MANILA – Closely tattooed Philippine prisoners wince in ache as fellow inmates use improvised tattooing machines to cowl up gang symbols — an effort to cut back jail violence that sceptics say is simply skin-deep.
Lethal clashes between rival clans are widespread within the nation’s notoriously overcrowded and under-resourced jails, the place belonging to a gang generally is a lifeline to meals, medication and safety.
Circumstances inside prisons have worsened underneath President Rodrigo Duterte, whose anti-narcotics crackdown has despatched 1000’s of individuals to jails already a number of instances over their capability.
Prisoners who be part of a gang get inked inside their congested cells, leaving them with a particular design signalling their solidarity.
Authorities hope that defacing these markings will cease inmates from being dragged into cellblock wars and strip them of loyalty to a selected group, making it tougher for leaders to mobilise their community of followers to riot or commerce in medication.
“When inmates belong to a bunch or a gang, they’ve a way of safety,” mentioned Gabriel Chaclag, spokesman for the Bureau of Corrections, who insisted the programme that began in October was voluntary.
“However however, if you happen to joined a gang that does unhealthy issues, additionally, you will be a goal of their rival gang.”
At Manila’s New Bilibid Jail — the nation’s largest, with greater than 28,000 inmates squeezed into a posh designed for about 6,000 — the overwhelming majority of prisoners belong to a gang.
Naked-chested convicts carrying disposable masks sit on white plastic chairs within the visiting room as different inmates draw thick black crosses over their gang symbols.
A sound like a dentist’s drill will be heard because the 5 novice tattooists use confiscated gadgets to destroy what could have been their very own unique handiwork.
“Earlier than, you had to assist your fellow gang member once they have been in a struggle however not anymore,” mentioned Mark, a convicted assassin, whose actual identify couldn’t be used.
He joined the Batang Mindanao (Youngsters of Mindanao) gang when he entered the jail this 12 months.
“Now it is simply brotherhood, we’re all brothers,” he added, after the gang tattoo on his again was lined.
One other prisoner informed AFP circumstances would “actually be higher” with the defacing of gang tattoos.
– Gangs are like household –
Authorities acknowledge the programme won’t put a direct cease to the violence. Earlier efforts to cut back clashes, resembling peace pacts between gangs, have had a restricted influence.
Current fights at Bilibid have left a minimum of 13 inmates lifeless and scores wounded after warring gangs attacked one another contained in the jail.
“You can not eradicate it in a single day. You can not change (gang) tradition in a single day, so we do it slowly and step by step,” mentioned Chaclag.
Lex Ledesma, a psychologist and writer of the guide “Discovering Freedom Inside: Survival Tales of Progress and Rebirth” about prisoners in Bilibid, mentioned dismantling the gang construction would take extra than simply overlaying up tattoos.
He mentioned gangs crammed the void left by the federal government’s insufficient provision of fundamental providers contained in the jails.
In addition they offered social assist for inmates who haven’t been visited by their family members for years.
“Gangs function the one household of forgotten inmates contained in the jail, they’re the one ones that maintain them,” mentioned Ledesma, who has been concerned in a peer-support programme at Bilibid for 10 years.
Ledesma warned that gangs would persist until the state of affairs improved.
“The larger downside is that there’s actually no intention to rehabilitate, even earlier than the time of Duterte,” he mentioned.
“When you turned an inmate it is as if you’re now a half-human, as if you’re not a human being.”