The World's Friendliest Country, Part 1

 Cebu Detention Center inmates shakin' their thang during their monthly performance in the prison yard.

Cebu Detention Center inmates shakin' their thang during their monthly performance in the prison yard.

My husband and I were chased from island to island by an earthquake and a typhoon in the Philippines this October. Nevertheless, I think this country is the friendliest place I have ever been on earth. Here's a nation that knows how to have fun.

For example, the photo above was taken in the prison in Cebu. (Cebu City is the urban hub of the Visayas, which is the big group of islands in the middle of the Philippines, if you divide the island nation into thirds from north to south.) Chief Warden Byron Garcia loves 80s pop music--as does the entire nation, it seems, though soulful love ballads are even more popular. So he created a different sort of exercise drill at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center. Their dance to Michael Jackson's Thriller was a huge YouTube hit a few years ago. 

Every month, the public is invited into the prison yard for a free performance. My hyper-security-vigilant American brain was melting down as I considered the million ways in which things could go very, very wrong in there. Over a thousand inmates--some serving time for deadly crimes--performed in front of a civilian audience with absolutely no barrier between us. I'm no security expert, but I've seen an awful lot of Hollywood movies. That qualifies me to say this looked like a BAD IDEA. But it's a fine tradition that happens the last Saturday of every month, no problem. You have to book tickets way in advance, because this thing is a smash hit. The day we were there, highlights included "Gangnam Style", a Michael Jackson medley, and the Pointer Sisters' "Jump".

The New York Times several years ago did an article on Garcia and his work with the prisoners.

The videos illustrate what we saw better than I could describe it. But it doesn't show the inmate color guard's opening presentation of flags, choreographed and executed with dignity and precision to the ultimate disco classic, "The Hustle." 

 Inmate dancers wearing pink ribbons to indicate cancer fundraising efforts. Yes, the prison is raising funds for cancer research.

Inmate dancers wearing pink ribbons to indicate cancer fundraising efforts. Yes, the prison is raising funds for cancer research.

So, sure, I'm snickering about prison inmates waving flags to disco hits. However, something Garcia wrote strikes me as humane and very sensible: "If we make prisons a living hell for (the inmates), then we might just be sending out devils once they are released. Cruel methods to achieve discipline are a thing of the past! So, keep on dancing!"

Whaddya say, Texas?

 Bryon Garcia

Bryon Garcia