When prison security consultant, Byron Garcia, was searching for a way for the inmates at Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines to both get exercise and learn teamwork, he turned to an unlikely source: Michael Jackson.
Garcia hired Travis Payne, Jackson’s longtime choreographer, and dancers Dres Reid and Daniel Celebre to teach the inmates the choreography from “This Is It,” a documentary based on Jackson’s life. The inmates practiced for hours each day, gradually mastering the moves that Jackson was so well known for doing. As they danced, each inmate began to gain a sense of community, something that many had never experienced before in their lives.
Once the dance was perfect, Garcia filmed and uploaded the video to YouTube as a means to demonstrate to other prisons how he was creating positive community-building activities and incorporating exercise in his prison. The prison is a maximum security prison, with many of the inmates having committed horrific crimes. Learning the dances has had a positive impact on the inmates. Garcia had hoped that by sharing the video, other prisons would benefit from his idea. What he didn’t expect, however, was the reaction that he received from the public. To date, the first video has over 60 million views.
The video begins with Garcia calling the inmates to attention. The group then marches in a “V-formation” perfectly in time with one another. The group of approximately 30 inmates next performs a choreographed routine before being joined on each side by hundreds of additional inmates, each wearing a pair of bright orange pants and a Jackson “This Is It” shirt. The group then dances in perfect formation to a mash-up of Jackson’s hit song, “They Don’t Really Care About Us,” while singing along to the poignant lyrics. The video also touches on the message of Martin Luther King, Jr., who peacefully sought for the equality of African Americans. The inmates hold a picture of King and form a peace sign in tribute of him.
While many prisons merely detain the inmates, the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center hopes to do much more than that. By creating a positive environment, learning valuable teamwork and focusing on new skills, the inmates will be able to both get along better inside the prison and function better as a part of society when they are released.