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WHAT IS THERE IN THE PRISON SERVICE FOR THE WORKER

prison work

First off, employment.  Nowadays, it does not pay to be unemployed, or even to be underemployed.  If you are married, you have to grab the proverbial steel blade (kapit sa patalim) just to be employed —-in whatever manner, in whatever way.  But working in government is a simple proposition if you have the credentials like the Civil Service eligibility.  (As a matter of fact, under the Senate Bill 3335 otherwise known as Corrections Act of 2012, once it is signed into law, the qualification, the eligibility part would play a major employment norm.  No eligibility, no admission into the government service.  Those who were fortunate to have been employed notwithstanding deficiency in credential like no CSC eligibility will be required to possess it within 5 years or face the prospects of attrition.  That is, one is either separated in the service or allowed to retire. )   It works wonder if you have it.  Passing it is not a breeze but for those who regularly read the dailies, it is almost a song.  Readers have certain advantages over those who are not.  That is one skill which the school ought to impose on its studentry but commercialism dictates that it is not the priority.  Hence, most of the graduates have no interest, much more so, any penchant at all to read.  As a consequence, they almost always fail in admission examinations like CSC (first or second grade) eligibility exams.

But this is not yet the real score on why work in prison when there are other services which are less hazardous, less unwholesome, less intriguing, less frustrating.  Of course, the argument is better settled when one would exclaim that there are no more vacancies in other institutions.  There is also the traditional outlook that there are friends, close ones, possibly relatives who can facilitate one’s employment application in the prison agency.  Despite the belief on the contrary, it pays to have some connections to gain employment; so most of those who were able to get items in the prison service have internal linkages one way or another.

Of course, a college degree, the preparatory learning has a lot to do with the choice.  There are a lot of students who completed the course on Criminology and failing to get the necessary adrenalin to fight for a slot in law enforcement (read police), they end up trying their luck to seek employment in the prison service.  Those who complete the collegiate course on Crim and eventually pass the board exam for Criminologist or either way, pass the CSC eligibility exams, are favored to jumpstart their career in corrections.  The first choice is the police service because it is more adventuresome, more powerful, more visible and the respect for wearing the uniform and bearing firearms, impact on the neighborhood.  The second choice is somewhere in other branches of criminology—fire, jail, traffic, customs, airport security, etc.  The third is prison service.  The alternative choice may be referred to in this regard is from those without direct connection in the prison organization.  If employment is open, then applicants are screened and if qualified, become members of the correctional agency.

Once initiated within the intricate woodwork of the prison community, one realizes that he also has entered a domain strictly exclusive.  He finds that most of the surnames of those he would meet in the course of his regular duties came from a direct relation from senior officers in the organization.

Once upon a time, during War years, most of those students stranded (during wartime schools are closed) found employment in prison, especially those from towns nearby.  They were the ambitious, studious and determined type; and they were easily absorbed in the prison service.  Years later, they would produce children of equal motivation.   The children would become doctors, lawyers, engineers, priests, professionals.  The black sheep, so called in the families, those who never made good in school and those who merely coasted along, were compelled and pushed to take over the items left by their parents due to retirement.  Hence, for a while, the prison service was handled and supervised by a weak crop of officers, and quite unfortunately, this was at a time when corrections was on its developmental stage in the late 70s.

Succeeding generation of officers has since taken over the former fledging batch.   They were the audacious, confident and prudent type.  While they carried the idealism of youth in government, the shallow exposure to poor quality of education had a toll on their performance.  They could not express themselves fully rendering report preparation and communication on the level of commonplace.  They would easily be impressed by talented prisoners.  There was even a time when prisoners were even tapped to prepare their academic requirements like thesis writing and term papers.

That generation of officers was subsequently replaced by the enterprising kind.  This was in the years of 2000.  There were transfers from other agencies.  There were also casualties, like those separated from the service.  And their replacements came from outside applicants.   They were the board passers.  They were the lateral entrants.  New blood so to speak.  They easily took over the reins and began a series of professional make over for the prison system.  From their ranks would easily develop a competent row of future administrators.

Suddenly, the effect of political appointments began to be felt.  Competence of the organization has to be sacrificed if only to accommodate the learning curve of the Presidential appointee.  And it marked on the subconscious of the worker.  They need not perform well at a time when such initiative may be seen as suspect.  Those who expressed consistency in work would be barred and frozen.  Canine devotion was to be preferred to talents and aptitude.  Some would chose to leave the institution and transfer to another agency with a heavy heart.

There is therefore a need for a law that would highlight corrections as a profession.  That day would come.  A few days before 2012 ended, the 15th Congress passed on third reading the Bureau of Corrections Act.  This eventually would situate corrective service in the country towards the 21st century.

Those present and currently in the prison service have high hopes to pin their aspirations and proficiency on.  Once signed by the President and passed as a Law, the prison service will not only serve as a beacon for the remaining batch of prison officers but would also serve as a bright star, a flare of inspiration if you may, in the criminal justice system of the country.  After all, once corrections was the only antiquated part of the system for years on end.

For the worker in the prison service, there is more reason to welcome the coming year.

THE COMMON LAW WIFE AND THE PRISONER: A Tale of Two Visitors

I have been a prison administrator for more than three decades and the prison community is almost like my world.  Actually it is the only universe I know outside of the solar system.  Passing through, making way, getting to, working on has been a principal concern of my office right inside the prison compound.  I am always in the habit  of jotting down anything I could fancy,  recording, taking notes on various aspects of institutional life, analyzing matters that border on the extraordinary.  After all, the prison community is one such homogenous society, the exact opposite of the free community and completely different and composed of a galaxy of characters that pulsate on a different plane by its own right.  It has its own culture and norm, language and even a share of something unusual and exceptional.

There is one aspect that invited curious attention.  This is one group that stands out from the time the gates of prison is opened for visitation.  9 out of 10 visitors are closely related to the prison population.  They are almost an institution in itself.  They are the common-law-wives—the informal better-halves of prisoners.  And there are two categories here of this marital situation.  Those who were contracted before, that are, prior to incarceration.  And those, while under detention.

The relationship forged before and after would intersect at the cross roads in prison and the effects are telling.  This can be represented by two cases.

Mila regularly visits his common-law-husband in prison.  They have five children and she was forced to do laundry to sustain the family.  In between breaks from contracted household chore, she would pay a visit to the prison community.  Sometimes she would bundle the youngest so that her spouse would have an inspiration while serving time.  During visitation, the couple could be seen in one corner pledging undying support for one another and praying for another lease of opportunity to do the right thing after the period of incarceration.

Landa regularly visits his common-law-husband in prison too.  She knew her husband through correspondence.  She was a household help and she oftentimes spend her whole afternoon listening to radio while doing the chores.  She heard the story of one prisoner who was in dire need of counsel and she would correspond to him regularly.   She was impressed with the guy and so she braved to pay him a visit.  She withdrew a part of her savings, bought some groceries and went to the penal facility to check on her new acquaintance.  She expected something romantic since in their exchange of letters the man has been daring her for a relationship.  From that time on, she would regularly attend to her beau and the man, who swore as estranged already from any relationship, would go further by writing authorities to record the name of the visitor as his common-law-wife.

For every Mila in the visitation hall, there were five Landas in the midst.  The Milas would be repaid with fanatical loyalty when their loved ones see the light of freedom.  The Landas on the other hand would partake a different path.  They will be given a number of promises, sweet and encouraging ones, but when their spouse would be discharged they would be left only with a promise of a fulfilling company.  The Landas would wait a lifetime for the promise to be fulfilled until she would again trek the prison to check on a common friend on the status of her man.  The visit in prison would initiate another relationship after a word would be heard that her man has been declared as  desaparacido—missing and presumed dead already.  Although prisoners whose relationship was contracted while in detention would find the relationship as favorable while serving time, once released they find that having another at their back is a baggage and useless for a traveler.  Besides, prisoners would rather go back to their community of orientation and to their families after a period of absence.

And so the Landas would be left holding an empty bag.  They would however be consoled by their common friend, another prisoner who takes interest in them.  They, individually, would be an assiduous visitor to her new found lover until release would separate them.  She would be back in prison, already ageing and still hopeful.  She knew prison like the back of her hand already, street smart and confident despite the numerous times she felt duped.  She may not be able to project a competitive look among the new Landas in the midst but she could facilitate everything for the prison community.  She can be a mule for their requirements, legal and illegal.  They represent the silent but menacing third category among those queuing daily to enter the prison visitation hall.

For prison administrators, identifying this specific sector is already an accomplishment.

A HOSPICE FOR RELEASED ELDERLY PRISONERS

An important function I exercise as a prison administrator is to sign release papers of prisoners who have completed serving their sentence.  One out of every 100 released prisoners is an elderly; someone whose age is 65 years old and above.   Along this line,  I wish to share an instance recently.

One fine day while picking stocks for my personal subsistence, I met an old man slowly creeping in one dingy corner of the market place and I recognized the man as one of those whom I counseled before handing over their discharge papers.  He was once a prisoner and was already out in the open, a member of the free community and must be relishing the air of freedom.  He must be that happy except that he was old and probably no family to turn to.  He was probably looking intently at me, trying to figure out where we met.  I had the same difficulty too until I saw a familiar tag, a tattoo on his arm.

On my way back to my vehicle, I was searching for something to anchor my observation that day.   I thought that I should also conduct a follow through for this particular sector.  In my mind, I was asking, “Is this the real score or is it only a rare, uncommon situation.  An exceptional case.”   I was intrigued how an elderly prisoner once released would fare in the free community.  And so I improvised a crude tracking system just to satisfy my conscience.

Our culture values the presence of the elderly, no doubt.  They are looked up to and consulted.  We defer and respect their opinion; their witticism and wisdom are oftentimes reckoned.  This adulation however is reserved only for those who have something to pass on by way of inheritance.  But what happens when the elderly, unable to find a job, completely dependent, physically weak and unable to stand the rigors of labor seeks succor from his family.  In other words, what if the elderly is economically reliant on a family sustained by shoestring budget which is what majority of families are in the first place. He had no other recourse but be a mendicant.   He seeks solace in the street begging for alms, mercy and sympathy.  Well, not so much on mercy and sympathy actually but more for alms actually.  They are literally thrown into the public pavement to compete with peddlers, hawkers and all sorts of street urchins.  They are already an encumbrance and they are prone to envy the dead more than the living.  And these are our ordinary and common elderly.

What if said aged person would come out of institutional life, to face squarely the reality of pounding one’s hand to earn a living.  A released elderly prisoner therefore is facing a blank wall.  He has no family waiting for him.   If at all there were relatives he could identify, he is wont to contact them anymore since he can no longer contribute and would only pose as an overhead expense for them.  Prisons has reduced his reputation into tatters and he slips into that unwanted and loathed sector, an afflicted and detested portion of an active population.  In prison, they are already a burden; outside, much more so.

And so I went to see a hospice in a nearby town to have these released prisoners admitted.  Local governments do not usually have a program for this sector.  The considerate looking administrator immediately explained that the hospice is a private facility and every ward is duly sustained by a monthly service fee.  Accomplished children with no one to attend to their parents would enroll their elders in this facility.  So nothing goes for free.  If at all I would introduce a senior citizen into the fold, I must pay the corresponding sustenance.

I went further with another approach.  I have recently organized a correctional institution for women within the vast penal reservation and in my projections I would require some of the female inmates to undergo training as caregivers.  After exposing the idea to the general prison population, almost all the female wards well except for the infirmed and the physically challenged received the proposal positively.  Accordingly, they could repay their debts to society by doing something good to their conscience rather than idle themselves awaiting for the date of their release.   They were animated to immerse and apply their skills on the job.

I have already identified a good site nearby the correctional facility for women.  I was able to interest a few friends in the private sector.  However, I intently toned down the rhetoric because politicians may pick it up for their opinionated purposes and it would be bad for a budding cause.  On the way to fulfilling a dream, it’s all systems go.

And so the journey to organize a hospice for the elderly released prisoners has began.

 

DR. CECILIO H. PENSON: An Enigma

dr penson sketch

I have encountered a lot of prison volunteers in my long span of career in the prison service but there is one person I considered a mystery—an enigma.  He came into an area abhorred and detested by the free community.  Prison is not a picture perfect place to spend one’s fitting career.  Not even to a philanthropist or saint for that matter.  The mere thought of prison, any decent and law abiding citizen would have expressed loathe and disgust already.  But despite this odium backdrop, a single minded person would brave the challenge, confront the eerie atmosphere and change detention climate; and transform it into an academe.  He was Dr. Cecilio Halili Penson.

The gentleman volunteer

He was Doc Celing in the prison community.  A tall, dark and athletic person.  He walked gracefully and projected a gentleman of the old school.  He was audacious in the pursuit of education.  He wanted people to listen to him intently and his presence commanded respect and deference.  He was in his early 80s when he started his prison volunteer crusade.  Yet he looked far younger than his age.  He was impatient for accomplishment but seriously patient when discussing an idea.

When he came in for the first time in the penitentiary as a volunteer, the institution was unprepared.  The prison officers were all familiar with do gooders coming from the ranks of the religious and others with commercial inclination.  But never on someone with an honest purpose in educating the ill educated and reforming the pathologically deformed mindset of a convict.  He had a doctorate in philosophy and his followers in his prison work were quick to address the kindly gentleman using the salutation of Doc.  He was almost a permanent fixture in the prison camp where I was assigned to manage.  It was a facility for the newly arrived prisoners in the National Penitentiary.

A work in progress

Doc Celing would endear himself to the prison community with his religious zeal in attending a class he dubbed “applied arts and sciences”.  He abhorred dogma and theories and in the courses he offered, everything was conveyed through case studies.  He would hide the technical jargon through amusing stories.  And the prisoners not only would enjoy each session, the end of each day would always be highlighted with prayers and hopes for Doc Celing to continue and pursue further his interaction ad infinitum.  Prisoners had a sad experience of having embraced a committed visitor only to be deserted instantly only after a few greetings.  They never wanted Doc Celing to leave them as yet.

The prisoners would almost memorize every stanza of phrase which Doc Celing would often impart to impress the teacher on the sharpness of his students.  They loved their mentor to the extent that some prisoners would confide to me that almost all of them had a tattoo mark of “Doc CHP” on their arms!  I kept it a secret also to Doc Celing for fear that it might turn him off, and eventually would be a cause to bid the boys goodbye.  It was a secret I never revealed even in the most trying of times as when I was promoted to the rank of Chief Superintendent, I had this policy of obliterating gang marks.  The Doc CHP tattoo had all the makings already of a gang!  And in my preemptive strikes, those with this tattoo were exempted.  I recruited them at that time as that para-security group assisting my security personnel in rounding up the gangs.

The mysterious Don Emilio

Doc Celing would begin his pontification on how to prosper with his story, the main protagonist he would christen as Don Emilio.  Don Emilio was, in his narrative, the central figure from where all wits and wisdom of getting ahead would commence.  His students were all hyped at how this Don Emilio could defeat his detractors and competitors.  It was for them a symbol of success, an icon to be emulated, and an example on which they could base their decision making.

I asked Doc Celing once, “Sir, I was hearing a lot from your students about Don Emilio.  Is that fiction or is that you or your father?”  He replied, “I was writing a book about Don Emilio.  He is my main character.  Here is my manuscript and I have as yet to finish it when I got involved in teaching here.  So instead of writing the thoughts of the person, I used it as the central spirit in liberating the minds of prisoners instead.”

For me, Doc Celing remains up to the present a very mysterious man, an enigma as a matter of fact.  He would rather be there in the confines of the prison camp tutoring inmates rather than pursuing a grand policy for the education of all.  After almost two years in the prison community where he had established a school for the applied arts and sciences and went on to organize the first college degree for prisoners program in the national penitentiary, he bid his graduates and followers for some rest.  We were all saddened by his departure.  Those were heady days when the Marcos administration was already on the brink of collapse.

The rebirth of Democracy

One day, days later after the bloodless revolt at Edsa, I was surprised by an agitated knock at the door of my prison quarters.  After opening the door, there I saw the towering figure of the man whom the prison community has held as an extraordinary intellectual.  “Venjo, good evening.  Nice to see you!”  said Doc Celing.  Still smarting from the sudden presence of an icon and a bit surprised at his appearance on the dead of night, I almost choked in responding, “Errr. Good evening Sir,.. Are you alone or with someone,…please come in, Sir.  And please have a sit….Sorry for the mess, I have books everywhere and I have as yet to clear my living room….”

“No,no,no, don’t bother.  I came here to tell you that we have a new government.”

“But there were still pocket resistance and things might turn up differently, Sir.  You know, just this morning, there were a number of military trucks positioned in front of the administration building.  From what I heard, prisoners will be moved out to counter people power…”

“Is that so?  What happened then?”  Doc Celing’s face expressed sadness.

“But don’t worry Sir, most of the gate guards were my former trainees, my students in the training school and they entrusted to me all the keys from all entrance and exit gates.  Nobody can mess around with our community here.”  Thereupon, I showed a bag full of keys to Doc Celing.  “I understand however Sir that President Marcos capitulated and so our new President is Madam Aquino now.”

“That’s right Venjo, and I am very proud because my daughter, Margie, the wife of Philip Ella Juico, the writer, you must know him, is designated as appointment secretary.”

“That’s great Sir.  You must be our new Prison Director then!”  I went up close to Doc Celing and excitedly extended my hand for a firm handshake.

“Hey, Venjo, not too fast.  I never meddle with the affairs of my kids.  No, never.  They do not even know that I am working here in Prison!”  That disclosure almost floored me.  Here was a teacher who had spent a great time, almost the whole weekend for years on end, sacrificing comfort in favor of teaching prisoners and to think that he has never informed his family that he was in such crusade.

“But Dwight, your son, knew of your programs here.”

“He thought that my prison visitation was a passing fancy only.”

“Anyway Sir, we can hope that under the new administration the golden age of prison service would be near!

Hearing that energized expression, Doc Celing stood up, looked at his wrist watch and shook my hand.  “I will see you next time Venjo.  I must be back to my dear Nena before she discovers our secret!”  We had a loud conspiratorial laugh that night.

Renewal of friendship and aspiration

It would take years before I would hear again Doc Celing.  I was already promoted and would be designated to trouble shoot problem spots in the penal system.  I would oftentimes be assigned to take command of all major penal establishments in the country and those were times when I have lost contact with a dear friend.  I would still marvel at the thought of one man in his advanced years braving the stress and tension of rehabilitating prisoners.

I would learn later that he was officially tapped to handle University of Life in Pasig.  Once upon a time, my sister, during the Marcos years, was its administrator under the supervision of Dr. Onofre D. Corpuz and then First Lady Imelda Marcos.  My sister however was one of the administrative casualties during the Edsa Revolt.  But Doc Celing’s post at UL was short lived.  The facility was transformed into the main office of the Department of Education thereafter.

I contacted Doc Celing and informed him that I was assigned at Davao and if perchance he had some business or would rather take a relaxing tour down South, he may find Davao Penal Colony an interesting area to continue with our education program for prisoners.  It was a mere shout in the wilderness and it was made more as a matter of greeting than an invitation.  At that time, Doc Celing was deep into the training of those who will leave abroad for a contracted work.

Our second wind

But lo and behold!  I received a brief note that Doc Celing had finally accepted my offer to visit Davao.

I have forgotten the time of his last visit but definitely that day when he appraised Davao Penal Colony, after our day long tour of the area, his presence would be felt and would be unforgettable.  We had a pact to pursue higher education in Davao, the same program we both introduced in the national penitentiary.  The man I was in touch constantly a decade ago was still the same energetic person I had as company that time.  Time stood still for the enigmatic man.  He was already defying nature.  His mind was still as sharp, as incisive, and as clever as before.  I began to draft an educational formulation for Davao Penal Colony and he was guiding my outline.  Finally, under his inspiration, Dapecol went ahead with the foundation of the Alternative Learning System, an obscure pedagogical approach then until it became a policy—an education mode which several years later would benefit boxing great Manny Pacquiao  and other celebrities wanting for higher education.

The terminal point

I was deep into the task of overhauling the system, tapping NGOs left and right for involvement, when suddenly my sister, whose residence is near Valle Verde Subdivision in Ortigas, informed me to verify the passing away of Doc Celing.  I was able to check it with my Manila staff and immediately flew to attend the wake.  I came in late and the remains of my friend were sent for cremation already.

I went back to Davao with a determined fervor to continue with what we have started.  And to date, unlike any other penal establishment in the country, Dapecol has a college degree program for male and female prisoners, topping national exams in the Alternative Learning System and other government education accreditation tests and has started courses recognized by Tesda.  Doc Celing was behind every effort and we could only offer a fledging corner we named after him, a simple testament to a grand visionary.

A living legacy

His demise constituted a sad day for prison education.  His former students, all ardent followers bearing his initials, mostly released already, must have heard about the depressing news.  But for us whom he cared for have carved in our hearts the living Doc Celing and he would continue to live through us and through the influence of his thoughts and ideas, contributing by paying forward his concern and commitment to those places where we would reside and retire.

Doc Celing spent his senior years in one place and through his released apprentices, he is now all over country and possibly around the world.

LIFE AFTER IMPRISONMENT

Jimboy was charged in court for carnapping and he was sentenced to serve the penalty of life imprisonment.  In this country, a lifer is confined for 30 years.  He did just that.  What made him a cut above the rest and for that matter as an inmate I would repose my trust during the period of his incarceration, especially in maintaining my official vehicle as a prison officer, was his expertise as a mechanic.  Skilled prisoners are highly respected in the prison community and valued by officers.  Skilled ones like barbers, writers, mechanics, technicians, artists, musicians—-well, it is only the universe that pays tribute to them notwithstanding the offense committed but by their environment as well.  They make life comfortable not only for them but for those around them.

When a skilled prisoner is released, he is torn between a community (prison) that embraced and trusted him and the free community which, through the courts and his complainant have vomited him.  Of course, there is a feeling of confusion and some kind perplexity.  In prison, he had no freedom, everything seemed controlled.  Outside, on the other hand, he is misunderstood and suspected.  In prison, he knew who his real friends are.  Outside, he lives in doubt and wariness.  He found his faith in detention, while as a freeman he is constantly lost.

As soon as Jimboy received his release paper, he chose the middle ground.  For those with little skill to express would rather stay along the periphery of the penal establishment.  They would rather be seen by a prison officer in nearby town where he will be greeted as a “graduate” rather than return back to his community of orientation where a single crime may immediately be inferred on his presence.   He asked me if I could adopt him.  He wanted to be under my employ even if he will not be given remuneration.  Just a little space where he could repair and exercise his know-how.  He would be staying with a prison officer in the free community and at the same time, reminded that he is also, as he expects it, to be treated as a convict, of whom he was once and almost, loved it.  Shades of Stockholm syndrome where the hostage has grown dependent on his captor on almost everything—from food to protection.

Like any total institution, prison is not designed to prepare its inmates to a life of freedom.  Prison teaches and imposes a life of dependency.  It is the individual outlook to appreciate the loss of liberty and it is up to the prisoner to repent, reinvent or take revenge.  No amount of prison orientation program can reformulate this aspect.   The period of his institutional servitude dictates the kind of life a prisoner would become once he is released.  Hence there are countries that revisit the sentencing scheme in its criminal justice administration.  Prolonged incarceration destroys the positive effect of disciplinary detention.  It negates the value of custody and transforms the person into a zombie.

Jimboy immediately found peace of mind under my jurisdiction.  He prospered as a skilled mechanic that he is.  Except that he never found time to take care of his health.  A few years later, he suffered a debilitating disease and passed away.

Another prisoner sought succor after receiving the release paper.  She was a female inmate who appreciated music and became one of the pioneer members of the prison band.  As its organizer, I maintained my members through regular jamming and counseling.  When she was released, she asked if she could stay under my custody.  Accordingly, after she got her discharge certificate, she went back to her community of orientation if only to find her husband serving time in the provincial jail.  Her children were nowhere and their house pawned away.  She feared that she had no other place to go except to go back to prison.

One day, she appeared at the doorstep of my prison quarters, eyes bulging, shabbily dressed and with a sad story.   She needed a job.  I required my security aide to facilitate her application for employment in a nearby farm and in a week’s time, she was a picture of accomplishment.  Prisoners given a break and trusted to be absorbed in the workforce are the most industrious and diligent.  They work hard and are very conscientious.  She stayed for a while until one day; I found a note posted on my door.  She has gone back to her family.  She saved and sacrificed so that she could sustain a crusade to look for her missing children.  On weekends, she would go from one town to another until finally, she saw her children employed as house help.  She rented a small cottage near the farm where she was employed and from there began to turn another leaf of her life.

The challenging part for those who have been through incarceration is not on the day they served their time, but like any college graduate, it is on the day they would leave the portal of that community where they spent the greater part of learning to understand the true meaning of freedom.

PRISONERS AS PRISONERS

“Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”
—–Nelson Mandella

Anyone convicted for committing an offense expect that once they are brought to the penitentiary, they will have to serve time in a regime of discipline, restraint and under full control of authority.  Every activity is defined according to the prevailing rules and every regulation enforced to its finest detail.  Obedience is highly required.  Order defines the prison climate.   That is the ideal setting in the management of a corrective facility.   Failing to impose these conditions necessitate the breakdown of institutional direction.

 

In reality however, our prison system occupies the lower rung in the totem pole of government priorities.  Its personnel are oftentimes passed on as ineffective and are seen as bungling workers, unable to tame inmates, easily tempted, abusive and hopeless.  Worst, corrections is never accepted as a field of discipline.  This can be gleaned on how government assigns an administrator to take charge of the prison agency.  Administrators come from the rank of the retirees in the police and military service.

 

When a retired police general assumes command, the prison personnel become pseudo policemen.  When a retired military officer takes command, the prison workers become inured to drills and soldiery projections.  Not that these personalities are ineffective.  As a matter of fact, they are competent administrators except that prison work is never in their professional radar and orientation manual.  For the law enforcer, prisoners are the bad guys to be dealt with.  For the soldier, these are villains that ruin the strategic values of winning a war.  Prisoners are never seen as prisoners.

 

Prisoners are denizens of a sector segregated from the free community.  They have to serve time for a period defined by judicial authorities.  Their political and civil rights are suspended.  They are under civil interdiction.  That is to say, they cannot enter into any agreement or get into a contract with anyone.  Doing so would render void or invalid any instrument they will enter into.    They live under a highly communal regimen, where every act is measured in cadence and every movement is calculated in paces.

 

In advanced countries, when a prisoner moves out from his dormitory, he is grouped in a batch and they march towards a specific area.  It is only in reaching a spot where they can express themselves individually.  Movement from one station to another should be conducted in a collective manner.  I have seen this manner in penal facilities of Japan and Australia.

 

In the Philippine setting, there is no drill required in the mobility of prisoners.  Once the headcount is completed, it’s like an ideological struggle already—to each according to his needs.   Rules depend on who defines it at the top.  If the administrator is a bleeding heart, there is liberalism among inmate concerns.  This has been the traditional outlook in the handling of prisoners for several decades already.   If the one running the show is a disciplinarian, then outright and unmitigated restrictions are enforced in almost all corners of the facility inviting resentment and antipathy.  If the prison community rejects such penal outlook then concessions are granted and communal direction is compromised.  It is in the formulation of rules, that which should be properly observed and fairly implemented, that sustains stability in the corrective system.

 

On the whole it must be emphasized that prison administrators should never lose their sight on the principle of control.  Prisoners expect to be dominated (and not exploited).   Prisoners should be treated as they are.  Less than that or exceeding such means losing grasp on the mandate of corrections.

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