restorative justice, the shawshank redemption, and dr. raymund narag

Let me just share with you what I do professionally.

Well, I go to an office.  And in that office there are 17 other people reporting to work to earn a living for themselves just like me, with different attitudes, with different hangups that I need to deal with caution and live with in order to thrive aside from fulfilling my job.  Our office, by the way, is just one of the 17 offices inside a building that are all part of a single organizational structure tasked to coordinate with one another in accomplishing projects and requirements needed by our institution.  My work is from Monday to Friday.  And I love my job.

One of my responsibilities  in the office as a staffmember  is to document the fora and lectures that my division, the Advocacy division under the Human Rights Education and Research Office, is required to organize once or twice of every month that talk about the glaring issues and problems that are being faced by our society’s vulnerable sectors.

When I say vulnerable sectors I am referring to women, children, urban poor, rural poor, persons with disabilities, the indigenous people, the marginal fisherfolk and farmers, persons deprived of liberty, the elderly, etc.  I would listen very closely to the guest speaker (sometimes there are four resource speakers), jotting down to my notes important stuff that each speaker has mentioned.  To back me up, there is the help of technology such as the video and a digital voice recorder.  This will help me later to verify the information I noted down and get more important information.  After this, I will put this into writing, into a report.

Before, I type it in two formats– the verbatim report and the executive summary report.  Before, I would do a complete report of the proceedings where I would transcribe word per word the whole forum since I was still learning the ropes of human rights issues and terminologies, and laws and treaties that I find difficult to memorize because they are so many.  I am proud to say that my longest transcription reached 55 pages and it was about the topic on restorative justice. It is also my favorite topic of all the topics we’ve tapped on so far.

Now, for the sake of convenience since a forum or a workshop would sometimes last the whole day, I would just take out the highlights then put that in my documentation, with the help of the speaker’s PowerPoint presentation (if any), the video, the voice recording, and the Internet (for verification purposes).  It’s a job that nobody wants to do–especially the transcribing part–because it’s very tiring to do and would take a long time to finish but since it’s almost like writing, compiling all the facts in an organized and easy-to-read format, I enjoy doing it.  Thanks to my former colleague Ms. Jing Ragaza for giving me that training on preparing documentations.  She retired just last year.

Our director once said to our team unit that if there is someone who is more learned it is the documentor or documenter (I am quite used to the word “documentor” which is the wrong word than “documenter” which is the right term) because a documenter is the only one who listens 100% to a speaker.

I’ve shared earlier that my favorite topic is on restorative justice which is a new way of thinking about crime and an alternative solution to jail population congestion.  It’s a reality that there were inmates who were imprisoned for 18 years or more then died inside the jail only to be proven later that they were innocent.  And not all crimes should be subjected to jail time.  Imprisonment is not the solution to all the ills in our society.  I can relate to this because of the movie, the Shawshank Redemption, directed by Frank Darabont and is based on the novel by Stephen King.  The movie starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman and other great actors opened my eyes about hard-to-accept realities.  That the life inside the jail is a microcosm of what is happening in a society as a whole.

In connection with this, just yesterday, we’ve organized another forum which talks about the prison culture.  And our speaker was Dr. Raymund Narag, a former detainee who was wrongly accused of murder.  Oh, and if there is another thing I love about my job it is meeting respectable and respectful people like him.  And learning from his great wealth of wisdom and experiences.

What follows is an article that he wrote years back when he just got out of jail.  He writes really well (I wish I could write just like him) and I’d like to share it with you.

___________________

MY HONOR

I will graduate with honors. This April 20 and 21, 2002, the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) and the University of the Philippines will confer upon me my bachelor’s degree Cum Laude. I will march tall and proud together with other graduates seven years younger than my batch.

I should have graduated April 27, 1995. Unfortunately, just three days before the commencement exercises, a warrant of arrest was issued against me. I was allegedly part of a youthful brawl that caused the death of a young promising man. Together with other 10 other accused, I voluntarily surrendered to police authorities and submitted myself to the courts. Instead of a diploma, I showed my parents the papers taking me away from their custody and placing me under detention. Instead of marching to the stage with the applause of friends and relatives, I dragged my feet to the prison cell. My parents figuratively died. My family uprooted.

I languished in jail for six years, nine months and four days. I endured the full length of a criminal prosecution, or more appropriately, persecution. I patiently waited for the day of freedom, counting the days, weeks, months, and years as they come one by one. I silently bore the humiliation of getting out of the cells with handcuffs. I chivalrously let go the love of my life when she asked a time out because she had been too pressured to defend our situation. I accepted my fate peacefully– knowing that there is a reason for everything.

And indeed I had a mission. My exposure to the jail situation opened my eyes to the realities of the world. Our jail bureau is the least prioritized of all government agencies. It is low budgeted, it lacks facilities, and it is undermanned. Two thousand inmates are cramped in a building that can accommodate only seven hundred.

The jail developed a culture and political structure of its own. In order to support its custodial force, the jail management recognized the role of inmate leaders in the maintenance of peace and order and for the implementation of reformatory programs. For the inmates to protect themselves from the abuses of some erring jail guards, they formed and affiliated themselves with gangs, only to be abused later on by their own leaders. Jail community is not so different from Philippine society, where interest groups vie for limited resources, each one trying to outdo the others. There is corruption by the powerful, there is neglect on those who are supposed to serve, the weak and the uneducated are put on the sidelines and too afraid to speak and apathy and cynicism engulf most members of the community. The jail is in a perpetual state of structural conflict.

Paradoxical as it may be, this pathetic situation gave me the opportunity to show and prove the world that I am innocent. With my Public Administration background, I became a “trustee” in the jail’s record section and helped in classifying and encoding of the inmate files. Together with other detainees, we came up with a Functional Literacy Class Program that taught literacy and numeracy to inmates who did not finish elementary or high school education. We organized a paralegal desk through the support of volunteer units like the University of the Philippines Ugnayan ng Pahinungód, Preso Foundation, and Caritas Manila in order to expedite the disposition of the cases of my fellow inmates. We came up with spiritual programs like the Kristo Okay Sa Amin (KOSA) and enjoined our fellows in prayer meetings and bible sharing. We had thrice a year sports tournaments and regular cultural presentations, producing groups like the “No Bail Band”, the famous all-inmate band which produced the “Hiram na Buhay” a hit anti-death penalty song. I treated my fellow inmates not as criminals to be condemned but as souls wanting to be helped. Eventually, I became the recognized leader of the inmates, after winning their trust and confidence, and became the Mini-City Mayor of the Kapit Bisig 2000 Incorporated, a SEC-registered organization of inmates. As a mayor, I professionalized the relationship of the inmate leaders and the jail management and placed mechanisms that curbed graft and corruption. I articulated clearly the needs and aspirations of my constituency by putting these demands in the right perspective and proper forum. I came up with a Peace and Order Council that facilitated the resolution of conflicts among the warring gangs and proposed long-term solutions. These were done by empowering the gang leaders, by continually appealing to their good sense, and by delegating to them the responsibility to maintain peace.

Still, this experience in conflict resolution yet put me in another endeavor—to help in the maintenance of peace in campuses, which are constantly disturbed because of fraternity violence. I gathered all inmates with fraternity-related cases and learned from our experiences. As a living testimony, I asked the court to allow me to share my experience to other fratmen out there, praying that they will heed the voice for peace.

I did all these with the passion of a man enlightened with a vision. I had no hatred and bitterness. I was also a victim here—but a victim who will use his wretchedness to make positive changes in the society. I shall not allow the idiocy of my situation turn me into a lowlife that I am not. I graduated with honors, remember, then, I shall be honorable. And I asked God, no, I claimed from God my freedom, vowing that my experience shall be shared to anyone who would care to listen, if He allows me to live in the wild free world.

And it came.

On February 28, 2002, the Regional Trial Court declared my innocence. Evidence established that I was not in the scene of the crime. I was not part of the fracas. Of course, I was wrongfully accused! I went home a free man because I had proven and shown that I was innocent. My parents figuratively lived again.

My acquittal in the criminal case was the basis for my college to push for the conferment of my honors in the University Council.   Now that I am cleared of any moral turpitude case, UP willingly obliged, after seven long years.

I am going to march with honors tall and proud. I am going to march in behalf of all the inmates inside the prison cells to say that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that in God’s time, all will be fine. I am going to accept my gold medal in behalf of all those wrongfully accused and convicted to say that they should maintain and show their innocence despite the wretchedness of the situation, for the truth and clear conscience will eventually prevail. I shall be in the company of the honorable in behalf of all those who had been victims of prejudice—those judged by the groups they were associated with, or by the color of their skins, or by their mere incarceration, in order to show that there is dignity in every experience if given the proper perspective. I shall receive my diploma in behalf of all the sons and daughters who want to make their family and friends proud, for truly, we do not live for our selves alone. I shall join the empowering occasion to challenge those who had been too weak to fight for their love in the face of difficulties and to egg them to be true to themselves for heaven could just be in the horizon.

I shall be onstage to appeal to all fraternity members out there: PLEASE LET US STOP THE CULTURE OF VIOLENCE for many dreams have been broken, families shattered and lives lost. We cannot allow another Dennis Venturina, Nino Calinao, Michael Icasiano, and Dan Deniel Reyes to die again. I know, for I know too well the difficulty of letting innocent men pay for their deaths.

Thus, I shall march to say thank you to all those who believed in me, in the pureness of my heart, when the world thought otherwise.

I shall march honorably and move on.

Raymund E. Narag
April 18, 2002

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3 responses

  1. We have a punitive rather than restorative justice system in our country. This came from a belief that crime lessens for fear of punishment, yet as of now, crimes multiply.
    This may mean our justice system is never effective.

    Hail to Mr. Narag but pity for the others who were forgotten and where justice is impossible despite innocence.

  2. Thanks for the very kind words. Hope our advocacy to maintain the human rights of everyone, even those confined behind bars will be sustained. Ingats.

    1. Aahh! Didn’t expect you would drop a reply here. Thank you so much, Dr. Narag! I was that girl at the registration table. Your presence alone was really inspiring. I even watched a bit of your life story, or love story to be more accurate, in Maalaala Mo Kaya, and your character was played by John Lloyd Cruz. But to tell you the truth, you resembled Gerald Salonga, brother of Ms. Lea Salonga. Thank you so much for dropping by! More power to you, sir!

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