Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Dancing Inmates of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center Hit the Big Time

My sisters in the Philippines turned me on to the dancing inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center and I have been following them on You Tube for sometime. They have now hit the big time with a Sony DVD of Michael Jackson's This Is It.

Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) is a maximum security prison in the province of Cebu in the Philippines. The inmates include criminals convicted of violent crimes like murder, rape and drug trafficking. Some are serving multiple life terms.Yes, they, too, dance among the 1500 strong cast. Some are lead dancers.

The inmate dance troupe is the brain child of Byron F. Garcia, security consultant and prison official, who was inspired by Mozart music streaming in the prison yard in the movie Shawshank Redemption. Starting with yard exercises set to pop music, the activity progressed to full dance routines. The dance group came to international attention when their You Tube production of The Thriller by Michael Jackson uploaded in July 2007 immediately moved to the 5th spot in Time Magazines Most Popular Viral Video by December 2007. CPRDC dancers in their orange jumpsuits have performed before many Philippine dignitaries including the Catholic Archbishop and the Cebu provincial Governor. They perform for visitors on certain weekends and have participated in local festivals including the 438th Founding Day of Cebu. Within hours of Michael Jackson's passing, the inmates put together a tribute dance video of his songs, rehearsing for hours, pausing only for meals.

CPDRC dancing inmates have been the subject of the British documentary, Murderers on the Dance Floor aired in 2008 and CNN news. Japanese and Korean singers have performed with the inmates and made videos to air in their countries.

The dance project has been widely received by both inmates and staff. In 2007, the inmates were in included in the provincial employee capital bonus each inmate receiving 1000.00 pesos ($20-22.00) as incentive for their hard work.

The program is not without its detractors. Some criticize the program as cruel and cite torture of prisoners who refuse to participate. Program founder Byron Garcia responded to critics in one of the videos "There are sick people who think that dancing is a form of cruel punishment! Since when was dancing categorized as punishment? My fellow citizens of the world, cruel and violent forms of punishment are a thing of the past. If we make jails a living hell for these inmates , then, we might just be sending out devils once they are released and re-integrated to society. To all "non-believers" of humane treatment of prisoners, and to all haters of our non-violent approach to rehabilitation, all I can say is ...get a life!"

Byron Garcia may be on to something very significant here. The logistics of having 1500 hardened inmates, many with nothing to look forward to, to set aside gang affiliations and personal differences,work towards a common goal and step as one to the beat of a common rhythm; that boggles the mind. Members of the US Legislature, Executive and Judicial branch, pay attention. There may be a lesson for all here. I have great hope for you.

Wherever you stand in the controversy, watch these men and women. They are awesome dancers and in some ironic way, by their example they may also teach us how to work for a common goal.

Watch by clicking on highlighted phrases like this  You Tube external link.

Published on 1/26/2010 at:

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