“There is no such thing as a bad boy.”

This quote from Stephanie Precourt, a writer, blogger, and mother of four, serves as a reminder that children are not born bad, rather, they are shaped by the way their parents brought them up and by the environment they grew up in.

Sometimes, children behave in ways not acceptable to society, but if given a second chance and the right interventions, they can be reformed and eventually become responsible individuals.

Such was the story of “Michael” (not his real name), then 17 years old, who was brought to the Regional Rehabilitation Center for Youth (RRCY) in Magalang, Pampanga on February 10, 2010, after being charged with rape.

RRCY is a residential facility managed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) that provides intensive treatment for the rehabilitation of children in conflict with the law (CICL) whose sentences have been suspended. It serves as a nurturing out-of-home placement for CICL to enhance their psychological, emotional, and psycho-social well-being.  DSWD maintains 15 RRCYs nationwide.

At that time, not one of Michael’s siblings and relatives accompanied him when he was taken to the center.  Worse, instead of assuring Michael of their support, they even humiliated and ridiculed him.  Despite this, Michael accepted his fate and welcomed his stay at the RRCY, not knowing that a new beginning in his life would unfold.

The road to transformation

Michael’s journey towards transformation started the moment he set foot at the RRCY.  He found it easy to adjust to his new environment as the center provides an ambience that approximates normal family setting enabling youth offenders, like him, to restore their social functioning and live a normal life.

The services and interventions provided at the center include counseling, values formation sessions, formal and non-formal education, psychotherapy sessions, health, and recreational and cultural activities, among others.  CICL-residents of RRCY are also given the opportunity to engage in income generating activities so that they could earn and save for the future, especially when they are released from the center and reintegrated to their families and communities.

Through these different interventions and with the steady guidance of house parents and social workers, Michael was motivated to start anew. During his stay at the center, he showed positive behavior by obeying rules and regulations, as well as displaying good manners, and expressing friendly gestures to the staff and his fellow residents.

Michael also availed of the educational services of the center which entails the planning and implementation of a comprehensive plan that provides each client the venue and opportunity for learning. Thus, he continued his formal education at the Andres Luciano High School and even passed the Alternative Learning System in 2011 making him qualified to pursue a college education.

Seeing Michael’s determination to improve himself, RRCY sent him to college. He enrolled at the Pampanga State Agricultural University (PSAU) where he took up Bachelor of Science in Hotel and Restaurant Management (BSHRM). To further hone the skills he gained through his course, Michael also enrolled in Food and Beverage Service and Hairdressing National Certification course offered by the Technical Education Skills Development Authority (TESDA) every weekend or during summer breaks.

For all the kindness of the staff to him, Michael also showed his appreciation by volunteering in utility work, food preparation, and other housekeeping tasks.  Once in a while, he would also cook special dishes for the staff and guests visiting the center.

The road to Michael’s transformation was not without humps and bumps. While his rehabilitation was progressing well, Michael was devastated when the court released its decision on September 25, 2014, finding him guilty, beyond reasonable doubt, of the rape charge against him, with twenty-years of imprisonment as punishment.

In January 2015, the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch in Iba, Zambales directed RRCY to transfer Michael to the agricultural camp under the Bureau of Corrections.

However, the social worker handling Michael’s case walked the extra mile to convince the court, citing his good behavior, that he is better off if he remained at the center.  A case conference was then held with the presiding judge, Michael’s legal counsel, the court social worker, and the clerk of court to review his case.

This noble effort to save Michael from his transfer to the agricultural camp did not fall on deaf ears. After the court has confirmed the commendable behavior of Michael, he was issued an order to remain under the custody of the center.

Michael finally received his college diploma in BSHRM on April 24, 2016 and was also awarded as among the Top 10 Students for Best Practicum by the university. He was also hired by the university cafeteria as freelance food service crew. For him, this simple yet decent job can give him the experience which will bring him a step closer to fulfilling his dream of working in a cruise ship.

But for now, Michael’s dream is put on hold. Since he is already 25 years old and is no longer a minor, the court ordered for his transfer from RRCY to the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) on February 23, 2019, to serve his sentence.

However, the staff of RRCY is not giving up.

“We are doing everything to appeal for a lower sentence. We firmly believe that Michael deserves another chance in life,” stated Larry Ocampo, RRCY head social worker who was a witness to Michael’s good behavior and reformed ways.

“Michael is a grateful person as he considers all the people around him in RRCY as his inspiration in reaching for his dreams and ambitions.  He has a strong character as reflected by his will to change his ways,” Ocampo emphasized.

Despite the setback in Michael’s case, his transformation from a troubled youth to a responsible individual has further fueled the passion of RRCY staff in helping their clients turn a new leaf and find new meaning in life. -30-