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Prison break: Laughter sets high-risk inmates free

By Miko L. Morelos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:37:00 09/19/2010

Filed Under: Prison, Crime and Law and Justice, Lifestyle & Leisure

MANILA, Philippines?It?s probably the kind of laugh you wouldn?t want to hear?a ghoulish, macabre guffaw that sends a chill to the spine.

For a few moments last Friday, the special intensive care area (Sica) of the Metro Manila District Jail (MMDJ) in Camp Bagong Diwa bellowed with laughs?from hearty cackles to faint, nightmarish scowls?after jail officials brought laughter yoga to the detainees who are accused of being members of terrorist organizations.

Though most of the inmates appeared to have reservations about the exercise, some gamely joined in the yoga session which lasted for about an hour.

They said afterwards that it was a form of ?escape? from a place of despair.

?I felt relieved, as if I did not have any problems,? said Hajid Elhano, accused of taking part in the Sipadan kidnapping and hostage-taking.

?[I felt that] I was free,? he said, adding that ?we should do this again.?

Paolo Trinidad, the founder of Pinoy Laughter Yoga, was invited to conduct the exercises by the jail warden.

According to Trinidad, it was the first time that he was doing laughter yoga with inmates of the Sica facility, which is reserved for detainees deemed to be ?high-risk.?

He has conducted laughter yoga sessions in other facilities of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

Terror, massacre suspects

Among those confined at Sica are accused members of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group, the Rajah Sulaiman terror group, and the communist New People?s Army (NPA), including some of the ?Morong 43,? a group of health workers who were arrested last February on suspicion of being NPA members.

?Before going there to do the laughter yoga session, I felt a bit of anxiety and fear because I might say something that runs contrary to their beliefs,? Trinidad said, noting that most of the inmates practiced Islam, and were of varying ideologies.

Some of the inmates? sensitivities did manifest during the exercise, particularly when they were asked to chant ?Pinoy? in rhythm. They clapped in sync with Trinidad, who was leading the chant, but most did not utter the word.

A couple of the participants were even heard good-naturedly chanting ?Moro, Moro kami (we are Moros).?

The instructor said changes could be made to the exercises, to suit the inmates? needs better.

The inmates did deep breathing exercises, a fundamental part of the session prior to the laughter yoga proper. The revolutionary yoga method, founded in India in 1995, combines laughter with traditional yoga breathing and postures.

No photos

The Inquirer was allowed to cover the laughter yoga session on the condition that no photos would be taken as the MMDJ is a high-security facility.

No cameras or recording devices are permitted inside the premises, a policy similarly enforced during the trial of the Maguindanao massacre case at the nearby Quezon City jail annex.

Diki Ingkong, a kidnap suspect, said the yoga session relieved some of pain that he felt in various parts of his body during days when the weather turns bad.

?My jaw hurts as well as my arm because there are bullets still lodged in my body,? he said, pointing to his right cheek. He did not say who shot him or why.

High spirits

After the session, the participating inmates seemed to be in high spirits as they chatted with other detainees.

But their good mood would immediately dissipate when they were asked what they were doing in jail.

?We hope P-Noy [President Aquino] takes a look at our plight,? said one inmate who declined to give his name.

?I?ve been here the past two years and up to now, I have not been arraigned or told which court would be trying my case,? he said.

?In our government which is rooted in laws, this should not be happening,? he added.

Said Masshud, a kidnapping suspect, complained about the way the lawyers are handling his case. He said the one assigned to him looked too relaxed during court dates.

Asked about how he felt after the session, Masshud said the headache that had been bothering him earlier was gone, and even his runny nose stopped dripping snot.

Elhano said he felt ?full? after the yoga session even though he had been fasting all day. ?My hunger disappeared,? he said.

Sense of fulfillment

Trinidad said he felt a ?sense of fulfillment? at having completed a session with the inmates at the high-security jail. He said the detainees were profuse in their thanks for the laughter yoga exercises.

?I was told by one of the inmates that he felt like a person after being accorded respect,? he said. The inmate explained that people tended to have a wrong perception of detained individuals.

Masshud said ?this is what we need? to pass the time in detention.

?In this place, it?s as if we?re buried alive,? he said.

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