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congested prison


Senator Miriam Santiago correctly introduced a legislative formula through a bill she drafted and called it An Act to Prevent Luxurious Conditions in Prisons.  Accordingly, “prison officials shall provide living conditions and opportunities to prisoners within its prison that are not luxurious than those conditions and opportunities the average prisoner would have experienced…”And rightly so, government could not even build additional facilities for its jammed facilities save for superfluous amenities for its numerous inmates who are virtually lumped and literally are heaped one on top of the other.  While it has been said and practically enshrined in the Constitution that it is the policy of the State to prevent the imposition of excessive, cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment, the condition in almost all corrective facilities in the country defy hitherto such constitutional policy.  To introduce by administration luxurious condition would not only amount to a crime but igniting violence among those who would not be able to obtain it.

It has been noted through a scientific study that encamping 10 persons in a small room would increase the temperature by a degree higher than the prevailing condition.  In prison, it is not only 10 or 50 or 100 but thousands are lumped inside a dormitory contributing to gross overcrowding.  They are literally living inside a live microwave oven!  Without capital outlay, prison administration is left at the mercy of luck to avoid possible conflagration or genocide.

Furthermore, deaths in prison as a result of lung defects is a daily occurrence and may only be regarded by the prison population as part of their travails and consequence of their penalty.  Congestion is a cruel manifestation of unabated influx of convicts in a small area intended for their welfare and rehabilitation while serving their time.  Living condition in all prison and detention facilities are indeed callous and disregard any standard application of rules.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo described the Philippine penology conditions as “deplorable, inhumane and having substandard conditions.”  Philippine Star columnist Domini Torrevilla interjected in her column  that “yes, you and I may hate some of these inmates for committing crimes, but they still need to be represented in court and treated like human beings.”

Government could not contain much more so sustain a situation where standards in accommodation and proper handling of prisoners are criterions to be met.  Funds are just too limited to appropriate to build more facilities.  Donors and contributors from non-government agencies led by Church and the Academe which are basically advocating humane principles are always at the forefront of providing the necessary wherewithal the prison community needs.  Without this representative sector, the prison community would have been doomed years ago.

Prisons are never designed to conduct a slow dehumanizing process to exterminate inmates.  It is not even contemplated in the basic law of the land.  The Bureau of Corrections was never even organized to pursue inhuman practices.  The agency is there to promote the safekeeping and rehabilitation of all inmates.  But the congested situation poses a challenge which not even volunteer sectors could address.  Not even the introduction of new laws unless it is meant to build and expand facilities or reduce penalties and regularly grant clemency more than the courts would issue commitment orders.

The so called No Frills Prison Act is an ideal imposition in a standard prison situation; where inmates are properly assigned in regular cells at normal accommodation rate; where population count does not exceed markedly the level it is designed to house inmates.  It is an ideal response to a normal prison condition where anything introduced over and above the requirements would tilt the balance and create abnormalities.  But the prison system is nowhere near the standards, nowhere near normal level, nowhere near the criteria for humane subsistence.

If a patient is placed in the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital, it is not out of whim that he is brought or simply just to make it appear that he needs extra frills.  He is there to make him live longer.  If a patient is given a number of expensive medical procedures, it is not even luxurious, although the cost of medicine may considerably point towards that direction, but a way to heal the patient.  Similarly, if an industrial fan or an air-conditioning unit has been allowed to be used in the prison community, it is merely to arrest the gradual increase of deaths through punctured lungs by most inmates.  Donated resources to build more facilities as living areas for inmates are better than seeing prisoners scattered and sleeping on the ground and pathways.

Television sets and musical instruments, even an influx of visitors and donors reduces the tension of a congested facility, extending further hope and a peaceful condition in the prison community.  The prison climate is lightened and unburdened.  Without these items and considerations, peace is nowhere and violence the order of the day.

This should not be a regular input in a corrective facility though.  It should be tempered and regulated.  At most, it should be prohibited even.  But government should address the principal culprit on congestion by expanding its facilities first, building more dormitories if not actively grant clemency and releases.

In US Federal States, if the court knows that the facility where a convict would transfer is congested, the sentence is suspended.  The judiciary knows that a congested facility would defeat the very purpose of rehabilitating an offender.  In other countries, the sentencing procedure is even liberal to the extent that there are more releases than admission creating a balanced prison population level without overcrowding.

In other countries, an inmate occupies a cell, at most two of them.  In a congested facility, a cell good for 20 is packed up to 75.  An inmate who leaves his sleeping space and desires to pee once through would not have a space to go back to.  There are those facilities where prisoners are like spiders splayed all around the available vertical space available in the dormitory.  Ironically, prison administration still is confident that those who passed through the rigors once released are rehabilitated and are presumed to be law abiding citizens thereafter.

No Frills Prison furthermore is great and more relevant  if prison facilities have met the standards.  In the same way, there is no need for an ICU if what is needed is aspirin.



My hands are full.  Check this out.  De las Alas (Leviste) case,  Rizal Bombing, Cochise-Beebom case, Pasig Tiangge, Maguan case, Venturina case, Venson case, Janjalani of Abu Sayaf case, drug lords and a lot more.  All of these cases are represented by individuals who were convicted by the court of law.  On their own, and while in the free community, all of them were game changers, leaders in their own right, outstanding in their craft, almost perfect in executing their art.  All of them are within my reach.  All of them serving time in the facility which I am governing.

I say governing because given these personalities, they will never be managed and administered at all.  Their capacity to think is more than the ordinary.  They are several steps away from an ordinary thinker.  They can predict with uncanny ability.  They can influence the whole prison community even if they are quietly confined in a small corner of the facility.  They exude wisdom like ancient sages.  One would even suspect that they even volunteered to be convicted.

They are lumped, mixed if you may, along with ordinary felons.  Their organization reaches far and wide and their advice literally could change the law enforcement landscape.  Prisons or yes, imprisonment had little effect on how their minds work.  But that does not mean that death penalty could cure it.  Incarceration had a telling effect on any person, brilliant or otherwise.  Imprisonment brings forth the best in anyone in captivity.  It may be fatal to a beast but never to a human being.

An arrogant capo de tuti capo, or the boss of all bosses when detained learns the fine art of diplomacy.  He learns at the start that when he intends to flex his muscles, he begins to deprive himself of kindness and attracts unnecessary hostilities.  He immediately internalizes humility and in an instant, courtesy becomes his second nature.  He exudes a different persona as depicted in the transcript of stenographic notes from the courts.  He seems to be different based on his projections  on that which is pictured in the court decision.  He no longer is the same gangster as he was before.  A terrorist would likewise evolve in the course of his custodial exposure.

In the prison camp, he would just be an ordinary number, a common place, one who easily is affected by moods and intrigues.  He is as plain as everyone.  There is nothing unusual on his being.  Furthermore, he would even be less than the average and even act like one who never mattered at all.  You cannot even spot him in a thin crowd.  And these are the guys whom society dreads and fears the most.  Their names, their records, the chronicles of their acts are considered despicable and do not deserve a second chance.  In prison, it is a composition of the best and the worst, the finest and the basest.

In a manner of speaking, the worst may as yet to be the best and the basest seems to gravitate towards becoming the finest.  Imprisonment has its psychological usage after all.  The change, no matter how placid prison administration is, forces an inmate to self-regulate, review reality, reinvent faith and reformulate his outlook.

Prisoners know where they are coming from and there is no need for some external prodding for them to realize this.  Let prison, an inmates’ environment, impose its structural integrity and the humanity under its sphere would act accordingly.  Fill it to the brim and one expects conflagration.  Under this situation, if at all peace is obtained, it called a miracle.  It becomes abnormal.  Peace is brought forth and is perceived as freak.

That is where headaches come around.  Peace should be a result of an effort, a normal one, coming as it were from a well governed facility with concern for a correct accommodation level.



peace in prison

It has been said and suspicion is rife that whenever there is peace in a highly communal facility like prison, expect it to be artificial if not superficial.  At any given time, more often than not, almost sudden, violence erupts.  There are tell-tale signs before a commotion.  There are factors and there are even stages.  Any violent streak has its respective genesis.  In prison or for that matter, any corrective facility, the breeding ground is congestion.

Experiments on congestion or overcrowding lead to trouble.  Pack a group of saintly seminarians in a tiny room fitted for just half of them and chances are, a portion would break away and start conflagration.  In prison, we talk of convicted persons, found guilty by the courts for breaking laws, lives and limbs.  It does not take to be a soothsayer or a fortune teller to predict what would happen next if this group would be lumped in a small space.

It is not true that when a person is convicted, he becomes a changed person overnight.  And that where he would serve time is the most peaceful place on earth because of the air of lamentation and the spirit of anguished repentance.  What is pervading is another emotionally loaded consideration.  There is vengeance in every inmate’s heart.  There is revenge at the very core of his awareness.  If at all an inmate would withdraw from such mental preoccupation it is because of his family or loved ones.  After all, they are the very subject from where his fault or crime emanated.  It was his fanatical love that pushed him to the precipice of committing an offense.

In prison, peace is to be haggled and negotiated.  It is wished for by the community and prayed by administrators.  Every commotion oftentimes speak of death on either side and worst, a career ending proposition for those tasked to manage the facility.  There is no other way but maintain peace whatever its posture is, whether it be permanent or tentative or artificial.  Peace is to be procured at any given price, with sacrifice as its foremost consideration.

If there is reigning peace, whether it is suspect or otherwise, there is success somewhere.  Who needs hostility in the first place.  Convicts have led a convulsive life bordering on brutality and accidental serenity.  It is this brand of serenity that is elusive in the free community but which is compelled as a matter of course in a homogenous environment like prison.  For the layman, this is an impossible to task to realize.  It is almost an unreachable star so to speak.  But there is no other option but tinker with possibilities to achieve a peaceful mark.  No one would dare contradict this situation in the first place.  In peace, there is hope and hope is always the moving force that generates internal change in the outlook of a person serving time in prison.  Nobody wants to be released in a box.

And so peace is pursued and sued by every moving object in the penitentiary.  Whatever its cost and worth, peace is everything.  In a congested situation that brings about explosive interaction, administration must be bold in providing a counter balance to an unbearable (overcrowded) situation.   Introducing amenities to make life bearable is one approach.  It creates a fulcrum on which peace is anchored.  Peace is therefore a responsible highlight on which every prisoner reckons.  A violation of peace is an invitation for these amenities to be taken out and suspended.  Hence, for a group which has been judicially sentenced for irresponsibility, this is a lesson on responsibility which can be internalized without force or compulsion.  Responsibility is learned as it is taught in the practical and understandable  sense.

To be responsible is a concrete term for rehabilitation in correctional administration.



I had my haircut in my favorite saloon and my barber was in his usual sharp condition.  He was ribbing me for looking fresh.  He saw me on television.  I was being interviewed in a press conference.  I was explaining what was happening in prison.  At that time, media was insinuating that there was a riot when it was merely a brawl between two prisoners.  Early reports would point out that the trouble was directly caused by a coin game gone wrong.  Later reports however would reveal that it started from a failed transaction of contraband between several neighborhood factions.

My barber wanted some clarifications.  He said that he was hearing a lot of noise from most of his customers who claim that drugs could easily get into the prison camp.  He asked for my reaction.  I replied nonchalantly, “I am not alarmed on drugs getting into the prison camp.  I am alarmed on drugs circulated in schools and in the street.”

I further explained that “Prisoners must take care of themselves because if something wrong happens to them while serving time, their complainants will only be doubly jubilant.  And their complainants are the least people they would rather satisfy.  Consuming drugs in prison is suicide.  And the complainants if capable would find smuggling drugs in prison in cahoots with prisoners an act of serendipity where both are joined in a partnering of interest.  Of course, the bottom line is tragedy for the willing prisoner to harm himself on his behest!”

I even ventured to tell my barber jokingly that “Why not dump all drugs and contrabands in prison so that the free community will be freed from the effects of its general circulation.  In prison, only the fools will consume it.  Only the fools will devour it.  Let it be.  Those who will not touch it would see the light of freedom in one piece.  Those who succumb to the vice however would eventually perish.  The prison is where we cleanse those passing through.”

Of course, there is no such thing in the prison rules that would explicitly allow anything of that sort.  As a matter of fact, one must adhere to the textbook solution when dealing with institutional concerns.  There are several layers; all are security related, when passing through and in getting into the prison camp.  There is no other way to breach that unless rules are bent for consideration as a matter of compromise.

My barber convincingly stated, “In other words sir, drugs in prison is prohibited, even liquors and other intoxicating drinks.”

“That is right.” I said.  “Some do-gooders however wanted to treat prisoners as children.  Some even would presume that prisoners are there to be transformed into saintly beings;  that they should exude with vigor and in their pink of health.  That once a person dons the prison uniform, he is already lily clean.  That if anything untoward would happen to him, one must blame the world immediately.”

“You know what sir?”  My barber cautiously whispered, “If indeed that prison authorities are assiduous in treating prisoners as delicate persons, guarding their welfare and vigilant on human rights, concerned about their safety and protective of their well-being, then I won’t mind committing a crime just so I would become a part of the prison community.”

“Be careful of what you wish, for it might come true!”  I counseled my barber.  “No matter how grand a prison camp is managed, no matter how ideal one could attempt in its administration, prison remains a prison, a place where losers converge, a place where frustration maintains a face, an environment that redefines partiality.  That is a common perception.   In reality however, prisoners are winners in the game of life, that they have overwhelmed frustration through tenacity and in their hearts, they belong to an environment that forces them to be creative.  Imprisonment is a struggle only reserved for those with strong minds.  Imprisonment does not inspire simplicity.  I would rather convince you to remain a barber and not anything else.”

“Thank you sir!”  my barber exclaimed.  “You know what? I once had an ex-convict as customer.  Now I realize he deserves some measures of respect.  From now on, they will all receive from me a free haircut!”


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