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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.

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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.

THE WAY TO DAVAO PENAL COLONY

It is not exactly the way to a resort or a zoo or a market place.  It is not even a park or a playground.  Davao Penal Colony (or Davao Prison and Penal Farm) is the second biggest prison facility in terms of land area and inmate population in the country.  And this is not actually a typical penal establishment where the entire population are confined and restricted into an enclosure of cemented fence combined with cris crossing combat wires.

Historical Past

Davao Penal Colony, once upon a time, was the biggest prison establishment in the country and during World War II became an imperial garrison by the Japanese invading army.  It has hidden historical role as when it confined and left untold atrocities among its denizens, mostly American servicemen who were imprisoned as POWs (Prisoners of War).  A recent book “Escape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War  by John D. Lukacs, detailed the suspenseful plight of those servicemen and how a few managed to escape and a fraction of those who evaded, survived the rigors and challenges in crossing the unforgiving and treacherous jungle surrounding the penal facility.

During said period, the regular prison was closed down and its administrative side transferred to Iwahig Penal Colony.  For a number of years, it was detention area commanded by the Japanese Kempetai or Special Forces.  That was its history, its past, its inglorious reputation.

When War time was over, it was reopened and the facility took another persona, that of a repository of excess prisoners from Manila.  Most of those sent to serve time were all members of unruly groups, the violent and incorrigibles.  In no time, gangs predominated the landscape of the prison camp.  And as certain as their aggressive predisposition to control the prison community, relationship bordered on cruelty and sadism.  There were fierce competition to rule and control among prisoners sending the prison authorities into feats of brutality and vicious response.  Those were heady and ferocious times when the daily count of death would average to 10.  Riots in this part of the prison system were the worst in the history penal administration.  As compared from the Davao prison, the Muntinlupa penitentiary rampage was kids play!  This was in the roaring 60s.

The first Public-Private-Partnership

Then an unthinkable happened.  A private company (Tagum Agricultural Development Corporation or TADECO) explored the possibility of conducting a joint agricultural venture with Davao Prison.  It was experimental to say the least.  While prisoners were bashing each other’s heads, running amuck and imposing dreaded violence against each other, with prison authorities left merely to record casualty and bury those who fell, a group of agriculturists were busy charting a farm that would introduce a crop which eventually would become the second biggest export in the country.  That was an ironical period in the life of an institution.  Where one faction decimates its enclave, another was pursuing for its salvation.

The succeeding chapter in the history of Davao prison was engulfed in some kind of contemplation.  Prison violence would erupt occasionally until it fizzled out, while the swamp and estuary areas enveloping the prison camp were being transformed into an ideal farm.  Prison administration and its prison community began to notice the transformation until eventually; they were lured into a productive pursuit, a collaborative effort in unison with development.  Until finally, an agreement was forged to organize a joint venture program.

A Template of Modern Corrective Practice

Under this program are prisoners conscripted and enrolled in a Tesda formulated farming course.  This is where qualified (soon-to-be-released or those under medium and minimum security status) inmates are immersed in agricultural based farming and provided with stipends equivalent to the wage of an agricultural farm worker in the free community.  Some released prisoners, already skilled in banana farm care and maintenance, are absorbed in Tadeco and other farms in nearby towns.

Dapecol has gone a long way.  From a dreaded and fearful penal complex to a highly productive center of learning where rehabilitation and reformatory programs highlight its mission and mandate.

While it was shunned as a place of terror before, now it is the template of reform programs where spirituality and education are its principal orientation.  Within its grounds stand the Shrine of Our Lady of Prisoners also.

Currently, it is the Mecca of corrective lessons, a social laboratory of Criminology colleges in the whole eastern Mindanao.

For those in living in the periphery of the town and those residing in Davao, Davao Penal Colony is within a vast banana plantation, considered the biggest in the world, although technically, it is the other way around.  The plantation is within the vast prison reservation of Davao Penal Colony.

Dapecol encroaches on three big local government subdivision, a city and two municipalities.  Panabo city on the western side, Dujali municipality on the eastern part, Sto Tomas Municipality on the northern area.  From Davao city, the de facto capital of Mindanao, it is 56 kilometers or an hour’s drive.  Its road distance from Manila is almost 1, 500 kilometers.  By land, it can be traversed for two days.  By sea, three days trip.

Dapecol Today

Dapecol is likewise an extraordinary community segregated by farms from nearby municipal areas.  In a highly predominant Visayan dialect province of Davao del Norte, it is the only enclave where Tagalog is the prevailing tongue.  More so, it is also the only penal establishment in the country where there is a camp for male and another camp for female offenders.

Those who have taken a glimpse and have visited the place had only fond memories of visiting an ordinary prison breathing in an extraordinary manner.

HOW TO NEGOTIATE

A  LETTER TO MY CHILDREN, GRANDCHILDREN AND GREAT GRANDCHILDREN….

 

 

This is a follow up to my earlier letter to you my loved ones.  I promised to send you one.  I would presume that you have already internalized what I have shared to you last time and this letter would merely situate your gains towards a positive end.

 

There are, methinks, thousands of books, pamphlets and countless articles on the art of negotiation.  Accordingly, it is not only a science, not only an art but a major part in the arsenal of anyone trying to survive and win in any struggle.  There are countless approaches, principles, methods too to be employed so that once the person during negotiation applies these tactics, one is already conferred and assured of receiving the better part of the transaction.

I have as yet to make a summary and translate in one swift consideration how these approaches can be applied.  But I have devised something that would equate these matters into one simple undertaking.

Let me take you to our previous lesson on winning.  Remember the process of defeating and defying time?  That you must try to get up before a designated period, that is, as soon as the time you have promised to awaken will have sounded out.  I said you have won and that you are already a WINNER.  Now, let me continue from there.  As you go out to greet the world there will be people who would pounce on you for something.  It could be some complicated requests or a plain question on what time is there on your watch.

Now listen up.  If there is a person or a group of persons who would approach you with a query, never respond at all.  Lest you might misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that you ignore or disregard the fellow but you should take note of what he said (and retort later) but as a rule, you should not reply first.  Make the first move or instantly ask another question.  Remember, it is always you who must initiate the first question if you could not dismiss the person in front of you.  Think of something relevant to displace the first move or question made on you.  The trick is for you to get the upper hand.  Let him respond first to you before you react on that which the fellow wanted you to do.

You will be amazed that the fellow has immediately been charmed.  Anything you ask or require him to do will be done for you.  He will do the bidding for you because he is under your spell already.

If you are in a meeting, in a discussion, in a conference or may be in a transaction, remember to ask the first question.  Anyone whom you wish to submit to your presence should be the person you will ask first.  Any question will do.  You may ask how his day or his date, anything innocent.  Once he responds, you have him tucked under your control.  Even if in the course of your activity he piles up a lot of questions on you, in the end, he will always defer to your side or in anything where you are positioned.

You are familiar in a classroom setting.  Once the teacher comes in and declares a greeting, everybody responds.  From there on, all of those in the classroom are subservient to his requirements already.  Try to greet the teacher first before he commence and start to check your attendance, chances are he will dismiss the class early, and most likely you would hear complaints from him that he got out of bed on the wrong side.  Worst, he will never find the proper bearing to teach if that happens.

Now, let me repeat for purposes of emphasis.  If you want to dominate without being dominant, manipulative without being oppressive, to take a lead without being overbearing; you just want to express simple command, be respected in your ideas, in other words, succeed in the negotiation table whether it is conducted in a board room or under the tree, then don’t ever forget to ask the FIRST QUESTION, whatever it is.

Take good care always and share this also to your loved ones.

You ancestor,

Ven

UNDERSTANDING A CRIME WITHOUT A CRIMINAL

There was the celebrated issue of whether to display in Central Bank Museum the confiscated jewelries of former first lady (now Congresswoman) Imelda Marcos.  The pros and cons went on their usual argumentation on its wisdom or folly.  The point however is that if at all government accedes to display the stolen jewelries to remind the world about the country’s kleptocratic past, there might arise a greater issue that would haunt us further.  If the precious trinkets were indeed products of a crime, how come there were no criminals haled, prosecuted, made to answer and convicted.

There was even a recent, not beyond memory recall but has been swept under the bureaucratic rug, the case of Comelec’s Mega Pacific scam.  The then Ombudsman resolved that indeed there was a crime committed but it failed to name those responsible for it.  Findings:  an offense was committed but no offender noted.

In the Penitentiary, a seasoned prison officer or any veteran correctional researcher would readily offer instances when they would be able to identify prisoners serving time for crimes they have not committed.  In this case, it is a contrary view almost related to the first issue but with a twist.  There was an offender but he was serving a crime he never committed at all.  Once, there was a rumble inside the cell block the cause of which was unsettling.  The inmate serving time discovered to his dismay  that  his cell mate was actually the done who committed the offense for which he was made to account.   The only consolation that inveigle the minds of those affected by this legal phenomenon ( or negligence) is the belief that while they were imprisoned for something they have not done, they were nonetheless resigned at the thought that they were there to suffer because they have committed something wrong in the past, whatever it is.

It is however different when an injustice is committed and no one is held responsible.  We have heard of cases where a lowly government clerk would be detained and subsequently sentenced for a number of years  for submitting a falsified daily time record; and in some instances, we would also be informed that there are those despite overwhelming evidences could still leave the country unhampered.  There are crimes and more on the drawing table of the legislature.  And there are criminals who despite the glaring guilt surrounding their cases, it would not stick and mature into a conviction.

In this country, there is indeed a crime without a criminal.  Or seemingly to that effect if we take recent cases as guide.  Yes, there are suspects, plenty of them but suspicion are only a figment if not a fictional object at times conjured to appease public perception.  After a while, the suspicion fizzles out including the suspect.  Then back to where it began—a quest for the mysterious offender.

Actually, everyone knows more than anybody that crimes are, using evidentiary and related proofs, committed  by criminals.  It is a basic element of reality.  But while our criminal justice administration examines the crime, it relegates to a corner a significant period in identifying the offender, although the latter has been determined already ahead from the offense.  There are numerous safeguards, as a matter of fact, a surfeit of legal protective mechanisms, to defend the suspect from any form of injustice to the detriment of finding cause to reach the final ground for justice.  Result:  crime without a criminal.

HOW NEWS IS FORMED

There was a specific line in the movie Spiderman which may describe modern day media reportage.  It was a dialogue between the editor of a newspaper and his reporter.  Their verbal exchanges began thus.

What do you mean this hooded thing is doing the public a favor!!!?” the editor blurted out.   The reporter snapped back meekly, “But sir, he is making good in his crusade and the people must know the truth.” 

The editor hurled back, a crumpled report on his hand and declared, “You have made him a name because he is good, now make him bad!”

No wonder, our newspapers would contain snippets of good accomplishments made by some obscure personalities, until the public notices merits and distinction.  Reporters would haunt tail and stalk the performing asset and public adulation follows.  Behind the trailing reporter is another correspondent, the investigative and snoopy kind.  He is fishing for bits of information that would lead to the weakness, perceived flaw, drawbacks, even stain in the past of the person so that when he achieves a certain degree of prominence, an information on any defect, imagined or otherwise, will make headlines and as commerce dictate, newspaper would sell like the proverbial hot cakes.  Thereupon, media can have its cake and eat it too!

This happened to Al Capone, a small time, street corner gangster who gained notoriety due to his deadly exploits.  Because of reports about his charity and mysterious gang land operations, he became an urban legend.  Not long after, with a name already introduced in society pages, government moved in and charged him, not for murder, because his lawyers were quick to the draw, but for tax evasion, because he had a poor auditor.  He  was subsequently charged and incarcerated.   He died in prison as a non entity while serving time.  A few years later, he would be featured in a block buster film and the film producer along with his media outfit would have the last laugh.

Locally, there was this street urchin who would regale pedestrians with his acrobatic tricks and when as soon as he would be able to draw public attention, he would strike and snatch everything that fancied him, from wrist watches to shoulder bag, then run until he would be lost in the sea of humanity.

A newbie tabloid reporter, who was then passing through, was intrigued with the juvenile and made a feature about the exploits of the youngster.  Journalists from other papers joined the fabled exploits and named the teenager as “Ben Tumbling.”

Ben Tumbling’s deeds and daring acts became a staple in tabloid.  It was picked up also by mainstream newspapers.  His feats were almost overblown until law enforcement units were formed just to neutralize a kid who served as embarrassment to them.  Weeks past, newspapers were selling like discounted pizza, until the imagined happened.  Ben Tumbling was cornered and slain.  Here was a case where a lowly felon got prominence bordering on exaltation by the masses until he reached the end of the line and was taken down.

Feeling obscure?  No recognition?  Let it be.

Lest one may aspire to be an urban legend one day, let him observe first how news is formed.

Pasisikatin ka muna, tapos titirahin ka na  nila.”  (“You will be made as a toast of the town first, and later you will be toasted.”)

Therefore,  beware of the ides of media.

VIP PRISONERS: CURSES AND AGGRAVATION

 

“VIP prisoners” is a pejorative term which media conveniently described those inmates who once graced high society and has been accorded some form of celebrity status in the free community and now serving time under a regime of incarceration—- in style.

*****

The prison community is never surprised at their presence.  As a matter of fact, their arrival is excitedly anticipated.  These are the people whom the common prisoners can shake down, threaten and forced to come across.  They are an economic blessing to the imprisoned sector.

*****

For prison administration, their attendance is a signal of blight, an institutional irritation, a nuisance.  Here is a group or a person who would be used as front of gangs, as their representative, spokesman if not their main defensive agent for additional privilege.  Prison is a big community ruled by discipline and controlled by a series of regulations.  To gain a privilege or two means relieving the prison camp from a fraction of its restrictions.  In other words,  prison suffers from the discomfort of imposing total control—the lifeblood and essence of imprisonment.

*****

Whenever a person of social importance albeit notorious as conveyed by public perception is about to be convicted, the penitentiary is abuzz.  Every gang focuses on its connection with prison functionaries so that the eventual admission of said person would be accorded them.  In effect, as soon as the celebrity gets into the penal camp, a number of representatives from gangs would have a day for bidding.  The winner will eventually bag the person and from there, the person is protected but in return must have to throw in and cough up some of his personal resources.

*****

Note that it is not prison administration that confers a special status on the so called VIP prisoner.  It is the gang and the prison community as a whole.  They defer to his presence, they kowtow with his requirements and they show respect at his every whim.  They elevate the status of the person on the pedestal of esteem.  It is a truism that there is indeed honor among thieves, so to speak.  And whatever has been said against the incarcerated celebrity prisoner, he gets the necessary adulation and reverence from his fellow prisoners.

*****

As his influence grows in the prison community, so is his confidence.  He is emboldened since he is backed up by gangs to extend his interactive horizon until he transcends up to the level of his custodians.  From there he transacts and offers material assistance.  This would be repeated and exchanges become frequent until familiarity is bred and alliances formed.  It is not astonishing to note that there are even custodial personnel who out of convenience and familiarity have joined the fraternal ranks of gangs!

*****

When the prison officer gets sick, it is the gangs or a group of prisoners, especially the celebrity inmate who gets into the picture of facilitating aid.  To a certain extent, he may even have some reservation as to the readiness of his organization to extend succor to him.  Oftentimes, he may even perceive his organization as harsh whenever he fails to file his sick leave.  The efficiency of his ward to extend support has transformed him into a veritable collaborator and an instant affiliate in any chosen plan by the prisoner or gang for that matter.

*****

The influence of celebrity prisoner moves slowly up until it reaches the door step of the camp administrator.  From there, privileges are haggled and concessions are concurred.  It is not a shocker anymore why visitors could “stay in” on a weekly basis in the penitentiary, staying in overnight right inside the very cell of prisoners themselves!

*****

It is also not astounding anymore to see prisoners displaying a set of gold necklaces and signature wristwatches on their personal effects.  This on top of signature shirts, high end sneakers and some arrogance to boot, to the displeasure of some rookie personnel who could not comprehend what they are witnessing on a grand scale.  It also staggers the consciousness of a new caller to find some prisoners driving a mechanical transport, drinking expensive wines, relaxing in an air conditioned nook, visited by starlets and contributing to the internal cause of the organization without compunction or reluctance.  They are simply a part if not a major contributor in running the affairs of the entire prison setting.

*****

As a consequence, prison administration has eventually lost control of how the system should be handled.  Gangs virtually have taken over the consciousness of prison life.  It is here where celebrity prisoners have inflicted the curse and aggravated the inability of prison administration to fulfill the mandate of managing the affairs of imposing discipline and order.  Some prisoners no longer act as prisoners anymore.  They simply have taken over the reins of prison supervision.

*****

Fortunately, this situation is never obtained in the rest of the penal establishments in the country.  This can only be found for quite sometime in the maximum security wing of the national penitentiary.  Hence, over in that deity forsaken spot, it is more fun to be imprisoned!

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