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Originally published August 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 10, 2007 at 2:08 AM

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Filipino prison captures YouTube audience with dance

Behind thick stone walls topped by electrified razor wire, one of cyberspace's most unlikely hits is already warming up as the rest of Cebu...

The Associated Press

CEBU, Philippines — Behind thick stone walls topped by electrified razor wire, one of cyberspace's most unlikely hits is already warming up as the rest of Cebu stirs from sleep.

Pockets of inmates stretch and practice their latest moves. Then the morning workout gets under way in earnest in the exercise yard of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center.

In their identical orange prison uniforms, up to 1,500 march and clap in unison as they perform precision dance routines with the Village People's "In the Navy" and "YMCA" pounding from six well-worn black speakers.

And why not? Their version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" had been watched nearly 4.4 million times on YouTube as of Thursday, uploaded by Byron Garcia, the Cebu provincial security consultant who came up with the idea of adding structure to poorly attended exercise sessions.

Inmates with arms covered in tattoos and baby-faced guys who might have been gang members on the outside gyrate next to one another. They all seem to be enjoying themselves or at least taking pride as their sandals and tennis shoes slap in unison on the gray concrete. They laugh when they screw up, applaud when they get a new sequence right.

Forty-four female inmates, held in a separate wing, join in for "I Will Follow Him" from the movie "Sister Act," which is among several other songs posted on YouTube. Ten have at least 100,000 hits each.

"If I was not in prison, I would not be famous," said Wenjiel Resane, the male inmate who plays the role of the girlfriend in "Thriller" and is a featured dancer in other songs.

The 35-year-old Resane, a ponytailed former pizza chef, shares Cell 47 with 11 other openly gay inmates. Already in prison three years awaiting trial on drug charges, he puts on lipstick and makeup for a TV interview.

"Before ... we just get our food and go back to our cell, and if we don't have anything to do we just talk," Resane told a reporter who visited Wednesday. "But it is different now. Every day we are very busy preparing to dance for our upcoming shows. We are very proud of what we have done."

The prison, mostly for inmates with sentences of under three years or those awaiting trial, sits atop a hill. More than 300 are facing murder charges.

Garcia says it's been a year since the last fight. The cells, while cluttered with the meager possessions of up to 17 inmates in each one, are neat and clean. Shouts of "Good morning, sir" greet visitors.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said officials will look to encourage replication of the program at other prisons.

"These people may have their lives enhanced by something which removes their minds from the conditions they're in," Gonzalez said. "It might help in their reformation. That's good."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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