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On Faith and Imprisonment
By Venancio J. Tesoro, Penal Superintendent IV of the Bureau of Corrections
Published: 01/19/2015

Faith inmate Generally speaking, a person’s exposures during formative years dictate his behavioral conduct in later age. If he is oriented in an anti-social environment, most likely he would lead a life outside of the social norm or would subsist in what we commonly refer to as illicit lifestyle. There is no turning back when that happens. No amount of penalty can reduce a person’s criminal mindset. He is comfortable to violate the laws, evade lawful responsibilities and become predator the rest of his natural life.

Imprisonment does not create any dent on his character. It could only hone his wrongful skill and make him wiser. The prevailing deceptive environment of the prison community would merely reinforce his heinous predisposition. He learns other tricks too. He would eventually realize as he is mixed in an overcrowded homogenous setting that he was not the worst; that he can even be better than the rest in pulling off any transgression later. Prison life is a learning experience for his illegal craft and it can be improved.

It is only when he hears of the pain his family is undergoing that he becomes subdued to the point of retreating to solitude. It is here that he feels the presence of something higher, of some spiritual guidance, of something metaphysical. For a while, he becomes conciliatory. Here is where the foundation of his faith in the Almighty begins to hover in his mind. This is also evolution of that which he never had in the free community—a conscience.

Imprisonment, even a long period of incarceration cannot reduce a person to his real senses. It may be rudely arranged but that is just a part of his institutional climate. It is never an invitation to humanity even. It will not break the shell of his flawed character. Rehabilitation is of no use in changing his mind. During the early times, offenders were lobotomized (removal of that part of the brain where it was once believe to contain criminal instincts) and sent to an institutional life as vegetables. It is no longer resorted to at this time.

The advent of correctional science introduced rehabilitation in the midst of confusing doctrines in penology.

Rehabilitation eventually becomes the backbone of correctional rules and practices.

Rehabilitation at present means adding more skills onto the person, one that would present as alternative and not as replacement, so that the person will have a better choice. It is believed by corrections scientists that skills and conscience are enough to push back any predatory predisposition of a hostile person. Skills and faith after all are better components of what is understood as rationality. A reasonable mind makes a person with criminal proclivity act in a normal functional way: as a law abiding and constructive person in the free community.

And that explains why in the prison community, there are more “Churches” and “belief systems” than in the free community. There is as many a “Pastor” for every square inch more than what is contained in a normal neighborhood. The threshold of emotional pain is smoothed with the balm of spiritual incantations, rituals and offerings even in the middle of a congested facility within the sphere of psychological iniquities, injustice and abuse. Through this new found spirituality, an inmate undergoes an initiation. His errors are accepted, his sins understood and his transgressions are forgotten. He becomes new not because he has changed but because an attribute has been successfully added to his character: he now has a conscience.

Prison administration must therefore be cautious to take note of this development. Anything that would disturb this development would surely result in regression. And when it does, the air of tranquility becomes hostile and the prison community is transformed into a training ground for hatred.

Lest we might view the prison community as a hopeless place, in the mould of a Sodom and Gomorrah, respect for this last humane bastion can still be recoup and save whatever goodness is still reserved if only to project civility and maturity in our society: a society subscribing to the rule of law and consciousness in every way.

Reprinted with permission from philippineprisons.com

Other articles by Tesoro

Venancio J. Tesoro is presently Penal Superintendent IV of the Bureau of Corrections and has written several books on Criminal Justice Administration (specifically Corrections). He is also an academician, Criminology Board Reviewer, public speaker and a certified lecturer of Penology.


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