And the point of their incarceration is?

Consider this fictional experience of prison:

Nothing could have prepared Tony for incarceration in the federal prison camp in Yankton, South Dakota.  Perhaps, to the experienced prisoner, or even from the outside, it was lovely, better than most.  After all, it had only been a federal prison since 1988… The grounds were beautiful with flowers, trees, and well-manicured grass.  There wasn’t even a fence around the perimeter.  Nevertheless, it was a prison.

Tony’s legal department had done their research:  …it was said to be one of the best all-male, minimum-security prisons in the United States.  As most of the prisoners there were convicted of nonviolent crimes, it took some negotiation…to secure Tony a spot in the highly sought-after facility.  A large subsection of inmates were middle-aged men who’d been convicted of white-collar crimes.

…the inmates didn’t have private or even semi-private rooms.  Prisoners slept in dormitories… These rooms had beds, lockers, and desks.  All the beds were bunked with an unspoken understanding that the eldest bunk mate received the prized lower bunk.  Some of the dormitories held sixty men.  Thankfully, Tony’s only held twenty, which was still nineteen more than he wanted.

Over the years he’d heard how these minimum-security prisons were just country clubs for the wealthy criminals.  Anyone who said that had never been behind the walls.  Though he’d researched the prison camp before he arrived, he wasn’t prepared.  He remembered that most testimonials stated that the first few days were the most difficult.  He hoped that was true.  His first day was filled with interviews and screenings, but as Tony received his khaki shirt, khaki pants, cumbersome shoes, underwear, and bedding, the reality was overwhelming.  There was no doubt that the next four years of his life would be drastically different from any of the first forty-nine.

As if sleeping in a room with nineteen other men wasn’t difficult enough, he soon learned about counts.  Counts happened everyday… During a standing count each man was required to stand unmoving by his bunk while the correctional officer counted inmates.  With wake-up being every day at 5:50 AM, Tony wondered why they couldn’t wait until then to do the count.  Heaven knows that lights coming on and a correctional officer walking bunk to bunk three times in the middle of the night was not conducive to a good night’s sleep.

The other men in his unit didn’t care who he was outside any more than he cared who they were.  Each man was cordial and respectful, yet not overly communicative.  That was until evenings:  most of the men thrived on television time.  From 4:30 PM until midnight, the television was on.  Never being much of a television watcher, the incessant noise — every night — wore on him as much as the stupid counts.

Sleeping wasn’t the only activity that was communal.  Showering, too, was done by the unit.

Besides his thrice a week counseling sessions, Tony, like every other inmate, was required to hold a job. Not only was he responsible for cleaning his part of the dormitory, he had an actual job.  Every day after breakfast, Anthony Rawlings, Number 01657-3452, reported to the warehouse, where he unpacked supplies from delivery trucks.  That bit of manual labor earned him $0.17 an hour.  Hadn’t this place heard of minimum wage?

The money he earned, plus money he had sent to him, allowed him to purchase non-issued supplies.  That was everything from headphones and an MP3 player to drown out the incessant television, to shampoo and additional clothing.  Though Tony could have unlimited money sent to his account, there was a $320.00 per month spending limit.  He almost choked when he read that.  Hell, he’d spent more than that on a haircut.

In an effort to avoid the dormitory, Tony signed up for educational services… The subject he chose to study was horticulture.

The schedule included time to exercise, and during the allotted time, a quarter-mile track was frequented by the inmates.  While many used the track as a time to talk with a little more privacy, Tony’s playlist kept him occupied.  Purchasing music was one of his bigger expenses.  To occupy his mind, he had the Wall Street Journal, as well as other business publications delivered, and he was allowed a minimum amount of Internet time.  The Internet as well as phone calls were monitored, but they were a connection to the outside world.

Tony recalled Claire’s description of prison, saying that it was very routine.  He could add lonely, boring, and other adjectives, but routine was accurate.

The best and worst days of the week were weekends and holidays.  Those were the days when visitors could visit… Upon his arrival to the prison camp, Tony was required to complete a list of friends and family who could visit.  The list was then verified and approved by the prison.

By law, inmates were allowed four hours a month of visitation.  However, it was the belief of the prison that visitors were good for the inmates’ morale.  Therefore, contingent upon available space – every visitor and inmate were required to have a chair – visits were granted.  They had to be planned ahead and approved.

Occasionally, something would occur that the visits didn’t happen.  Those were dark, colorless days.

Tony’s counseling had progressed beyond insignificant discussions about Tony’s adaptation to Yankton.  His therapist wasn’t a doctor but a counselor named Jim.

“Anthony, how are things going?”

“As well as can be expected, I suppose.”

“Why?  What did you expect?”

“I don’t know.  I thought I could handle it better.”

“What do you mean?”

“I hate it–every minute.  Like this!  I can’t even fuck’n do this.”

“What?  What are you doing that you can’t do?”

“Just move, walk, pace, whatever.  I’ve been trying these last few months, but I don’t think I can make it another forty-four months.  Damn, that sounds like forever.”

– Chap. 14, Behind His Eyes-Convicted:  The Missing Years, companion book to Consequences series by Aleatha Romig

In the real world that is the PDAF Scam, prison for the first three Senators who were arrested pre-trial is a newly-constructed 3-door bungalow unit at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame.

via Rappler
via Rappler
via Rappler

What’s wrong here?  Several.

First, construction of a new detention unit especially for the arrested legislators.  The red-flag word here is ‘new’.  The word’s red and it’s flagged because the money used in the construction is taxpayers’ money, once again.  It was taxpayers’ money that was scammed by these arrested legislators and again on taxpayers’ money they’ll be incarcerated in relative luxury (luxurious in the sense that compared to existing national prisons they enjoy relative privacy, personal and material, and generally relaxed rules).  It’s too much.  This is another thundering slap on the much-bludgeoned face of Filipino taxpayers!

Let’s take the fate of these legislators’ counterparts, say, in the US.  The Senator Rod Blagojevich for instance.  Convicted, he served his sentence in a federal prison.  I have yet to hear of news in foreign lands, developed nations, of spending government money to construct prisons especially for convicted high profile personalities.  Also, their stay is said to be temporary.  Again, what is the point of putting up a new and permanent fixture when the use is temporary?

Those who had the unit constructed obviously are oblivious to their position as holders of public trust.  Do they actually believe that the Filipino public would agree to use public funds for it’s construction?  They’d rather have the amount spent on one more much-needed unit of socialized housing.

Second, following the provisions mentioned above, what then is the point of jailing the legislators?  What is the point of investing so much (again, of taxpayers’ money) in the investigative process only to throw the much publicly-maligned subjects of investigation back into the lap of relative luxury, which to them is exactly where they have belonged (that corruption afforded them)?  What is the point of opening the investigation of this scam in the first place?

One objective of incarceration is to reform the prisoner (rehabilitation).  Certain liberties (e.g. privacy) are taken away and a system of rules put up in the aim that by the end of their sentence prisoners will have realized their error, and hopefully they will walk out of the prison door changed (for the better).  But, no, as was before them, these legislators are provided a familiar, if not the same, environment as that in which they committed their error:  in a place where they have full control of their time and space. How will these legislators develop the values derived from community life and obedience to rules when they are, as was the case in their own homes, afforded the freedoms and liberties from comfortable solo living?  How will they be able to feel the heat felt by the average Filipino who cannot pay for daily air conditioning but is still paying taxes, the same who they have deprived as a result of billions of taxes spent on things that have not benefited the average Filipino at all?   How in such a setting are these legislators expected to develop genuine remorse for what they have done?  What is the point of incarcerating them at all?

Granted, inequality exists even within the prison system but still in the case of these legislators jail is practically apartment living.  As with the fictional influential multi-billionaire Tony in Romig’s Consequences series, their kind has the resources to rally all possible breaks to their favor with the aim to make jail time less daunting but still after all is said and done prison is prison regardless of class, wealth, reputation, or influence.  There are some basic things in prison life that must be experienced by all prisoners.  Otherwise, prison will not serve it’s purpose which is as a deterrent of crime.  If prison is apartment living – air-conditioning, board and lodging, utilities – all free courtesy of taxpayers then please tell me how I could walk right into it!  It’s setting a very bad precedent for the next batches of accused in the scam and corrupt officials in general.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV reiterates the fact that 90-year old Senator Enrile is a senior citizen “who was hospitalized last year for hypertension (and) may be too old to handle the heat inside a regular jail”.  But, again, here, let us not lose sight of the other facts.  Many children whose parents could not afford private health care were deprived of basic medical care in public health centers because taxes did not trickle down to that level. How many of these children died because of that?  Many pregnant women who cannot pay for private health care were deprived of basic medical care in public health centers because taxes did not reach that level.  How many of these women died because of that?  Many school children whose parents could not pay for private tuition were deprived of basic school supplies (e.g. textbooks) and facilities because taxes did not trickle down to their schools.  How many of these young ones were deprived of a good future because of that?  The billions of public money that were scammed should have gone to much-needed public services and infrastructures. We must not lose sight of this critical fact.  Did the good Senator Enrile, the first time kickbacks were offered him or the opportunity to scam presented itself, stop to think about those poor children and women who needed that money more, no, who have a first-priority right to that money?  I’m an advocate for the needs of the elderly but sadly and unfortunately for Senator Enrile his fate has somewhat taken the turn of someone like, say, Pol Pot:  the public contemplated the face of then elderly Pol Pot and wondered how the old man could be capable of truly unthinkable deeds.  But believable or not that was, he did.  The world has not looked more kindly to the elderly who spent their younger years hurting massive others.  The best treatment it gave them is sadness.

The CBCP tells the accused to ask for forgiveness and to tell the people they’re sorry.  Lest Filipino Catholics misunderstand this to mean that the accused are free to go after they forgive them, the statement must be clarified.  Catholic teaching says that God is a forgiving God, He will always forgive (if He’s asked and it’s sincere) but nonetheless He calls each and everyone to give an accounting of everything that he or she did (whether here or in the after life); that if a misdeed has not been “paid for” it must be “paid for”, one way or the other, because God is also a just God. Forgiveness is separate from justice.  The Catholic faith has a tome on this teaching.  Alternatively, this blog is rife with articles about the need for the local Catholic clergy to clarify motherhood statements concerning the faith.  As of yesterday, Filipino Catholics, especially the poor and easily side-blinded, deserve to be set free from half-truths.

Third, the newly-constructed “temporary” prison blindingly contrasts with the sordid design and material used in the construction of “temporary” housing for survivors of Haiyan. These people haven’t scammed a single centavo of tax money!  In fact, they are ultimately the victims of incompetence.  Therefore, they are right to complain and to conclude that the scale of justice is tipped against them.  The photo, and many earlier images of the place, is visual proof.

via Philippine Inquirer

Alternatively, the newly-built and comparably posh prison has directed the public toward the inhumane conditions in prisons across the country. As can be gleaned from the paragraphs above, I think I’ve explained myself why I disagree when Senator Trillanes IV said “we should pressure the government not to level down the treatment of the three senators”.  I agree however that “[we should] pressure the government to level up the treatment of other detainees across the country”.  Again this should’ve been done yesterday, as a component of a long term forward looking strategy in criminal justice system reform.

Court trial of this first batch of accused has not yet started but already there are disturbing breaches in handing out justice.  These make the Filipino public appear like stupid fools, if not a blatant disrespect of the taxpaying public.  And so again the question, what is the point of taking the public on a ride through sordid details of the scam?

A relatively more accountable cadre of public officials and a vigilant Filipino people are the realities some time in the nation’s future – it’s inevitable. For today’s generation, of public officials and Filipino public, the question is, shall we die not knowing what life in a just and corrupt-free Philippines is like?  Shall we tell our God, I wanted nothing to do with my country?  At this juncture of the PDAF Scam, the nation is once again faced with all too familiar choices: to have learned the lesson of our dramatic collective past and take the necessary steps forward, or ignore the lesson and take ten centuries worth of steps backward.

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