining that there are persons in authority who would badger him every now and then.  His things would be frisked repeatedly.  He would even be cajoled to come across as in buying peace of mind.  In his previous milieu, he was a god, dispensing and distributing drugs to those willing to trade.  He was the most respected in his sphere.  He can procure everything that he fancies.  He can have almost everything from power to influence.  Everyone has a price tag.  He knows the amount of the good and the bad.

 

Until he encounters one of his kind.  One who intends to replace his godly post in the underworld.  And he is sold in the black market of law enforcement.  Result:  conviction.  He is one among several inmates, who, on a yearly basis, would flock and comprise almost the other half of the entire prison population.  This sector pejoratively called by their kith and kin, this time around, as merchants of death.

 

And, all he wanted was to serve time, alone without duress and threats.

 

 

WHAT TO DO WITH PRISONERS WHO ARE INNOCENT OF CRIME

innocent prisoners

Dr. Raymund Narag was just fortunate.  This according to his testimony.  He was charged with a murder case in 1992, an incident that brought to the fore issues on fraternity violence and he was one among several young men —all members of the UP Scintilla Juris Fraternity—who were immediately clamped in jail for the alleged felony.

Seven years later, (that is right, 7 years)  the court handed down a decision clearing Narag of the offense while his co-accused bore the burden of serving time for the crime committed.  After the decision was promulgated, all his accused were subsequently transferred from Quezon City jail to the National Penitentiary to serve time.

Raymund came back to his Alma Mater (UP Diliman)  to receive honors and diploma as scholar and cum laude at the UP NCPAG where he completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration.

Thereafter, he continued his quest for more academic degrees and went to US to further pursue graduate studies.  He was admitted as a instructor in Michigan University where he also earned his Masteral and Doctorate in the School of Criminal Justice and lately, moved and became a member of the faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  He kept his linkage with Philippine learning institutions and occasionally  would return to the country to pursue consultancy work.

Last July 11, 2013 on invitation of the Bureau of Corrections, as sponsored by the Asian Development Bank, he was tapped as resource speaker on the formulation of an ideal prison facility.  For him, it was an ironic exposure.

Sometime ago, he was a detainee in congested Quezon city jail for seven years.  He would have been inside the Penitentiary with his fellow frat brothers had he not been acquitted.  In front of prison officers, he laid down one principle after another on how to design and administer a penal institution.  He knows whereof he speaks.  He was for sometime a denizen and now as expert after continuing with postgraduate research on life behind bars.

During his lecture, he remarked that those of his co-accused who were sentenced to serve time in the Penitentiary are, like him, also innocent of the charges.  He said in all those times he visited them, he advised that “you came in clean, you must go out clean also.”  That, according to him, is the mark of innocence.

For him, criminal justice in the country, without even mentioning it though, is paradoxical.  And they are not alone.  For quite sometime, regular releases in penal establishments include cases of acquittal too after a lengthy period of incarceration.  Thespian Berting Labra, after 16 years in Death Row was released after the Supreme Court decided on his innocence.  Hubert Webb is another.  After 19 years, he was released after the High Court was not convinced on his guilt.  And more.  Countless inmates who have not appealed also are serving time for no reason at all!

There are administrative remedies.  Those incarcerated and were acquitted are qualified to seek redress and compensation from the Department of Justice under the victimology (victim assistance) program.  The Commission on Human Rights also is championing through the courts compensatory reliefs by way of damages.  But is it worth?  A day in prison is a lifetime scar.  It is an unthinkable and humiliating experience.  It directly assaults the soul.  However, one can only understand this within the purview of fate.

Innocents in prison?  It is like a healthy person confined in the hospital, bombarded with prescription drugs, tested with numerous injectables, fed with salt less meals, checked and monitored almost every hour, garbed in dextrose and due for surgical transplant.

PRISONIZATION AND ITS EFFECTS

prisonization

When we talk of that experience where a person loses control of himself, of trailing his sense of direction, of draining some measure of hope, of being indifferent, uncaring, cold and unsympathetic; of allowing incidents to take precedent over all matters pertaining his capacity, then that person is having a syndrome only correctional workers are vulnerable to contract.  They are most likely to be prisonized.

A prison worker is immersed in a marginal community that is the exact opposite of the free community.  But for an inmate, the prison community is an accepted reality.  Here life is governed by the minutest of rules not only imposed by prison administration but also inflicted by longer serving denizens.

For the worker however, it is an ambiguity.  While he exacts response from his institutional wards in a manner, which he expects from a normal situation, he receives a different reaction.  Finally, he develops an unhealthy picture of a person who is subdued, passive and submissive—a different behavior that is reserved and calculated.  Without realizing it, he changes from an understanding person to a high-strung character with superiority complex.

The prison community is a secluded world where deception carries the day.  Every inmate must have to live under a regime of duplicity.  Every officer must always confront a situation where he should always be on top.  Inability to cope with these behavioral conditions lowers their guard and they easily succumbed into a gloomy streak.

The challenge is a daily workout, a usual component of the slow and grinding humdrum.  For the inmate, he must have to resign early to his fate.  He must embrace what is given.  He must realize that to be hopeless is to regain his sanity.  He must be contented in a situation calling for discontentment.  He should never expect anything more than what is provided for the moment.  To harbor thoughts of the future is already treading the road to perdition.  He must live for the day.  He must shun the past and ignore the future.  Failure to grasp this response is playing into the hands of destruction.  The inmate knows this by heart.

But for the prison worker, for prison volunteers as well, this is something new.  It is an almost 360 degree re-orientation.  He carries with him the standards of the free community since he belongs there in the first place but in his immersion during his tour of duty in a marginal community, he suddenly would encounter the reversal of his socially conditioned replies.  While adjusting and in the process of imbibing such change in his personal projections, he is already being infested with what is referred to as prisonization.

There is however a way out for the prison worker to wiggle away from this condition.  His unit if not his organization must have a code of honor to live by, a shield against behavioral transference, a psychological armor and an emotional buffer against a homogenous social stimulation.  This code he must determine and formulate along with his peers.  In its absence, everything that moves and crawls are subject to the most morbid effects of the prison culture.

THE CONSEQUENCE OF IMPRISONMENT

jail inmates

Why do we operate jails that are already filled to the brim with little budgetary provision and deficiently maintained unable to fulfill the mandate of safekeeping when we do not have enough resources to sustain its upkeep?  Why not send the accused—those charged with capital offense—to prisons where its space can humanely accommodate, if only fleetingly but better than the pathetic jails, while awaiting judgment from the courts?

*****

Our prisons are congested, true but it has vast penal reservation from where additional facilities can be constructed.  Jails on the other hand have little space, a limited area on which to build additional accommodations even if it wanted to expand further for its growing population.  We cannot even compel the judiciary to immediately decide on criminal cases so what happens is that those charged, specially those who cannot post bail or whose cases are unbailable must have to squeeze themselves in makeshift structures we refer to as lockups.  And die or live with recurring nightmares of cruelty.

*****

The consequence of pressing people into a small contraption has deleterious effect on their humanity.  Worst, their humanity is lost and in turn, they are initiated further to a life of hostility.  If at all they survive the filth, the disorder and obscenity, they are mostly like to evolve into persons without compunction, without conscience and without values.

*****

Behind every gruesome crime, every heinous offense, every horrible wrongdoing is a person who underwent a period of jail detention.  Check those jam-packed and choking local confinement facilities and those who went through it; and, then verify those who are charged of odious crimes.  Most likely one would discover the complimentary nature of its lethal combination.  We continue ignoring the conditions of these jails, we directly accept our fate as potential victims of this breed of offenders later.

*****

Before, when we hear that someone was robbed, it was already a sensational deviation.  Now, such offense barely gets into the limelight.  Crimes today are different from those committed before.  We oftentimes hear of someone not only being robbed but slaughtered at the same time after a period of prolonged torture.   This is a consequence where an offender is mixed with and unsegregated in swarming holding cells.  They unwittingly exchange false values and learn the criminal trade in one sitting in an inhumanly crowded situation.  A period under this condition is enough to ignite the evolution of a serial offender immersed in wickedness and waiting for an opportunity to spread hell.

*****

Let us forget ourselves for our inaction but just think of our children.  They will be exposed to real danger because of our indecisiveness.  Calling on all our leaders in the criminal justice administration.  It is your turn to do something for your children’s sake.

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