PARADIGM SHIFT| Freedom in education

(Speech during yesterday’s program with students of the College Behind Bars, Alternative Learning System and TESDA held at Davao City Jail in Maa.)

“The greatest error would be to do nothing.”

IT IS a pleasure to be here today, and to see so many friendly faces. Nelson Mandela once said “no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.” Over a year ago, I visited Davao City Jail, now I can appreciate Mandela’s words and these visits have helped shape my thinking.

It is very difficult to believe that what was once dreamt is being fulfilled now. The idea of putting College Education Behind Bars incorporated with the recovery program is so inspiring: what was once planted as a sapling is now all grown into a large tree.

Education is vital for the overall development of inmates. As a matter of fact, education is in itself what rehabilitation in correctional facilities is all about. Through education your outlook, habits and total perspective of life can be changed.

Prison is a tough place: It is neither designed for reform nor for rehabilitation. The only tool available for you is survival.

To have higher education in prison is no easy task; there are obstacles in every direction. But obstacles do not mean defeat. Prison can be a defining moment in a man’s life, but not the definition of the man.

Your graduation from this program will redefine your destinies. Life is about choices we make. Change your thinking and you can change your life. No one’s destiny is defined by their past. Unfortunately for too many of you, what is said about you can influence your future. That’s why graduation in here is so important. You can look beyond these walls. When you graduate, you can look at your diploma and you see something else, something that will lead you to a wonderful and productive life.

It is an undeniable fact that we live in a society where people do bad things, sometimes so bad, that being sent to prison is the only option. But it’s an undeniable fact that most of you inside jail today won’t be in forever. Sooner or later you will be free to go back into society. The question is: will that be a one-way trip? Will each of you leave this place never to return? To do that, you must know how to survive – no, not survive, succeed – when you re-enter society.

Statistics are stacked against you. Most prisoners get out and, eventually, most of them find themselves back in. There are many reasons for the high rate of recidivism (the return of ex-prisoners to incarceration), but studies consistently show that the primary cause is unemployment. On the outside, you need a job to eat. To have a place to live. To support your family. To hold your head high and know you can handle freedom. But jobs are hard to find when you carry a prison record with you. Still, you can’t use that as an excuse. I believe firmly with solid training, recovery program to transform lives, you can overcome a prison record.

Working at class assignments gives you a purpose in life, a focus, and the deep satisfaction of seeing hard work lead to positive results.

Many of you or some of you have children or even grandchildren with whom you still maintain regular contact. Your commitment to working hard on studies serves as a role model for your children or grandchildren who, in turn, may become motivated to pursue an educational track.

Inner Freedom. Your body may be trapped in prison, but your mind is liberated, opened to new visions and new worlds. Education is not just acquiring practical knowledge or new skills, facts, and concepts; it‘s about learning to think. Learning to express oneself clearly and in a healthy manner. Prison doesn’t have to be a hell hole. It can be your own university. It can be an exciting career training center. A seminary. It can improve your life, now and for years to come.

Whether the course is vocational, basic literacy, ALS, peer-to-peer sessions, English or college-level, learning introduces you to the idea that you can succeed through hard work.

Here is something you may not be aware of: Some of the world’s finest and most enduring literature was written by brilliant, incarcerated people. From within prison walls came the work of writers like Miguel de Carvantes (Don Quixote); Fyodor Dostoevsky (Brothers Karamazov); Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo); Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace).

Others who were incarcerated and made a powerful impact upon society and the political or social order were Mahatma Gandhi, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King. There is much one can do to contribute even behind bars. Imprisonment is not an excuse.

In closing, let me thank you again. We still have more work to do. We need to have more college education behind bars every jail in the Philippines. The more college education behind bars in jail, the less money the jails have to spend in the future, because we need to prepare as many inmates as possible to return to society as productive law abiding citizens. 

Posted in Opinion