ON THE CRIME OF THEFT
“Nobody can judge his own worth.”
In a world where possession of anything valuable is almost an end in itself, stripping it off is already a crime against humanity. Or at least, for those who succeeded in gaining so much, a reduction of their accumulation is a threat of unfathomable consequence. Thievery is not a modern-day phenomenon. It is as ancient as man’s forebear. Animals would snatch their prey not as a matter of probing their predatory prowess but merely to survive. It was the invention of present-day civilization that catapulted ownership to the height of sacredness that when it is threatened by loss, the suspect gets the proverbial ax. Of course, the commission of the act precedes a political consideration, that is to say, if the thievery has the blessings of powers that be, then there was no illegal act committed. That is what power is all about for the few who are properly positioned. But for the rest of the common man, the field is planted with so much explosive mines.
One of those who stepped and got hit was Joy. No, she was not a person of possession. She was charged for theft. She was imprisoned for the offense, not because she deserved it but because her lawyers or the defense of her lawyers was deficient. In other words, she was incarcerated for poor defense preparation. And there are thousands of prisoners who are similarly situated. Seeing her presence among the predatory sector in the correctional facility for women is an injustice. This of course is true and disgusting when entertaining the thought that there are a number of government officials running scot free for large scale thievery.
Joy is a provincial lass from a fledging and agricultural town of Cagayan de Oro. The only girl in a brood of four. She is charming and a beautiful lady no doubt. Yes eyes are serene. Yes, her eyes, it is fixed, jet black, sorrowful but not restless. Her demeanor is very feminine. Casting malice on her is enough to bother one’s conscience. She is just as ordinary as any plain student can be. But looks sometimes are deceiving. One can express a saintly projection but deep inside the demons reside. But not Joy. She is the nearest thing to what simplicity is. Despite all these observable traits, she is one among those subjected to the regular institution headcount in a place designated for the most dangerous sector of our society—Prison.
Joy’s case started out as a juvenile yarn carried over to the extreme. She bought a bag in a hand-me-down store (ukay-ukay stalls), a leatherette contraption she simply found fanciful. There was a lot of it on the sidewalk that she felt the items were factory over-runs and not actually used. She bought one immediately and filled it with lots of feminine knick-knacks.
She was in third year college pursuing a Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education and her active curricular activities require so many things to convey. She was on the active side and always at the front line of extra academic pursuits. She sings and dances. Her repertoire includes dramatics and pulling pranksters too with her peer. She was on the side of the extrovert and the future is hers for these personal qualities.
Her lively persuasion would one day be tested. During a break in her class, she left her bag and went along with her friends for a quick snack in the canteen. When she came back, her bag was nowhere. She pretended not to mind. The joker among her classmates may get the comeuppance if she would make a show or some scandalous scenes. She maintained her poise but she tried to look around without alerting anyone. The joke could probably be on her as she was also that brat with her peers. After the class, her things were still nowhere. She began to entertain the thought that a stranger or somebody has stolen it already. Her classmates left one by one until she was alone in the classroom. She pretended to be busy, scribbling on a paper she borrowed from her classmate. Her bag was still nowhere. She went to check it out in other classrooms and there to her amazement was her bag.
She went for the jugular. Dragging her feet in desperation, she flung the bag on her shoulder, seriousness written all over her face, muttering invectives to show her displeasure within the hearing distance of some students milling in the area. She was peeved and she had lost her composure already. She would never leave anything anymore. Lesson learned.
As she was about to descend the stairs, a couple of security guards held her up with the school’s dean behind. The school official was accompanied by a crying student, pointing at the bag, claiming that it was taken forcibly from her. A near scuffle almost erupted in the corridor. Joy was embracing her shoulder bag while the other student grabbing the straps from behind her.
Inside the dean’s office, an impromptu investigation was to be conducted. Both students were already a picture of grief. Joy had the upper hand, convinced that she was on the right track. The Dean ordered that the bag be emptied. Joy immediately rose and poured everything from the container. She was aghast to find the contents. Valuable gadgets like an expensive cellular phone, bank notes, a classy wallet containing more than a thousand pesos, several IDs, receipts and a palm top computer. She almost fainted. Those were not her things. As quickly as she emptied the bag, and as hurriedly it was packed, she was immediately sent to the police station for a case of theft.
She was charged before a trial fiscal and lately given a consideration. She was allowed to go home. She never knew what hit her. She went back to her school, went straight to her classroom for one last look and there it was, her shoulder bag was there, and slumped in one corner near her chair. It was a terrible joke, a foul gag done to her. She tried to reach the Dean but the school official was nowhere. She went back to the precinct to explain her side but was asked to bring a lawyer instead.
It was very embarrassing for her and she could not even tell her parents her predicament. She went to her classmate, her best friend for consultation and assistance. She went back home and explained to her parents that she intends to transfer to her classmate to be near the school. She lied to make her loved ones secure. She does not want to create a problem in her family, what of the pressures the family is undergoing financially. She does not wish to be a burden. From there on, she was on her own.
She appeared before the fiscal’s office for confrontation and explanation but her arguments left her with no choice but eventually face the court room. Her schooling was affected. She was out rightly jailed for not posting bail. She awaited the date of the hearing and pleaded for the court to give her counsel for she was merely a student and without any means to retain a lawyer. A lawyer was tapped to take care of her defense. It was a token one since she could not sustain the requirements of the judicial officer. She was thereby persuaded not to argue anymore but admit of the charges so that the court could take pity and grant her a nominal penalty. She did as instructed and in a few trial sessions, the verdict was promulgated. She was sentenced to two years in the minimum and four years in the maximum. By this is meant that if she conducts and adjusts well, in two years she will be released on parole. If she does not have a good adjustment record, she would have to spend the entire stretch of her penalty until it expires on the fourth year. It is relatively a small inconvenience compared with those sentenced to more than a decade or for life. But one day to an innocent is a lifetime.
Finally, word reached her parents and true enough, they were a picture of complete gloom. They could not understand what happened to their sweet girl. Poverty could only be blamed for her situation although in reality it was only a case of a mistaken claim. Aside from working only to determine food for their meal table, the family began scrimping for additional logistics to support their visits to their incarcerated daughter. Joy could no longer respond when called by her nickname. She would rather christen herself as mourning, sadness or distress. Days gone by, then weeks and finally after a few months, she was transferred from jail to the penitentiary. There to rub elbows with fellow inmates who have committed offenses bordering on kidnapping to murder, robbery with homicide to sexual derangement. She would be mixed with a number of socially despised personalities. She was even entertaining the thought that one day, she may graduate to be one like those she was apprehensive to meet and forced to live with. But she had no choice. To reject this reality means to be a nut or one whose mind borders on lunacy. She chose realism.
Her first day at the penitentiary was solemn. There was complete discipline at the correctional facility for women in Mindanao—a newly organized female institution for insular female offenders. She was expecting a terrifying initiation by the most hardened and incorrigible among the inmates. She feared for her safety, for her security and well being. She knew that prisons are more difficult to comprehend than jails. She had seen movies before while gallivanting during holidays that portray prisons as no picnic grounds. She was correct initially but as days went by, she could pierce through the real meaning of the community. There was momentary peace that surrounds the total institution. There were troubles but these are manageable. There were occasional violent streaks but it is more lethal in the free community. Judgment is always withheld in this area and patience is more often the order of the day. She may have spent a few months under the regime of incarceration but it has already affected her physical attributes, especially those charming eyes. Her natural beauty has been altered and only a silhouette of her allure could barely be ascertained. Yet she has to serve a few more months before she could dream of freedom. Months in prison mean years of burden, added years on one’s corporal attributes. She may have spent two years but this would translate into an aging process equivalent to two decades. For a woman, this is unacceptable. For someone who is single like Joy, this means a life without any romantic future.
A year in the penitentiary however if one is to appreciate contemplation is the secret to breathing life to the fullest. It is also the key in arresting the harsh movement of time. For those who have gained the wisdom, one would note that time stands still and aging no longer a part of detention. As a matter of fact, captivity reduces time to an accessory, a mere guide but never a concern at all. For Joy, she was again blooming into a lovely and firm person. Like the majority of inmates, she successfully hurdled the test for fortitude. She has adjusted fairly well and became stronger. She may have skipped a number of years and unable to complete her degree, but the period on which she immersed herself in confinement gave her the maturity of a total person.
She is still serving time. She is still a member of the prison community. She is still up and about, lively and animated when headcount draws near. She would be the last to be counted as it was her wont. She wanted to be the least. The one at the tail, the fellow at the bottom. While she dreamt of success before, trying to be a leader of her pack, as number one, now she longer wish for it. She wanted as she has learned that the greatest message of them all is everything about humility. The humble person, as she understood it, is already complete.
P/Supt IV Ven J. Tesoro
August 2, 2010