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Rough Cuts: ‘Businesses’ inside penal farms

We wrote about this issue a little over two years ago. We mean the alleged proliferation of “businesses” by some enterprising inmates at the Davao Penal Colony in Panabo City, Davao del Norte.

Of course we see nothing wrong if inmates will be able to find ways to earn money while serving their time in jail. But what makes such activity wrong is when the businesses they are engaged in are those expressly prohibited inside prison camps.

Our treatise then was based on a testimony of a newly released convict from Dapecol who worked as farmhand of ours in a small area that we have developed. We wrote our previous article after he introduced to us his wife whom he claimed to have married while still serving his sentence. Our farm help told us his wife was a text mate of his. That revelation triggered our thirst for more information especially on the matter of how he got possession of a mobile phone when we are well aware that possessing the gadget is one of those rights denied persons serving time in prison.

We have no idea if our column then was read by prison authorities. Or even if it was read, we do not know if the penal farm officials concerned acted on what was demanded by the time. We are certain that they ignored it, or just kept silent on the action they might have taken on the issue that was raised.

But during an activity that we were invited to join last week, we met a man who unabashedly told us that he was released from the penal farm only late last year. He claimed that he had known us by name while he was still a new inmate at Dapecol. The newly released inmate told us that he used to listen to our morning newscast and commentaries while we were still anchoring the top-rated radio program Vigilantes over dxDC of the Radio Mindanao Network (RMN).

When we asked him why he was imprisoned he seemed even proud telling us that he killed a man who attacked his father while working in their upland farm in Pantukan, ComVal Province. He also told us his sentence was jail time for 20 years. So we asked him how come he was only released late sometime in September of last year. Without any sign of hesitation he told us that he got into trouble with fellow inmates who he alleged to have “connections” with some higher prison authorities. So his sentence was kind of “extended” for another four years.

Sensing a good opportunity for us to find out if indeed there was truth to the claim of our friend who earlier alleged of the proliferation of “business” ventures inside the penal farm we asked our new former inmate friend the following:

Is it true that majority of the inmates at Dapecol including him are in possession of cellular phones? Are there inmates who own cellular phone chargers catering to the needs of mobile phone owners who do not have chargers? Is it true that the fee is P90 per charging until battery is full?

We also have our new friend confirmed of the existence of the so-called “ranseros” who distribute additional margarine plastic container extra rice from the usual one cup allowed each prisoner at a cost of P6 per the smallest margarine container cup.

His answer to all the questions we raised was a resounding “YES.” When we asked him whether the cellular phone chargers are connected to outlets of electricity of the penal farm compound he answered with a smirk, saying he could not think of any other power sources since the compound has only one power meter in each compound.

As to the source of the additional cups of rice offered to inmates who desire for more, he said these could also possibly be part of the daily ration to prisoners. But he sort of insinuate that there is possibility that some moneyed inmates might have thought of asking for rice supplies from their families and cook it inside prison and offer the same to inmates who need for more.  He however, added that this scheme could not be pursued unless there is approval from higher prison officials.

With this confirmation by our new former inmate friend of the claim made earlier by another former Dapecol prisoner of the existence of activities violating restrictions inside Dapecol, we can assume without fear of contradiction that well-heeled inmates and those who have gotten the favors of Dapecol gods remained as privileged as they were while still outside. The only difference is that they are confined inside a walled enclave where there is restriction of movement.

Should these inmates thank their “generous” caretakers? Yes of course. They only have these prison bosses to thank for.

But is it the right thing to prevail inside the penal colony?  Definitely, it is not. But still, prison officials can be humane without doing away with mandated protocols inside the prison camp.

Frankly, if this laxity of prison officials in implementing penal farm rules will continue, time will come when inmates may not anymore desire to get out of incarceration. After all, they might feel they are better off inside jail with their thriving “businesses” and favored relations with the powers inside.

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