Barred Freedom

Life inside the maximum security compound.

The New Bilibid Prisons, established in the 1940’s due to the increasing number of prisoners, is the headquarters of the Bureau of Corrections under the Department of Justice in the Philippines.

Home to at least 19,000 prisoners where the prison guard ratio is 1 is to 64 hardened criminals, the interior of this compound has been resembles a microcosm of Filipino society complete with makeshift boutique stores, specialty shops and livelihood centers complying to the mission of the agency to use rehabilitative program instead of the usual isolation and force. This is to maximize the assets' value of the BuCor and effectively pursue its responsibility in safely securing and transforming national prisoners through responsive rehabilitation programs managed by professional Correctional Officers.

In the maximum-security prison, the land area is subdivided into two main ‘carcels’, the north and south including the former death row. This physical separation immortalized by a huge slab wall with guard posts that cut through the compound give the gang members as well as prison guards peace of mind initially avoiding untoward incidents such as gang wars and any other altercations between groups. Inside the carcels, it is even more subdivided, cells headed by ‘mayors’ profile new and returning prisoners is marked by insignias for better recognition.

The organized chaos seemed to work its charm through the years as BuCor officials sees no other way of rehabilitating the growing number of convicted criminals. Superintendent Schwarzkopf Jr says that the new roadmap highly involves the inmates most specially those coming from prominent families as they have the capacity (money) to build certain facilities inside the prison compound.

According to the leader of the Commando gang and representative of half the gangs inside the prison, Commander JB, it was only until the Correctional facility opened their minds to the idea involving prisoners in their rehabilitative programs that gang wars and sporadic violence eased out. ‘Prisoners, most specially those who were disowned by their families, wives and children, tend to be depressed even mentally deranged almost due to isolation and the violent treatment by prison guards to the inmates. When we had an open forum with the Chief Warden, we voiced out what most inmates thought of, to make New Bilibid Prison like our own little haven wherein we could develop certain skills and hobbies that we had when we were still out in the free world. Instead of thinking about our sentences plus our gang rivals, we might as well focus on positive ideas to help our minds be at ease and less depressed.’

It might be hard to understand most specially for those of us who are free and without bars and chains limiting our moves. But to most prisoners who are locked and waiting for their convictions or serving life sentences, it is important for them to avail of the basic human right of fair and just treatment as they pay for their duties to the law.