Prisoners' Dance: Celebration or Human Rights Violation?

ByABC News
August 14, 2007, 1:49 PM

Aug. 14, 2007 — -- A video of 1,500 detainees in orange jumpsuits doing a beat-for-beat remake of Michael Jackson's classic video "Thriller" is the ultimate viral video. It's funny and weird, and the exotic location -- Cebu Province in the Philippines -- adds to its appeal.

The jail "Thriller" remake, uploaded to YouTube July 17, has been viewed 5 million times. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE INCREDIBLE VIDEO.

Why "Thriller"?

"I wanted something to thrill the world," said Byron Garcia, security consultant for the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center. He set up the dance and music program when he saw that the prison lacked a physical fitness regimen.

ABC News visited the jail to watch the final, completed version of "Thriller." The performance was to celebrate the founding of Cebu Province and to entertain the governor, Gwendolyn Garcia, Byron Garcia's sister. The governor's favorite is "Sister Act." "I just found it so hilarious, so melodious," Garcia said. "What an irony. They're right here in this jail, considered the rejects of society, and yet these rejects are now making our province and our country proud."

Byron Garcia said he was inspired to see the detainees dance while watching them do calisthenics from his perch above the exercise yard. Before uploading the soon-to-be legendary "Thriller" remake, he'd uploaded prison performances of the Village People's "YMCA" and "In the Navy," Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" and "I Will Follow Him," from the movie musical "Sister Act."

The men and women at CPDRC are all waiting for their cases to go to trial. They have been charged with crimes ranging from shoplifting to murder.

Melita Thomeczeck, the Philippines' deputy consulate general in New York, is not surprised by the CPDRC's unconventional rehabilitation regimen or the detainees' devotion to dance and music.

"It's probably like some kind of 'rah-rah' event. Probably something the warden set up to pull their minds off other things," Thomeczeck said. "The Filipinos love music and they love to sing and dance. Whatever they are in a natural way, they can continue that habit in prison," she added.

"What I think you have to look beyond is that superficial festival atmosphere and realize to get prisoners to do that they actually have to be very afraid indeed," said Adam Jasper, a journalist who was sent to the Philippines to investigate prison culture for Vice Magazine. Jasper said he spent the day touring the prison with Garcia and took pictures of detainees with Garcia's name tattooed on their bodies.