It’s been posted hundreds of times since 2007 and viewed by tens of millions of people, yet you may not know the origins of one of the most famous online dance videos of all time. In it, dozens of prison inmates in orange jumpsuits perform the choreography to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
At first, many thought it was a staged flash mob – after all, a prison is a very unlikely place to teach a choreographed dance. But, in fact, the inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) – a maximum-security prison in Cebu Province, Philippines – learn and perform dance routines as part of their daily exercise regime.
The men you see in the video are, in fact, prisoners. Now they’re referred to as the “CPDRC Dancing Inmates.”
And while documentaries and “fan favorite” dancers and videos were commonplace for a few years, the prison – once known as “happy jail” – turned out to be just a normal prison in every other way, with gang hierarchies, corruption, and violence. Some human rights experts even called the forced dance performances “exploitative.” Public performances and uploads ceased in 2010 although dance remains part of the inmates’ exercise program.
The video became one of the most viewed ever on the Internet, partly because of how fun-loving it seemed. The inmates cooperated, looked like they were having a blast, and were talented to top it off.
It was hard for people to remember that these were men in prison. According to the Sun-Sentinel, the prison is mostly for inmates with sentences of under three years or those awaiting trial, however, over 300 of those inmates were facing murder charges.
Once the prison became famous for its videos, they began inviting visitors to view the exercise routines in exchange for donations.
The program became so famous for their Michael Jackson routines that they were even visited by Michael Jackson’s long-time choreographer Travis Payne and dancers Daniel Celebre and Dres Reid in 2009 to learn dances from Jackson’s This Is It album.
One particularly poignant video is for the song “They Don’t Care About Us.” It’s a song that likely hit close to home for the inmates, some of whom have been waiting in jail for years without trial.
And it was equally emotional for commenters who watched the video:
“Am I the only one who got the chills because of the message when prison inmates dance to ‘they don’t care about us’?
While some prison officials saw the dance program as a disaster waiting to happen at first, it turned out to be wildly successful.
Byron F. Garcia, the official security advisor to the Cebu government, started the dance program for the inmates. However, he and other staff are no longer employed at the prison after questions arose about the donations received from those attending public performances.
Still, the dancing continues, it’s just no longer on display. “They Don’t Care About Us” was one of the last videos uploaded before public viewing ended.
If you’d like to see the work done by Garcia before he left the prison, his YouTube channel contains all of the videos performed by prisoners. It includes choreographed dances to songs by Queen, Soulja Boy, and a lot more Michael Jackson.
Be sure to scroll down below to see the epic performance of “They Don’t Care About Us.”
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