Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center

Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center

Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, also known by its initials CPDRC, is a maximum security prison in Cebu, in Cebu Province, Philippines.

Byron F. Garcia — the official security advisor to the Cebu government who was assigned as head of the prison by his sister Gwendolyn Garcia, the governor of Cebu Province — is credited for starting a program of choreographed exercise routines for the inmates.[1][2] The prison is best known worldwide for its viral version of Michael Jackson's Thriller video. Afterwards, many other dance routines of popular songs followed.[3] The prison management has also released a video explaining the concept behind the prison management at CPDRC.[4]



Byron F. Garcia originally wanted to introduce a program at Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) where inmates would exercise for an hour each day. He saw waves of prisoners in the exercise yard and thought it looked good.[5] He also claims in a British documentary that his inspiration came while watching the movie The Shawshank Redemption in particular the scene where the sounds of Mozart's Figaro flood the prison yard.[citation needed]

Garcia initially introduced an exercise program where the prisoners marched in unison, starting out with marching to the beat of a drum, but moved on to dancing to pop music; he began with one of his favourite songs, Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)".[5] He chose camp music such as In The Navy and Y.M.C.A. by The Village People, so macho prisoners would not be offended at being asked to dance.[1]

Garcia's first upload of prisoner choreography was the Algorithm March,[6] but this was almost entirely ignored. But the next upload Thriller had a massive response.

The prison now even has its own official choreographer teachers, like Vince Rosales and Gwen Laydor. Some prisoners are chosen more prominently for more sophisticated routines while the general prison population (sometimes up to 1500 inmates) participate with simpler more accessible routines.

Thriller video

Thriller was uploaded on July 17, 2007.[7] It was a YouTube remake of Michael Jackson's original Thriller music video.[1][2][8]

Crisanto Nierre plays Michael Jackson's role in the video. The openly gay inmate Wenjiel Resane plays the role of Michael Jackson's girlfriend.[9][10] Both Crisanto Nierre and Wenjiel Resane enjoy popularity amongst YouTube fans, and their faces usually highlighted quite often in most later videos.

On December 19, 2007, in an article on "Most Popular Viral Videos", Time magazine placed the inmates' Cebu Thriller as 5th in its Top 10 list. Time's stated description of the prisoners was: "Orange-jumpsuited accused murderers, rapists and drug dealers paid homage to Michael Jackson's Thriller in a dance performance filmed at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines (CPDRC)."[11]

Public performances

On October 6, 2007, Cardinal Archbishop Ricardo Vidal visited CPDRC for the first time, and the prisoners performed six dances for him, as part of the celebration of the Prison Awareness Month; the Archbishop noted, "It was a marvelous show of discipline. If only they had practiced that (discipline) in their lives, they wouldn't be here."[12]

Some chosen inmates of CPDRC (about 20 in number) performed a surprise show (a medley of "Thriller", "Jump", and "Radio Ga Ga") in front of the Cebu Capitol. This performance was a request by the inmates as their contribution to the 438th Founding anniversary celebration. The Governor and Provincial Officials were so moved that they included all 1500 inmates in the giving of the mid-year bonus for Capitol employees. Each inmate was given 1,000 Philippines pesos ($US 22) an incentive for good behavior.[13]

On December 27, 2007, Vice Mayor Michael Rama, acting mayor of Cebu City, noted the inmates' request to be in the Sinulog Festival as Sinulog Foundation executive director Ricky Ballesteros informed the former of the possibility of CPDRC’s participation.[14][15]. Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia took part in some of the dancing exercises with the prisoners.[16]

A performance of the "Thriller" routine at Cebu City's Founding Day celebrations resulted in a donation of 1.6 million pesos. Each inmate received 1000 pesos.[17]

"Together in Electric Dreams" by Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder, and Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice were presented during the provincial governor Gwendolyn Garcia visit to the prison, on her birthday in October. A competition was held amongst the prisoners as to who would take the lead role of Vanilla Ice in the dance.

Starting April 2008, Cebu provincial inmates' live dances are open to visitors who watch from the higher corridors the dance routines. After the 2 hour monthly program (done on certain Saturdays), visitors can have their pictures taken with the prisoners and buy souvenir prison shirts.[18] Young Egan Torrecampo, is the openly gay and flamboyant lead dancer of the jailhouse troupe and has gained notoriety in his own right.[19].

Following Jackson's death in 2009, they performed a tribute to Jackson in front of hundreds of spectators at the prison. 1,500 CPDRC inmates performed an entire nine-and-a-half minute show of choreographed dance moves to various Michael Jackson songs on Saturday, June 27, as a loving tribute to the singer.[20] The Filipino inmates put the show together just 10 hours after receiving word that Jackson had died.

The Queen Medley consisting of a mix of 8 Queen songs notably includes the performance of popular gay/transvestite prisoner Wenjiel Resane dressed as a ballerina performing a major routine. Wenjiel was most famous for his performance in "Thriller" with prisoner Crisanto Nierre. The CPDRC 8-minute long group performance of Queen songs ends with the appeal "Peace to mankind" and a quotation from Byron F. Garcia: "If we make life like a living hell for these fallen angels, then we might just be turning out devils once they are released and re-integrated into society".

Grease Lightning was performed on November 28, 2009, on the third anniversary of a shooting at CPDRC between feuding gangs. The lead dancing privilege was given to Arabo, one of the surviving gang leaders at that particular deadly feud. It was a farewell performance by inmate Arabo before being transferred to Manila's Muntinlupa prison to serve three consecutive life sentences for a triple murder he was convicted of. He has to serve a minimum of 90 years before being ever released.

They Don't Care About Us with intro from "Bad" was performed by the CPDRC inmates on January 19, 2010. The dance was specially choreographed for them by Travis Payne, the Michael Jackson choreographer and associate director of This Is It. Through an initiative of "Sony Pictures Home Entertainment",[21] Payne and two of the top dancers of Michael Jackson's This Is It show, Daniel Celebre and Dres Reid[22] performed with the CPDRC inmates in the Cebu prison, with all the inmate dancers wearing This Is It tribute black T-shirts. Payne, Celebre and Reid taught the routine to the inmates in the span of 2 days, and all three took part with them in the public performance. The video shoot was part of the global launch of Jackson’s This Is It DVD by Sony Pictures Worldwide.[23] The specially prepared mix contained dance routines and sampling from Michael Jackson's "Bad" in the intro, and a tribute to Martin Luther King while an audio of his speech is being played. Will Devaughn, a popular Filipino model and actor took part in the routine carrying a poster of the African-American civil rights activist.[24] King is specifically mentioned in the song lyrics as well ("Some things in life they just don't wanna see / But if Martin Luther was livin' / He wouldn't let this be"). In addition to the dance video, a feature video of Payne and the MJ Dancers visit to the prison, the dance practices and visits to Cebu officials was made to document this initiative.[25] Payne Travis and company also danced to "Thriller" with the inmates. The "Thriller" viral video by the CPDRC inmates featuring Crisanto Nierre and Wenjiel Resane had catapulted the inmates to fame. "Michael saw the Cebu dancing inmates on YouTube and enjoyed them immensely," said his choreographer, Travis Payne. "During rehearsals, we would watch and he would get tremendous joy." Sony Pictures' Fritz Friedman told USA Today, "We thought it would be a great idea to pay homage to MJ on the occasion of the release of This Is It by going to Cebu and having Travis work with the dancers to create this piece which is from the film."[26] The inmates also made special performance of their Michael Jackson tribute routine.

In February 2010, Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia ordered that the program be put on hold, pending investigation of proper accounting practices for donations received by generous admirers to CPDRC program. The inmates’ longstanding choreographer, Gwen Lador, has also resigned. The contract of Byron Garcia as Capitol security consultant expires this year. Media reports talk about strains in relationship between Byron Garcia and his sister governor Gwendolyn Garcia. She instructed the Provincial Agriculture Office to continue with the reform and intensify the program on planting of crops inside the compound instead of dancing, expressing concerns that the dance performances were overshadowing the general rehabilitation program.[27]

After a public outcry asking for the resumption of the dancing program for the inmates, Cebu Capitol consultant Rory Jon Sepulveda said that the rehabilitation by way of dancing at the CPDRC has continued but the public viewing has been put on hold. "The CPDRC is now on regular operations—the dancing continues to be one of the rehabilitation activities," said Sepulveda. Furthermore, Sepulveda said, "Public performances will resume once the mechanism for full accountability on donations are in place".[28] Also, as a sharp difference from earlier days, as of March 2010, the dancing has become optional. Almost 50% of the prisoners said that they would not take part anyway after suspension of public performances.[29] The Governor had already sought the services of the original “Thriller” choreographer, Vince Rosales, to teach the dance routines inside the jail facility for the inmates.

Presentations and dances


The prison has been criticized by prison rehabilitation experts and human rights campaigners who claim that the enforced dance routines are exploitative and not proper rehabilitation. Some former prisoners have alleged violence against those who refuse to join in. Amnesty International also claim cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions persist in Philippine prisons, jails and other detention centres. They have stated their concerns about overcrowding, insufficient food provision, poor ventilation, and poor sanitation.[30]

CPDRC in media and popular culture

CPDRC programme has been featured in a number of news items.

  • A thirty minute feature entitled "Jailhouse Rock"[31], a take on the popular Elvis Presley song takes a positive look at the programme. Byron Garcia is quoted at the beginning saying humorously: "This is what America has been longing for... a jailhouse rock, which they only saw in Elvis... Jailhouse... and they're rockin'."[35]
  • The British Channel 4 Documentary "Murderers on the Dancefloor"[32] broadcast in January 2008 portrayed life in the prison. The program showed various inmates praising Byron Garcia, the founder of the initiative - many of whom had tattoos in recognition of Mr Garcia. However, it also featured an anonymous ex-inmate who claimed Mr Garcia employs certain prisoners to rough up with prisoners who refuse to dance.
  • Five housemates from the popular reality show Pinoy Big Brother (PBB) Celebrity Edition 2, namely Victor Emmanuel Basa, Megan Lynne Young, Gabriella “Gaby” dela Merced, Riza Raquel Santos and Marco “Mcoy” Fundales performed the song "Rico Mambo"[33] with the inmates. CPDRC inmates had done the routine in an earlier video that they repeated this time with the Pinoy TV stars. The housemates received loud applause from the inmates after the dance number.[34]
  • Responding to various criticism and persistent negative comments in the YouTube response section and alleged use of force to make the prisoners dance and using torture against dissenters who refused to take part, Byron F. Garcia who runs the prison and posts the videos put out a comment on the main page of CPDRC on YouTube refuting the allegations. He says in his message: "There are sick people who think that dancing is a form of cruel punishment! Since when was dancing categorized as punishment? My fellow citizens of the world, cruel and violent forms of punishment are a thing of the past. If we make jails a living hell for the prisoners, then, we might just be sending out devils once they are released and re-integrated to society. To all "non-believers" of humane treatment of prisoners, and to all haters of our non-violent approach to rehabilitation, all I can say is ...get a life!"[35]
  • CPDRC followed that up by putting a bilingual song in the local language and in English explaining the program. The video release called CPDRC Song included lyrics that say: "We're the dancing inmates of CPDRC, we dance and entertain the world and make you all happy, a new approach to rehabilitation, representing Cebu province and the rest of our nation. We're the dancing inmates of CPDRC, fun and laughter, smiles in every corner. Got the world's attention, coz we've got moves, and now all millions of you say you've watched us on YouTube, CPDRC, CPDRC, CPDRC Inmates"[36]
  • The Thriller video also inspired a short documentary by young filmmaker Pepe Diokno, entitled Dancing for Discipline. The documentary is a pointed examination of the cultures of power in Philippine systems, with telling interviews of Byron Garcia and inmates Wenjiel Resane and Crisanto Niere. In a column for the Philippine Star Diokno writes, "Jails are a microcosm of society, and in them we can clearly see how the cultures of power and patronage play. This is what Dancing for Discipline is about."[37] The film was funded from a grant by USAID through the Asia Foundation, and is part of a series of short films about Philippine jails, entitled Rock the Rehas. The three other films in the series are DokumenTADO: Rock the Rehas by Tado Jimenez, Buhay Looban by Lourd de Veyra, and 1048:2261 by Gang Badoy.[38] These premiered on November 25, 2007, in Makati, Philippines, with Philippine Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno in attendance, hailing the effort.
  • Korean Sun Dance Troupe danced on the occasion of Valentine's Day before the inmates on Feb. 14, 2008.[36]
  • The Japanese transsexual artist / comedian Ai Haruna visited the prison and performed some of her acts. She also filmed the event to be shown on Japanese television [37]
  • Los del Río sent a message of support saying that in their remake of their popular hit Macarena produced by Jon Secada, they will include featured footage from the CPDRC prisoners dance routine of the song [38]
  • Drag queen Alvin performed in front of the CPDRC inmates cross-dressed as a nurse on the occasion of Byron F. Garcia's birthday.[39]
  • CNN's Joy Behar interviewed Travis Payne, the Michael Jackson choreographer on the Joy Behar Show about the CPDRC prison program and his experiences preparing "They Don't Know About Us" dance routine with the inmates. [40]
  • CPDRC Dancing Inmates were offered to appear in a Procter & Gamble advertisement for detergent products. But Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, who also serves as Cebu provincial jailer, turned down the P250,000 offer. "The dancing inmates should not be used for commercial purposes to preserve the nobility of this world phenomenon”, Governor Garcia said[39].

Implementation in other prisons

Byron Garcia, the warden who created the dancing program for the inmates, has put up a team of former "Dancing Inmates" to spread the message of "Music and Dance Therapy" to all jails nationwide in the Philippines. This is a pioneering initiative to institutionalize music therapy in other jails, similar to CPDRC's original program, with Cebu former inmates dancing making a tour of three prisons initially, Manila City Jail, Makati City Jail, and Quezon City Jail according to an agreement signed between Resendo M. Dial, chief of Philippines "Bureau of Jail Management and Penology" (BJMP) and Byron Garcia on March 26, 2010 as a collaborative effort to introduce music therapy in jail facilities nationwide.

On the occasion of the signing of the protocol, Garcia characterized general prison facilities as "living hells", because those who are in penology and rehabilitation "are missing out the essence of compassion, redemption and restoration in jail management". He added: "They are too busy looking for creative ways to punish an offender instead of restoring him to become the human being that he is. We have to look at prisons beyond the cycle of crime and punishment and certainly look inside underlying social, cultural and scriptural implications of rehabilitation. As it is, those creative ways of punishing offenders that have led to restrictive and punitive conditions in jails have also bred demons out of prisoners". Garcia said that this therapeutic protocol of dance and music is meant to restore dignity to people who suffer the stigma of incarceration and restore self-esteem to inmates because they are alienated from society. Therapeutic music and dance is meant to help prisoners cope with their depression and anxiety, improve their well-being as they go through a transition phase and reintegrate to society. Music is a protocol to heal them of emotional and psychological disorders and trauma as a result of the offense or incarceration". He concluded that "the experience of the CPDRC Dancing Inmates has proven a clinical breakthrough of using therapeutic music and dance in healing, restoring and rehabilitating inmates to become dignified human beings. This is actually what prompted BMJP to take interest in spreading such a program", he said.[40]

A group of former dancing inmates will also tour the country's prisons for presentations in addition to a series of public performances to increase awareness to the program among the general population.

The offshoots of the program can be seen in The Quezon City Dancing Inmates and the Manila City Jail Dancing Inmates programs, greatly structured on the concepts applied in CPDRC.


  • In April 2011, during the 10th Tribeca Film Festival, Byron F Garcia was awarded Tribeca's "Disruptive Innovator Award 2011", the second annual award of the sort that had started in 2010 in the festival.[41]


  1. ^ a b c "Philippine jailhouse rocks to Thriller". BBC News. 2007-07-26. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  2. ^ a b Guardian Unlimited, Jailhouse rocks: Philippine inmates' Thriller routine an Internet hit
  3. ^ Byron Garcia's You Tube area featuring all the videos released
  4. ^ Video released on concept of prison management employed in CPDRC
  5. ^ a b NPR: Filipino Inmates' Video Is a 'Thriller' on the Web
  6. ^ YouTube - Algorithm March with Prisoners
  7. ^ Original Thriller upload on YouTube
  8. ^ Reuters Video, Jail house rockers are big hit
  9. ^ USA Today article mentioning Wenjiel Resane being openly gay
  10. ^ CNN news report asserting Wenjiel Resane's sexual orientation
  11. ^ GMA NEWS.TV, Cebu dancing inmates video makes Time list
  12. ^ Jujemay G. Awit, Cardinal urges: Know more than inmates' dances, Sun.Star Cebu, October 07, 2007.
  13. ^ Public performance of a selected number of Cebu Dancing Inmates in front of the Cebu Capitol
  14. ^, Cebu mulls 'Thriller' inmates participation in Sinulog
  15. ^ Sunstar, Inmates' dance area limited
  16. ^ Governor Gwen Garcia dancing with the Dancing Inmates
  17. ^ GMA NEWS.TV, 2007: The year Pinoys became YouTube darlings
  18. ^, Philippines' dancing jail; everyone wants to go inside
  19. ^ AFP article by Cecil Morella: Jailhouse rocks for Philippine Internet dance sensations (March 15, 2010)
  20. ^ The 9-and-a-half minute tribute by CPDRC to Michael Jackson featuring "Ben", "I'll Be There" and "We Are The World" just after 10 hours after his death
  21. ^ The inside scoop on the Cebu inmates’ international Michael Jackson video
  22. ^ This Is It! Exclusive photos of the event
  23. ^ Philippines Star: The Dancing Inmates of Cebu goes big time
  24. ^ Will Devaughn on Cebu Inmates - They are now a part of history
  25. ^ Video released documenting Travis Payn's visit
  26. ^ New York Daily News: Cebu, Philippines prison inmates learn new Michael Jackson dances from 'This Is It' in latest video
  27. ^ Dale D. Israel in Cebu Daily News: Gwen wants donations to CPDRC inmates accounted for
  28. ^ Dale D. Israel in Cebu Daily News: Net users’ call: Let CPDRC inmates dance
  29. ^ Cebu Daily News: Cebu inmates can dance but half won’t
  30. ^ What keeps Filipino prisoners dancing to Thriller? BBC News (2010-04-09)]
  31. ^ Documentary about the prison by SBS/Dateline
  32. ^
  33. ^ Video clip of Pinoy Big Brother five housemates dancing "Rico mambo with the CPDRC inmates
  34. ^ Cebu Daily News article about the visit of the Pinoy Big Brother housemates
  35. ^ Byron F. Garcia's message after the criticism of the program.
  36. ^ The CPDRC Song explaining the notion behind the CPDRC Dancing Inmates program
  37. ^ Notes from the field:Dancing for Discipline
  38. ^, Prison break
  39. ^ Manila Bulletin: Capitol turns down ad offer for dancing inmates
  40. ^ Byron Garcia YouTube site
  41. ^ Lorna L. Dietz article in Radiant View: Byron Garcia: Honoree, Second Annual Disruptive Innovation Awards at Tribeca Film Festival

See also

External links

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