MANILA, Philippines – Languishing in jail for almost seven years — especially considering the sorry state of Philippine prisons in general — would be enough to break anyone.
For Raymund Narag, however, his time inside the big house reformed him in a big way — and now he is out to reform the very penal system he was incarcerated in, Rappler reported.
As a member of the law-based fraternity Scintilla Juris, Narag, along with 9 of his brods, were tagged in a rumble which resulted in the killing of rival fraternity Sigma Rho member Dennis Venturina in 1994.
Then a mere 20-year-old, Narag was a******d and incarcerated at Quezon City Jail for the charge of murder, two counts of frustrated murder, and three counts of attempted murder. Six years, 9 months, and four days later, he was set free after being found innocent of the charges.
While his case travelled at a snail’s pace through the country’s notoriously slow judicial system, a depressed Narag at first avoided trouble by keeping to himself inside the congested jail.
Eventually, he experienced a paradigm shift when his fellow inmates, who were illiterate, requested him to write down their letters to their families.
In his interactions with them, he found that his fellow prisoners lacked much understanding about their rights and the nature of their cases and so took it upon himself to educate them.
Eventually, he tied up with the University of the Philippines (UP) Pahinungod volunteer service program to help dispense legal advice to the inmates.
Aside from the legal help, Narag — who became mayor de mayors (leader of cell leaders) — also helped organize alternative education programs for the inmates as well as a Bible-study and prayer group.
Prisoners are Human Too
Unlike several of his brods, Narag was found innocent and acquitted by the court in 2002. He then went on to continue his education in criminal justice and eventually earned a diploma at UP and then a PhD in the United States. He currently works as an assistant professor at Southern Illinois University and as a visiting professor at UP National College of Public Administration and Government.
Unlike the usual reformed prisoner who promises never to return, Narag has made several visits to the country’s prisons in hopes of studying how the penal system can be improved towards rehabilitation and not merely retribution.
As part of his contribution, he regularly gives out free effective criminal management lectures to officers from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), but would welcome any extra funding to help him expand his lecture tours.
In the end, Narag sees prison as an environment where inmates should be treated with dignity so they can ultimately reform themselves.
“Freedom is an intrinsic change,” he said. If you change from within, then you are free even when you are still physically in jail.”