Inmates in Philippines Find the Beat

Cebu, a province of the Philippines, has long been a holiday destination for its beaches and warm weather. But now people are finding another—quite unusual—reason to visit the island: Dancing inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center.

The prisoners skyrocketed to Internet superstardom last year when a video of them dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was posted on YouTube. Byron Garcia, the prison’s security consultant, was the force behind the video’s debut. Garcia claims that the videos were never meant to be entertainment but simply a way of informing “other jails about what was happening.”

Garcia was first brought into the Cebu prison in 2004 to boost morale after a series of riots took place. Under Garcia’s influence, dozens of jail guards were fired for corruption, and a new exercise regimen was implemented. Out of this routine sprung the dance program.   

The results have been nothing but beneficial. In addition to putting the inmates on the map, dancing “gives the inmates something to do, something they can be proud they’re part of,” says Pepe Diokno, a University of the Philippines film student, who spent time at the Cebu facility while filming his documentary, “Dancing for Discipline.” The inmates agree that prison conditions have improved, and the amount of attention brought on by their performances doesn’t hurt either. “Because our families have seen us on TV and the Internet, things are better,” says inmate Marfury Barberan. “They don’t worry so much about us and don’t think so much that we have no more hope.”

The prisoners spend up to four hours a day practicing, and on the last Saturday of every month they put on a two-hour dance show. Now hundreds of people visit the prison every month, piling on the viewing platforms that surround the inmates’ exercise ground so they can watch them dance. Everyone is thrilled to be there. They cheer and dance as if it was a rock concert, Reuters reports, and then line up to get their photos taken with the inmates. Souvenir prison shirts are also available for purchase.

We say? More interesting than sleeping on the beach all day!

Photo: Clee Villasor via Flickr