The Dancing Inmates of the Philippines

The Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, in the Philippines, has become internationally famous for using choreographed dancing to rehabilitate dangerous inmates. Videos of their dance routines have registered tens of millions of views on sites like YouTube, and the prison itself is now a tourist attraction of sorts.

Prison life is tough everywhere – well, maybe except Norway – and the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center is no exception. Inmates sleep on hard pallets, share their cells with around a dozen other roommates and have a very strict schedule of work. But at least they get to dance. The truth is they don’t have a choice, because apart from the elderly and the sick, every one of the almost 2,000 prisoners is required to take part in the jail’s now-famous dance routines. Most of them enjoy doing it, because it takes their minds off their problems, keeps them away from drugs and violence, and teaches them discipline. In fact, two former inmates went on to become professional dancers when they got out. Introducing dancing as a rehabilitation technique was the idea of security consultant Byron Garcia. He was brought in to Cebu Prison in 2004, to deal with the constant riots. He moved the prisoners from an ancient stockade to a larger, more modern facility, fired dozens of corrupt guards, broke up gangs, banned the use of cash and introduced dancing. That last measure made the biggest difference. Violence subsided and the inmates health and behavior improved dramatically. Yet no one took notice…


Photo: RocketNews24

Unable to attract public attention to the drastic changes that had taken place at his prison, Garcia finally resorted to putting up a dance video on YouTube. Soon after, it went viral and is now one of the video sharing site’s most viewed clips ever, with over 50 million views. “The videos I uploaded were never meant for entertainment,” the security consultant said in an interview. “I wanted to inform other jails about what was happening here.” And it worked. After the video was posted on major sites around the world, other Philippine jails adopted Garcia’s methods, and by the end of 2007, dancing was a compulsory activity in eight other correctional facilities.


Photo: RocketNews24

Six years after the first video of the Cebu jail prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, dancing is still a part of their daily lives. “Inmates say to me: ‘You have put my mind off revenge, foolishness, or thinking how to escape from jail, or joining a gang’,” Byron Garcia told BBC News, a few years back. “The inmates are very happy at the interest, they are always talking about it, and they ask how many people have watched it on YouTube.” The Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center has gotten so much attention, that there is now a free tour available for tourists who want to see them perform their routines. On the last Saturday of every month, visitors can watch an hour-long dance performance in the jail yard, free of charge. After that, they can even mingle with the performers, talk to them and have their picture taken. They are so nice to their fans, you can’t even tell most of them are hardened criminals convicted for murder, rape or drug trafficking. The free dance tour of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center has become such a popular attraction that visitors have to sign up in advance.


Sources: NY Times, BBC, RocketNews24

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