The Dancing Inmates Are Back

The dancing prisoners of Cebu in the Philippines are back. This time one of Michael Jackson's choreographers was flown in from the U.S. to teach inmates a new dance routine to top their original "Thriller" performance in 2007 that made them an instant Internet sensation.

The routine was part of Prison Chief Byron Garcia's program for inmate rehabilitation through dance and fitness. But while many were entertained by the prisoners, not all were impressed by their synchronized dance moves. My own feelings on the dancing inmates have changed since I first blogged about them two years ago. What many don't know is that numerous complaints have been filed against Byron Garcia; his sister, the governor of Cebu; and wardens at the prison facility since 2004 by a local human rights group called Karapatan for alleged inhumane treatment of inmates. The group believes prisoners are forced into the routines and are harassed and blackmailed if they refuse to participate.

This story may bring us to look at the dances from a whole new point of view. Because if it’s proven true that the inmates were forced to dance against their will and their dignity violated, then there's no rehabilitation done after all.


This is not inspiring, it is sad and maybe even scary. Seeing inmates marching like a Hitler army or even appearing like the Chinese displays during the last olympics draws to mind the power of forced armies, and several "walking dead" male inmates descending on a lone woman are not images I would promote. While it may have increased physical fitness for many, it does look more like coercian for lots of them.

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