Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

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Amazing! Inmates at maximum security prison dance and become better men

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

It’s not often that a story catches my attention that isn’t a Doom n’ Gloomer about the impending end of Western Civilisation and All Good Things. I tend toward the melancholic/choleric end of the temperament scale, as readers may have noticed.

But this one had me nearly cheering in my seat.

Cebu Prison in the Philippines was one of the most dangerous and horrifying places imaginable. A maximum security prison for some of the country’s most violent and frightening men. Murderers, rapists and violent drug-dealers were housed there, and until several years ago virtually ran the place. Corrupt guards gave free reign to the gangs to carry on as they wished, and the “only discipline” in there was that meted out by the gang leaders themselves.

Then one day, the governor of the island appointed her brother to be warden, and clean the place up. He did the usual things one would expect. He sacked the corrupt guards and instituted new and much stiffer security measures to keep drugs out of the prison.

But his goal was one that I think very few would have thought possible. He wanted to change the men themselves. He wanted, simply, to make them into better men. Holier men. And he chose what could possibly be the very last way anyone would or could have imagined.

He taught them to dance.

It sounds like the plot of a Disney film, doesn’t it? But it’s actually what happened in real life. He taught 1500 prisoners to dance, and now, where once violence, crime and hatred ruled, the men in Cebu prison are devoted to each other’s welfare, to prayer, to friendship and mutual support, to reconciliation with each other, with God and with the society they had previously harmed. They are, in a word, happy. It is nearly unbelievable. In fact, just writing about it makes it sound kind of nutty.

I often feel quite gloomy about the world, about human evil. I often think depressing, cynical things about people being determined to be as bad as possible, and about the corruption of a civilisation that encourages them to become as bad as possible. But every now and then, my assumptions about the badness of men get shaken. And I’m glad.

Watch this amazing documentary about how it all happened.

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