Saturday, August 18, 2007

on their feet

WHO SAYS INCARCERATION is a drudge? Not the dancing prisoners of Cebu who recently went out in the open with their terpsichorean skills and caught the world's eyes.

Beyond the crowd-pleasing choreography, my opinion column in Sun.Star Cebu (August 14, 2007 issue) zooms in:

Rhythm and reason

Postcard-perfect beaches, sweet mangoes, online dating and porn sites, guitars, and singers. These may have placed Cebu in the international map, but certainly nothing more sensational and unprecedented as the upbeat video of its dancing prisoners.

Such a welcome, if not well-choreographed, respite from recurrent headlines about the arrhythmic showdown between Cebu’s governor and the city mayor. It may not shake the viewers of YouTube and the media across the borders, but a Gwen-Tom tango might yet clinched for Cebu the international renown as an island of happy feet.

Or else, locked in their long-drawn-out hostility as if they were each other’s zombie, they’d become prisoners forever of their mutual disgrace.

Digression aside, one can shake off the straitjacket of downbeat expectations. Or so proved the eurhythmic inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) now reportedly rehearsing to the tune of “Electric Dreams” for another crack at global spotlight.

A good turn, of course, deserves another. And so what more uplifting flight of fancy than the CPDRC jailbirds adding one more feather in their caps—pardon the pun—as a contingent for next year’s Sinulog mardi gras. Though this scenario looks like a security nightmare, wouldn’t that be a hoot for tourism to drum up international interest once again?

Beyond the hoopla, however, the recent popularity of the prisoners is a good time as any to look at their dance as a twinkle-toed prelude to deliverance. The very notion of rehabilitation, after all, presupposes the propitious idea of the incarcerated finally breaking out to a new and brighter day after facing the music of their transgressions or their outcast state. It’s about turning over a new leaf, yes.

No less spectacular than the stunts of Cirque du Soleil, certainly, would be the grace of a convict or the accused up on his feet for a whistle-worthy personal transformation.

Prison, despite its deprivations and utter desolation, can also pave the way for a wider inner world. Regarding the epiphany of empowerment, the book “Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela” abounds with passages in which the political prisoners formed a “university” inside the Robben Island prison, where Mandela and his friends shared and primed themselves up with books by Tolstoy, etc. Read how they dance around embitterment as they found decency even in their cold-hearted jailers.

Then again, outside the walls of prison also looms a dead end. Where finding a new path and bending the back of an old and dark past can be as painstaking as limbo rock. Or, the dance of death. That’s what the ill-starred spirit of one ex-convict found out after he was gunned down by two masked men Sunday night in Barangay Tisa. (Police, according to the report, are still determining if the incident was the handiwork of vigilantes.)

How ready are we as a community to give reformed sinners a second chance?

If only making a new life were as tidy as learning a new dance step. “Without an effective support group and rehabilitation program in the community,” explains non-government organization (NGO) official, “offenders still run the risk of getting involved in crimes again.”

Civilization could be judged by the way it treated its prisoners, stated Winston Churchill. But it’s a sorry judgment on us when our society, with the orchestration of its prejudice and discrimination—out of the lack of imagination and faith—can only compel those seeking a new footing into our fold to dance, awkwardly and hapless ever after, alone.

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