PRISON SERVICE: NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART
1. Who wants to mingle in a hope forsaken community where society, through its courts, has packed its corners with all kinds of personalities, mainly—the meanest, nastiest, the most callous, despicable and shameful? No one, of course, wanted to meet just one on your way to your destination. Just anyone could spell danger, threat or menace. But try prison service. You meet not only one but an entire village!
2. Prison has always been known or perceived as a place where offenders are housed. It is not only a space, an area devoted to confine a specific sector considered the most dangerous division of society, it is a actually a social condition.
3. Everything that matters in prison is attendance, regular headcounts and controlling rounds of personnel to check on the presence of every inmate. It is always tallying, reckoning and validating. This simple activity however uncomplicated implies mistrust, doubts and suspicion. Those who intend to work in prison must, as a rule, get involved in all these tedious and repetitive tasks. If they intend to be effective, and they have no choice actually, they have to be trained in scepticism.
4. The presence of a prison officer delimits not only the spatial consideration for any initiative an inmate may show but it literally reduces the community’s outlook for creativity. And yet, the prison officer’s manifest presence must be felt. With his existence come some forms of intervention, the quality of which however depends on his orientation.
5. A newly appointed prison guard is always a fresh air in the prison camp. His mettle and patience immediately tested. Even a newly designated chief of the camp, notwithstanding his seniority, is also subjected to an exam of sorts. Their decision making is assessed. If they vacillate, then that is the end of their career. They become fodder to whatever transactions, usually illicit, there is, and there are numerous.
6. The prison community is an enormous spider web. Those who do not know how to play their role are immediately trapped. The inmates are virtually some kind of scientists who are experts in reading behaviour, especially those who are trapped and therefore the prey in the hierarchy.
7. The prison community also teaches indirectly and discreetly a person on the art of deception. Inmates and prison personnel are jointly given this kind direction right from the start. Both must internalize a world view that prison is a normal district, pulsating to the tune of a typical commune. For the prisoner, it is a matter of survival to subscribe to this belief. For the prison officer, it is a ballgame that has a time frame. After his tour of duty, he must disrobe his mind and assume another interpersonal perspective. It is not surprising therefore to consider cases where prison officers, after a few months in the prison service, already exhibiting changes in their persona.
8. Changes are very apparent. Sadism is almost ingrained. His principles are eclipsed and become scruples. He must accept the inmate he is supervising as one who is on the road to recovery, that whatever wrongdoing the person has done should be taken aside and every interaction taken at a positive face value. This despite the fact that the inmate, for all the explicit communication and dealings, with all the trappings of normalcy, is serving time and receiving the actual punishment in a regime absolutely guided by restraint and obedience to authority.
9. Sometime ago, there was a study, an experiment conducted in USA where volunteers were to play respective roles as inmates and guards. The volunteers are to be paid for participating in a research for behavioural changes. The program should last for a month but the experiment went haywire. For only a couple of weeks, the volunteers who performed as inmates suffered irreversible psychological injuries. Those who performed tasks similar to prison officers became harsh and vicious. The experiment was terminated.
10. The experiment was designed for only a month but it was never completed. In the real world, the experiment takes a centre stage. Inmates as inmates and prison officers as prison officers. Their relationships and association is as real as real as one can get. And it is not on a duration which can easily be concluded. It is for a greater period. If there should be flaws and deficiencies on the personalities of those torn inside the prison community, it is immediately discernible on how they would project themselves on the plane of a matured relationship with their respective peers and family.
11. For the prison officer, there is the inevitable transference of manners from a numerically superior prison population. He learns the language, the expression and its articulation. He internalizes even the mode and comportment of the prisoners. Like a prisoner, he learns to live with pain but wary and constantly fearful of its obstinacy. He lives in a world defined by polarity, where the inmate subsists on the negative side, while in his purview; he resides on the positive realm. Such intellectual perception is fatal and that explains the fact why prison officers are always heir to depression and melancholy.
12. Inmates would mould their prison officer counterparts into a persona to their liking. Their number literally can assault a personality. Prisoners can easily fashion out some kind of a character out of a susceptible person and the prison officer is always exposed. Promises will be dangled, provincial relations will be explored, innocent briberies are proposed, tempting offers tendered, at times beautiful stories are peddled, enticing situations offered and more. Everything to bend the will of the officer. If all of these fail, then the prison officer is marked.
13. There were numerous instances when rookies, those newly employed prison guards and are a bit idealistic in their career standing, would increase the ante of their presence—conducting shake downs and bawling out gang members who would intentionally display their gambling diversions. Once the threshold has been reached, the gangs would conspire to charge the new prison personnel. (Some time ago, a gang compelled a member to personally injure himself to create body contusions. Thereafter, the gang would then bring the inmate to the hospital and seek medical certification. After the documentation has been completed, this would be attached to a complaint sheet, along with testimonies of witnesses that said inmate has been bashed by the new prison guard. Charges are filed and hearings conducted. Eventually, that would signal the end of the officer’s career.)
14. Medical personnel, especially nurses, are not exempted from the cross-hair of the inmate’s lewd designs. They may be the hardest to court, the most difficult to transact, the most intricate to propose but they are no match to the appealing and charismatic plea of an inmate, more so if something material is to be pawned. (There was this beautiful and newly graduate of a nursing course who was employed in the prison hospital. Her wiles and good looks blended well with her pure white uniform. She was an exquisite symbol, an icon to be reached and a prize to be conquered. One day, an inmate, complete with facial drama, approached the nurse and begged to be helped. He wanted her to keep for him the wads of bills for safekeeping. After an audacious supplication for assistance, the nurse acquiesced. From that day on, the inmate would observe the nurse from the distance. He would for a time test the nurse for some familiarization, until the inmate would notice the evading attempts of the nurse. For the inmate, that means that his money has been touched! Instantly, when that has been noticed, the inmate would pounce on the situation and demand from the nurse that his money be given right away. Failing to produce it would mean a complaint. That is when the inmate would bargain from his target for the pound of flesh!)
15. Inmates are a sensitive lot. They will not mind at all any cruelty as long as it is within their understanding to cope. However, there are instances when their peace of mind would snap. And when it does, horror begins. (Iwahig, like most penal farms, is an open facility with treacherous terrain. Prison personnel in that facility are trained to withstand the loneliness of repetitive duties. They would recruit prison manpower to do menial and tedious duties, at times unappreciated and ungratefully expressed, for their personal convenience. When relationships have been forged and familiarity has been formed, sensitivity bordering on hostility becomes the order of the day. A kindly and religious couple, both prison personnel were peeved by their prison helper’s inability to fetch for them the day’s vegetable supply. The prisoner, in that case the two prison helpers, snapped and trained their resentment on the couple’s children. The prisoners hacked without mercy and decapitated the head of the children for the parents to witness the gruesome expression of their disgust before they escaped.)
16. Prison officers are given a consolation for their exposure in the prison community. Hazard pay is a feature of their remuneration and a space, called officer quarters, within the prison reservation is allocated. Outside of said respite is a continuous struggle to maintain sanity, evade fatal confrontation, dodge intrigues and a little ability to skirt away from anything untoward. Prison officers like custodial personnel are directly affected but they can easily prevaricate by citing security interests. The most vulnerable and wavering part of the prison service, however, are those attached to the rehab component of prison administration—the teachers, researchers, medical personnel, the religious and the volunteers.
17. In the violent history of prison management, mostly teachers, medical personnel, religious officers and a few security personnel were unfortunately listed as victims of dreadful aggression and terror in the prison community. But majority would see the proverbial end of the tunnel after reaching the mandatory age of retirement. For the latter, prison service took so much from them, everything, except their heart.