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I FAILED TO CHANGE GOVERNMENT

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In 1977 when I graduated with two degrees, one from Letran College and another from the University of the Philippines, I thought that joining government service would give me a rebel’s chance to change the impression about the lackadaisical nature of government.  I even went to the extent of convincing my fellow graduates to give government a chance to improve itself through our sacrifices. For me, activism is not challenging or insulting government service, it is not lambasting the people running it, it is not criticizing the system, it is not even attacking the entire bureaucracy.  Personally, getting into the service, penetrating the innards of the system, effecting change in whatever form means genuine  and unpretentious activism.

I tried my best.  I must admit I was in a way too imposing and at the same too trusting.  I tried to be consistent in all my undertakings.  One day, I was the one giving direction, in another day I am situated at the end of receiving line for instructions.  Short of even being called a straw or sipsip, I pursued programs through dint of ingenuity.    Initiative after another however never created a significant mark. If at all something is introduced, it is more out of audacity of those benefited rather than an institutional recognition. Worst, all my efforts afforded the system to have a way to discard me in the process.

Whatever it is that glistened whenever I hear “serve the people” suddenly evaporated in the mist of routine.  Work in government seems to be a long stretch of time, an 8 hour grind to fulfill what could have been completed in an hour’s time.  The rest of the period would just be an occasion to think of sidelines and rackets; to ruminate on matters to make money; to make something out of well, nothingness.

Work in government is almost everything covered in black and white.  Even in areas where operations are concerned, it must be supported by reports, reams of endorsements, handful of attachments.  Never mind how work has been done as long as the report beautifully would capture the concept, essence and manner of the mission.  The effect is not necessarily of import, it is how it explained that matters.  After all, government would rather listen than look.  This has been the milieu on which I have virtually subsisted for the last three decades of my career in public service.

In my mind, what is important on the other hand are the clientele.  In my case, the prisoners.  I could live through without recognition, although I have my own approach in getting one through promotion, but my primary concern is the prison community.  It is the universe of my career.  It is not about how comfortable I am in my work area; it is not about how much increase I would be receiving in terms of salary and allowances; it is not about the number of seminars I would attend so that I could enhance my curriculum vitae and improve my credentials; it is not about how influential and power I could be in the prison service; it is not about me that I am concerned about.  It is the prisoners.  The prisoner in particular, the subject of my career, the basis why I work in the prison service in the first place.

I have literally circumnavigated all penal colonies, the big ones, under the Bureau of Corrections.  I have been the top gun in New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City (four times), Davao Prison and Penal Farm (four times), Iwahig Penal Colony (twice), San Ramon Prison in Zamboaga city.  In the course of my stint in Davao, I was one of those who pioneered the establishment of another corrective facility for women in Mindanao.

I have as yet to fulfill much changes through advices and active participation in the administration and handling of prisoners.  I have as yet to see whether the prison service I entered in 1977 has changed through some works I have contributed at present time 38 years later.  In my estimation, much as I wanted to offer more, I have done little.

If it is an exam that I participated in, my personal rating would be low.  In the academe, it is more pronounced if one gets a low mark.  It means that I failed.

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AN INTRODUCTION TO THE PRISON SERVICE: For the newcomer

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In 1958, Elvis Presley sang a song “Trouble” in the movie “King Creole”.  The song begins with, “If you’re looking for trouble, you came in the right place,” Elvis was of course not referring to prison service when he sang that neither his composer had prisoners in mind when it was written.  But it was one phrase which never departed my consciousness during the time I got employed in the then Bureau of Prisons (now Bureau of Corrections).  And so were my friends who were surprised to learn that I was working in prison.  It was the expression “What???!” and “Oh, my!!!!” which greeted me every time I would show them my ID card.  It was a reaction as if I volunteered to be taken as hostage or to a certain degree, an admission on my part for masochism.

In the late 70s, prison service carried a lot of impression.  The prison community then had just come through a series of violent incidents.  There were riots everywhere and the workers at times were veritably at the center of the storm.  In New Bilibid Prison, there was a case where a prison guard while in the process of conducting headcount was sacked treacherously and his head bashed into smithereens.  In Iwahig, a prison teacher was mauled and nearly raped after the culprit had decapitated another prison officer.  In San Ramon, the prison superintendent was held hostage while his family was mercilessly massacred.  In Davao, after every riot, the creek reeked with drums of flowing blood more than the waters that used to drift.  That was the agency’s profile when I was admitted into the organization.

Less than 40 years later, prison service would have a makeover.  Rehabilitation became a buzz word among prison workers.  Although to a certain extent there was little understanding on the term, the word reduced the tension brought about by the violent history the agency had undergone in the past.  Factions ruled the organization.  There were the traditionalists and the progressives.  There were the sadists and the liberals.  There were the hard core and the soft hearts.  There were the unschooled and the schooled.  One can identify with and be a part of anyone or be a member of both.  The prison service was a field of diverse interests observed and watched by a helpless and dependent prison community.  On which side would prevail, the prison community would just hop along with subserviently.

While it can be said that prison work was the least attractive job for those seeking a career in the past, today it is different.  Those in the field of social science would barge through any agency where their academics have trained them.  Criminology as a course became an exciting discipline which literally would encourage anyone to dip into the science of prison administration.  Prison service would no longer be a pariah course but a turf of humanities.  Not that college graduates nowadays no longer have any jobs left except those in hazardous ones like prison service, but the branch of criminal justice administration has become a significant career on its own.

Along with the change came the evolution of the prison community.  Gone were the days when those who would serve time were petty delinquents which would take a cue from violent expressions.  While the profile of convicts would have little difference at all from their cousins in the past, the intelligence quotient of prisoners has grown by leaps and bounds.  They can read behavior more than books.  They can understand anything abstract more than anyone trained in numeric.  They can anticipate, forestall and predict an incident.  They are always a move ahead.  They can bring down anyone without exerting any effort and they can precipitate a crisis.

The song of Elvis Presley  while it has been declared as ancient and quite amusing, ended with an apt phrase which the newcomer ought to take heart, and it goes this way  “So don’t mess around.”

LETTER TO MY FRIENDS

WRITER

My dear colleagues,

Greetings.  A few weeks from now, I will be bowing out from the prison service.  It was a wonderful experience to work in the prison community.  Prison service is indeed a worthy vocation but of course, it is not for the faint of heart.  It is not for those seeking to accumulate goods and consequently, save their families from economic challenges.  It is not for those who wanted instant recognition.  It is not for those who wanted to be endowed with respect and adulation.  It is sacrifice and more.

Prison service is strictly speaking only for those who are generous; only for those who are kind-hearted; only for those with time to share; only for those patient to understand; only for those who value humanity.

I never had a dull moment in the prison service.  During my first month, I had no idea if I have a relative in the organization, thus had neither connection nor anyone to run to for succor, hence I was literally assigned in the penitentiary’s dreaded corner—-the hospital ward for the insane, Ward 4.  For three months, I was hobnobbing, rubbing elbows with the criminally insane.  I realized that the textbook definition of these psychos was not correct if my education on psychology would be reckoned.  I virtually changed my scientific orientation, took a lot of notes and became effective in dealing with mental cases later.  I became matured overnight.

Months later, I would be back at my former office at the Reception and Diagnostic Center where I was given a clerical function—-to arrange reports and put paper clips on it.  It would be my job for two months.  I tried to solicit assistance from my co-workers, asking them to teach me how they conduct their tasks until finally, after another  three months I learned how to receive a newly admitted prisoner, how to compute for their sentence, how to give them prison numbers, how to orient, quarantine and initially classify.  In less than a year, I know how anyone in RDC works.  I can perform any task should there be anyone who would absent and fill up their performance.

From there, my Calvary would begin.  While I was promoted from one post to another, I would also respond to charges filed by anonymous complainants.  I would be subject to the foulest charges until I felt that I must resign.  Half of my job was attending administrative hearings for my cases already.  After I have observed my 15th year in the prison service, I would have accumulated 15 administrative cases also.

In my 20th year, I had 20 administrative charges and two cases in court.  To sustain my peace of mind, I also published 4 books and wrote pamphlets and edited newsletters.  My career was spent mostly in the freezer.  According to the prison leadership, I was never a team player.  It was a correct estimation.  I never kowtow with irregularities; I never wanted to have my name, my signature in documents that rob government finances.  I was a pain in the neck.  But I never raised an issue.  I never even went to the extent of whistleblowing.  I was just floating along the fringes and writing notes which would later would be my materials for my books.

It would be a rocking period but at the same time an exciting one.  While my superiors in the prison service would suspect me for my projections, I would accumulate and receive recognition from schools where I would enroll for graduate studies.  In between attending court and administrative hearings for various charges brought against me, I would receive one diploma after another.  I would complete my masteral course on public administration, complete my legal education, and attend graduate studies on diplomacy and top management.  Not bad an equation.

I never even thought of reaching the age of retirement.  I thought that I would trip along the way and be penalized.  I thought that I would be dismissed from the service early on.  Worst, I thought that I might end up in the calaboose.

I was mistaken.  I am about to reach the age of retirement and is working on my clearances.  I have succeeded in winning all my cases in the organization and that includes court cases too.  My record is lily clean.  I am treading the path towards the exit door.  I may have been badly bruised as a consequence of organizational trappings and mistreatment, but here I am standing still, standing proud to have walked through a period with a stable career however bumpy and aiming for another sight, another career, another period to reinvent another persona.

If this is a movie, a part 2 is in the offing.

ON ORGANIZING A PRISON OFFICER CORPS

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I was tasked to organize a Prison Officer Corps as a positive response by prison leadership on the proposal of a senior prison official on the matter of organizing a prison officer corps much like what is done in the military service.  This time around however when I am about to retire.

Sometime in 1977 when I was still a struggling rookie in the prison service, a circular from Civil Service Commission was issued and accordingly, all government agencies must organize a union for young employees, those who are less than 30 years old.  It was referred to as “Buklod ng Kabataang Kawani.”

A general meeting by prison administration was held, the circular discussed and in a month’s time, there I was at the forefront of the organization.  I was elected President of Bucor-BKK.  I was  a 23 year old seedling at that time.   I could only recall a few names of prison employees who were elected officers but I forgot the rest.  All of the officers elected then have transferred eventually and  some have retired already.  Hence, I am the only last man standing as far as the pioneer officers of BKK is concerned.

BKK was Marcos regime’s idea of China’s Red Guards and Hitler’s youth Nazi.  And there I was, actively participating in organizing and facilitating BKK organization in all commissions and bureau’s of DOJ.  At DOJ, during a plenary of session of all agency BKK officers, I was elected vice president with the son of then Minister of Justice, Atty. Reggie Puno, then as special assistant to DOJ Minister, as President.  In a national conference, all BKK officers were sent to boot camp at National Defense College of the Philippines to be trained in a Future Leaders Program.  All of those who graduate from the training, are now Directors and Heads of various government offices around the country.  Most of them have retired already.  Yet they left behind the ideals not as what then President Marcos wanted as a matter of parochial nationalism but the ideals of good governance.  BKK organizations faded as soon as Marcos left the scene.

Sometime in 1986, a few years after BKK shone, another organization was founded in the heat of activism borne out of frustration from the chosen leadership of Cory government.  The appointment of Col. Emil Cea to Bucor leadership was unexpected and abusive.  It was never a reflection of what Cory government ought to banner.  The Bureau of Corrections Employees Association (BUCOREA) came into being.  Those elected in the hierarchy were civilian employees and the org tried to represent also the sentiment and interests not only of the civilians in the prison service but those in the uniformed ranks as well.

Bucorea unfortunately was misunderstood as an activist group by succeeding prison leadership and worst, was even suspected as a left leaning representation led by former BKK organizers.  For a time, Bucorea never made it as a recognized group until it fractured and some officers went separate ways.  Factions could be seen everywhere.  A few years later, there were other groups that sprung from Bucorea like Cooperatives, Multiloans coops, and an organization by uniformed personnel, the Bucoroa.

Further on, sub organizations were also encouraged until uniformed personnel were identified according to batches which carried PMA inspired inscriptions like Batch Magilas, Batch Matikas, etc.

The advent of a new law, the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013, requires a different organizational perspective.  Bucor under said law will be a uniformed bureau already and its retirement scheme follows the template of all uniformed agencies in government.  There is now a need for an organized Officer Corps that would banner professionalism, ethical standards and a higher degree of competence in the prison service.  How to formulate one is a challenge the prison leadership has posed.

An effective organization is founded on a ground swell more than a dictate from the top.  It must be an initiative of a matured rank and file.  It is the closing of the ranks that spells a good and lasting association.

I hope I still could join even if I am on my way out.

TALES OF RETIREES IN THE PRISON SERVICE

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Mgsr Ernesto Espiridion wanted to work in the prison service until the heavens fall.  He never made it though.  He was only 58 years old then.  He retired early because his retirement benefits would have to be used to defray the cost of her sister’s treatment for cancer.  The sister died eventually and Msgr Espiridion was left with an empty pocket.  A wish fulfillment indeed because priests are known to have embraced a lifetime vow of poverty.  He is now a living proof of the principle.

Dra Avelina Alcantara was the epitome of a great public servant.  Reaching the age of 65, her superior would not allow her to leave the prison service yet.  She was cajoled to submit herself for an extension after retirement.  She served another year and another year until her superior was replaced.  She moved out from the service almost at the age of 70, the mandatory retirement age of those in the judiciary, academe and the Church.  At 99, she is still active in her medical profession in USA where she took residency after an extended stint in her country.

Eduardo Barbosa was one of the efficient prison superintendents who never became one.  He reached the mandatory age for compulsory retirement without even being considered for promotion.  He was there at a time when prison leadership opted to introduce lateral entries into the field of prison superintendent position to the detriment of qualified officers who are next in rank.  He moved out discontented from a career he carefully fashioned out through competency and integrity.

Armando Miranda was the typical prison officer who rose from the ranks.  At a time he was about to retire, like other Superintendents before and immediately after him, he was saddled into contentious cases which bordered on controversy.  He retired reaching the age of 65 but was never cleared because of pending cases.  It took a full year to finally clear his involvement and retire safely but with a sad note.  He retired with a case besmirching his reputation as a prison officer who was dismissed from the service.

Renato Justo was a classic case of consistency.  He entered the prison service as prison guard 1 and retired bearing the same position in a consistent manner.  He was a regular prison officer who would rather proceed from one assignment to another, at times acting as man Friday and in another time as errand in a prison activity.  No matter how assiduous he would perform a given task, his supervisors never got conscious to reward him with a recommendation.  He was merely there to perform and nothing else.  He retired however with a bang.  Before receiving his retirement benefits, he must have to clear himself in a pending case along with prison superintendents who caused the administrative violations in the first place.

Ramon Reyes retired as a policeman, opted to work once again and fortunately was appointed prison superintendent.  He would have to retire the second time had it not for a case involving a high profile prisoner.

Zosimo Berroya bowed out at 65, achieving the full period onwards compulsory retirement.  After a brief paper chase, he was promised that his full retirement benefits would be given.  To date, Sosing moves around, still hale and healthy, looking for possibilities on how to stretch the meager funds he has received, planning on activities to further stretch it so sustain the years he would have to undergo as a matter of struggling.  He still has a special child to take care of, one who is a perpetual toddler, one whom he must have to succor for the rest of his active life.

And there are other officers who led colorful career lives in the service and at present enjoying the full fruition of serenity in their twilight years here and above.  I could only mention a few like spouses Jesus and Dra Zoraida Villanueva, former Assistant Director and Chief of NBP Hospital; Dra. Aida Ocampo, former Bucor medical coordinator; Bong de Leon, formerly OIC of CIW; Homobono and Hermita Lachica, former chief of RDC and chief, Management Division respectively; Superintendents Geronimo, Nunez and Totaan, Martin all demised already; Zenaida Celestino, former Chief of Personnel Section; Atty Amparo Joaquin, former Chief of Legal Section; Engr Andres Morales and Engr. Bong Raymundo former chief of General Services Division; Juanito Leopando and Angelito Pragides, former prison superintendents; Teresita Morales, former Chief of Records Section; and more.

FADING AWAY FROM THE PRISON SERVICE

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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.

 

 

 

WHEN PRISON OFFICERS MEET

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It was a chilly morning at Tagaytay City one February weekday (2014) when representatives from different penal colonies met to discuss a serious concern about performance.  Glancing at the names of the participants made me excited.  I would be able to meet my former comrades from different penal establishments not in the area where they are assigned one piece at a time but the whole shebang in one place.

They were all animated to examine a matter that would appreciate the manner of grading, of rating one’s performance vis-à-vis the provision that it should be recognized through monetary rewards.  The discussion was almost endless; each participant had their respective appreciation of what appraisal is all about.  The point is to bring to the fore the realization that prison service ought to take the lead commitment above everything else, even to the point of sacrificing personal comfort and other considerations.  It is in the words of the prison leadership, “Bureau of Corrections FIRST.”

There they were, haggard from exposure of hard work in any weather, haggard for dealing with threats in their workplace, haggard for bargain, haggard for explanation.  They were all in the prison service even before the facebook generation took the main floor.  They were there when Steve Jobs was still tinkering with the first version of personal computer in the universe.  They were on the ground, at times conferred with recognition for a job well done, at times harassed in between being hacked to death or simply broken for trouble shooting violence.  They were all there to keep the integrity of their office, to sustain a career and eventually to hold on the reign, holding on the very substance of what corrections is in the criminal justice administration.  They, given the condition, the arid and challenging condition, were simply the best government service can offer.

They are sacrificing a lot more than their counterparts in other agencies.  They are literally in harm’s way.  But the sad part there is that they are even misunderstood.  Their apprehension is mistaken as fearful.  Their anticipation is seen as cowardice.  Their initiative is always suspect.  And why not.  They would rather be on the safe side.  They would rather imitate how prisoners survive through subservience.  When their superiors are around, there is no more difference between how a prison worker and prisoner would bow to authority—even if, as a matter of reality, prison officers are the embodiment of authority.  They know fairly well that in prison, there is only one authority and they are never a part of it.

Who never wanted a piece of the cake if it means a conferment of recognition?  In an environment like prison, everyone understands fairness as equal sharing.  One may be great in one area, another in another area.  Everyone has its own forte.  Everybody has some flaws somewhere.  If at all there is something to be shared, it must be shared equally too.  Prison workers have been in the thick of disadvantage ever since and they understand their predicament more than those people ogling from outside.  They are a part of the prison community and they know what is equal and just.

When prison officers meet they know what fairness is all about.

THE TROUBLE WITH TROUBLE

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For the last 100 days of my administrative assumption as chief security of the national penitentiary there was blissful peace notwithstanding the fact that congestion is the order of the day.  Over in the maximum security wing for instance, the overcrowding rate is 159%.  Anything that uses that percentage limit would surely snap if not damage an item almost beyond repair if stretched accordingly.

 

But peace reigned despite congestion.  We know it is artificial though.  We have determined a list of those to be moved.  Only two meetings left before the movement.  We are about to ship out and transfer, download a section to penal colonies if only to diffuse the simmering tension brought about by cramming in the national pen.  And then, like a volcano, violence erupted in the midst.

 

Trouble began, well, overcrowding was foremost and secondly, as a consequence of bad habits by inmates which could not be reached institutionally.  11:30 pm, October 8, 2013, a couple of inmates personally got into a disagreement while playing coins in a gambling tryist.  Both inmates were known in the area as partners in a transaction involved in narcotics too.  Their disagreements grew violent until their hidden crude lethal weapons were drawn and their groups were threatened.  Worst, these two inmates were affiliated in different gangs.  For a time, their gangs had an alliance and could not be disturbed if the cause of rift is a personal one.  The violence that erupted however pushed their gang membership into partisan survival modes.

 

This is just for starters though.  In the same period, I would encounter breaches of security standards, which I must address.  Escape, deaths, contraband smuggling, abduction of prison visitors, gang animosity, corruption, are but a few of that which I must have to deal with on a daily basis.  I have to monitor every inch of the security complex.  As if it is not enough, the prison leadership engaged my services (as Assistant Director for Operations) to tackle not just the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa but the entire penal system of the country!

 

That could have been an icing until I was likewise directed to head various administrative boards (Selection and Promotion, Internal Affairs, Hospital, Transfer, IPX, Concessionaires, JVA-MC, etc).  That meant the whole cake!  If I were a sandwich spread, I would no longer be tasty anymore because of the thin application.

 

While it can be said that corrective function for officers in the prison service is a simple concern, the whole caboodle of responsibilities is quite unnerving and exhaustive.  Worst, the officer corps are not primed to take additional burden.  Hence, I must perform like an Olympus god if only to deliver the goods to Mt. Olympus.

 

And here is the part where the secret of running an entire show can be that rewarding without getting wet, so to speak.  Projecting neutrality is fairness in the flesh.  It is the closest one can get to touch an ideal like justice.  It won’t earn any increase in allowance but it can surely produce an instant effect like respect for the practitioner.

 

In the prison service, respect is everything.

 

 

 

LETTER TO A PRISON VOLUNTEER

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Hello Chris, greetings!  I took note of your impressions and those adjustments you must be conducting and I know how it feels on that which brings frustrations on our programs in the prison camp.  Let me confide something.  The prison community is never that place where we can repose our dreams.  Any portion of the prison camp does not even qualify as a spot prepared for redemption—from an outsider’s point of view.

When I was a rookie in the prison service and tried to establish rapport with the prisoners, all looking repentant, some confidently innocent, I was aghast to find out from their confessions that they were serving time in prison for a crime they have never committed!  That most of those inmates I came to know during my rounds were innocents—-can you imagine that— like newborns.  I thought of packing all of them and bring them all to the free community where ideally they should belong, judicially accepted or not.

That was my plan until I realized that I was not dealing with a handful but the entire prison community after all!  Either I was taken for a ride at that period of my immersion or some bolts in my brain got rusted.

Anyway, if you intend to promote something in prison, be prepared to be fluid.  To be malleable.  To be cold and neutral.  There are a lot of surprises, changes and unexpected twists.  One day the fellow who ardently follows you like a son may be released and in his excitement would forget even to say goodbye to his friends, cell mate or even such close associates like us.  Or perhaps, the fellow would succumb to an ailment and fade away under his bed bunk, no body knows except insects and flies, and later the authorities.  Or they may opt to be transferred, personally working on it, even paying clerks in offices just to elude someone they have crossed and make it appear that they  were being pushed away against their will.

There are a number of instances when a crusading spirit would agonize to find the program he organized a day before become a carcass the next day.  Even prison officers could not muster enough intellectual power to understand the sudden transformations every incident happening in an otherwise drab, monotonous, colorless and repetitive environment like prison.  While from a distance, the view is simple that even a child could draw it without sweat, it is however not what it seems once we ran into the details.

My dear friend Chris, don’t get me wrong.  I am all for your project, I am all for your efforts and sacrifices.  But let me whisper this to you:  Prison is a grand illusion.  What you see are pure shadows.  There are no real objects except the very officers you are sworn to dislike.  Every movement of prisoners is aimed to deceive even their gods.  There is no such thing as sanity, order and stability.  Everything is in shambles wrapped in institutionally formatted directives.  A human being is never designed without freedom.

Prisoners however must try to act in a manner that should bespeak humanity although in reality they are restricted to act like one.  There is therefore a constant struggle between the man in an artificial environment and the man in his element.  Should we get into their way, we are bound to get confusion not knowing where we stand in such a situation.

And then we become frustrated.  And such a feeling becomes food for prisoners looking for emotional substance.  They subsist on the dissatisfaction of others having lived and constantly living in an air of disappointment.  Having felt this, we become the lifeblood of the prison community.  We have sustained that mindset, that terrible worldview that prison is here to stay and that freedom is illusory, a pie in the sky, something to be wished for.

I say, go on with your crusade; proceed with what you have started.  Even if it means you have to crawl back to the first stage.  Disregard the changes that keep on turning around, follow every dictate of your environment.  You have chosen prison as your workplace, then live under the regime of instability.  The discipline that serves to guide your steps are not actually the same discipline you have learned in school.  It is the discipline of inaccuracy.  The kind of discipline where respect is eked out from every move covered with numerous disrespectful beginnings.

And should you persist in your crusade, count me in.  I have been in this business for a long time, a span which took my government to replace three Constitutions already and still I am actively in the midst of the prison community, mind still intact, principles still in place and humanity undiminished in the face of all the inhumanities I encounter in the prison service.  The trick, I learned eventually and which prisoners must subscribe too, is to accept reality as it is presented.

Regards and best wishes.

WORKING IN PRISON: CHALLENGES AND PLEASURES

work in prison

36 years in prison.  Had I been sentenced to multiple Life terms, I would have literally spent the same number of years serving time, and by this reckoning, I would have gotten my release papers already and may haps, fading somewhere in remote caves waiting for heavens to claim whatever it is that remains in my mortal body.  But fate decreed that I should spend the same period not as inmate but as prison officer.  While the milieu is similar, the situation is different.

While I was in charge of directing activities, I am at the tail end of response and reaction.  I must be at the forefront of responsibility, tasked to promote discipline and order in what could have been a place intended to house people who were once upon a time irresponsible, undisciplined and disordered.

Working in prison is never a picnic.  I came in as prison psychologist and after a few years, after dipping my head into the emotional whirlpool called prison community, after risking life and sanity interacting with the most dangerous sector in society, the post of prison administrator would come my way.

There were occasions that would require sacrifice and more.  There are a lot of instances when one must forego pleasure and share in the pain of collective loneliness.  There were  periods when patience would run dry.  There were temptations to blow the lid and learn the art of cruelty.  These were times when one begins to be cold and neutral, objective and callous.  Prison, in effect, is never for those with a soft heart and an indulgent mind.  It is reserved for those with a resolve made of steel.

I have seen the best and tasted the worst.  I have been at the crucial beginning of a controversy and at the vortex of every scandal.  I was given assignments at the top and for a stretch of time, even made to suffer the agony of leading without any command.  I have had an opportunity to govern facilities from the nearest to the farthest, exercising control in an otherwise uncontrollable population or exerting forbearance in a situation requiring brutality.  Name the post, name the challenge, name the trial, I have been through all along.

At the end of a long journey, the inmate and I would have shared a similar lesson in life.  Both of us would come through drained of fortitude; both of us would come off consumed of endurance; both of us would literally brush off a future spent in the daily grind of routine, subservience, monotony and predictability.

Work in prison is simply having the pleasure of confronting one challenge after another.

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