It has been said that crime resides underneath our society, in its bottom side, within the so-called underworld. In that place, only the wise guys predominate and rule the environment. When they appear above ground, what they want, they get—no rules, no laws, no norms could control and govern them; nothing in between. They simply acquire what they intend to own. They are even familiar if not practitioners of offering something which no one can refuse.
But the underworld can be appreciated from afar, from a distant appreciation of something like a netherworld; through books, movies, film reviews, even scholarly dissertation on gangs. Unless one becomes a bona fide member, this world never exists at all. But there is one place in the planet , of all places and quite ironical at that, where this can be studied in isolation—inside the grounds of the penitentiary.
The hallowed grounds of the penitentiary, well the national one, New Bilibid Prison, has in my impression almost transformed into a limited space (due largely to congestion) where eventually the underworld sprouted, grew its tentacles, renewed its influential links and has claimed the prison environment not only as turf but a sanctuary where wise men truly belong.
Gone were those moments when the penal siren can declare a disciplinary call for taps at night and revelry at dawn. Gone were those instances when those roving security personnel were seen as authorities bearing the emblem of discipline. Gone were those symbols of restraint and limitations.
It is a sad commentary that the dormitory keys are kept by inmates themselves. Order is reposed on gangs. Discipline is a matter of choice, as a matter of fact, it is even a leverage coming from gang leaders already. Those at the helm could only express disbelief but would rather compromise in the name of peace.
Peace in the underworld means a complete control of the entire system, not by those entrusted by law to govern but by those declared by law through a prescribed penalty. The prison community has successfully yielded onto itself the way it should be administered, leaving behind prison authorities at the receiving end of reaction, usually a staid one.
Prison rules are merely decorative edicts to promote ideals. It does not constitute the proper way of executing mandates and implementing writs anymore. It is there to fill a vacuum but never to be observed in the general sense. A compliance to sustain the belief that government is in charge. But prison rules should be sustained and expressed through the strength of an organization or else it merely is a compilation of cluttered and useless files on every prison officer’s table.
It is not a matter of getting back from the prison community the control, which authorities should have exercised in the first place. It is a matter of exercising control, of expressing leadership that is at the heart of the situation.
Prisoners never even wanted to lead because it is impossible for them to harness and access the criminal justice system. They are merely subjects and could not pull any lever to articulate their concern for freedom. They are expecting prison authorities to lead them.
Failure to lead is tantamount to relinquishing control. By dint of this equation, the prison community turns to gangs, or organized syndicate to do their bidding.
Unless understood in perspective, the underworld, in its glaring and magnificent manifestation however deep and almost unfathomable its description, is , fortunately or unfortunately , here to stay.
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.