In recent years the prisons in Kerala have been transformed into the centers of reformation and correction, gradually shedding their image as centers of oppression, bad influence etc. These changes are in line with the larger improvements in the prison systems in many places in the country and in agreement with growing awareness and policy changes in the past couple of decades. Prisons in Kerala now produce a large number of SSLC and degree holders, who aspire for a better life, published authors etc. indicating a diametrical change in the role of prisons in the lives of prisoners. Along with this prisons also now put to use the physical labour of inmates to produce good entrepreneurial results as indicated by the popularity and success of chapati’s and other food items made in jail. Thus, prisons attempt to channelise the energies as well as the frustrations of inmates constructively and creatively in order to benefit them and the larger society.
Babu Mathew, a native of Payyavur near Taliparamba in Kannur district was studying for MCA at Erode Arts College in Tamil Nadu when he was involved in a murder case. The incident happened, as he said was over Rs 6,000 he lost. He filed a complaint with the police immediately in which he had mentioned the names of a few people whom he had suspected of stealing his money. Enraged by the complaint, the group picked up a quarrel with him and in the melee, one of them died by his hand. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on December 21, 2008. However, Babu Mathew had created history in Kerala a couple of years ago by becoming the first jail inmate to get an MBA degree offered by the Pondicherry University. He was in Kannur Central Jail at that time. “Passing the MBA course had given me confidence to continue with my studies and enhance the chances of getting a better job ,” he said.
“My ambition was to become a software engineer or a database administrator. I feel very sad about the murder and how it had spoiled my life. However, I was lucky to get permission for higher studies in the jail. I owe a lot to the jail authorities who permitted me to study,” 37 year-old Babu said. In 2013, Kerala High Court reduced his punishment period to seven years following his appeal. Recently Babu was released from the jail after serving his punishment period. “It is not that easy to get out of a jail and lead a normal life after the release. A convict is always a convict in the eyes of the authorities and the public. It is not easy to change the stigma. So that in future, I want to be a role model to the society and work for the people, I am very lucky,” Babu said. Now Babu is on a job hunt and also doing his MCom from Calicut University. He is married and has two children.
Rijo Joseph,33 a native of Kalady in Ernakulam district has completed his BA and MA in English literature from Calicut University, PG diploma in Tourism Management from Annamalai University and MBA degree in human resource management from Pondicherry University while in penal incarceration. He is still a life prisoner at the open prison at Nettukaltheri in Thiruvananthapuram. Now he is doing MSC Applied Psychology from Annamalai university.“I killed a 65- year old woman for money. She was my neighbour. The incident took place on June 16th, 2000. I was studying for a nursing degree at Chitradurga in Karnataka when the incident happened, he remembered. Use of drugs led to the incident, he said ."My stint in jail has given me the confidence to imagine a second life when I get a release. I would like to become an academician after my jail term.” Rijo says. In 2008, Rijo had created history by becoming the first life-termer appearing for the civil services examination.
The lives of Rijo Joseph and Babu Mathew were not isolated incidents. Like them, a large number of inmates in the 52 jails in the state are channelising their energies in pursuit of learning despite the constraints of the prison life, by dreaming a better life. Now there are 148 inmates doing their 4th, 7th and SSLC at the open prison at Nettukaltheri in Thiruvananthapuram. Apart from that, two inmates are doing post graduation and graduation respectively here. In Kannur Central Jail, as many as 84 inmates are studying for various courses.
"We conduct classes from the primary to the high school level,” says K. V. Mukesh, Welfare officer of Kannur central prison. “The classes start at 9 am and end at 4 pm. We provide all facilities for the 4th, 7th, and 10th equivalent examinations. We have a teacher too. Apart from that teachers from various schools and colleges are also offering their free services,” he said. Facilities are also provided to attend contact classes for graduation and post graduation courses. We have started a study centre of Indira Gandhi National Open University at Kannur central prison, he said. We use qualified inmates to teach others. Interestingly, the inmates who are studying in the school become well-disciplined," he added.
Another significant change that has taken place in Kerala jails now is that they have become a revenue-generating entities and that in the coming days jails in the state would generate more revenue. Now the jails are active with various economic activities like agriculture, food making ventures, organic farming and brick production etc. According to Prison Department the prison food business have posted an impressive turnover of Rs 22.28 crores in 2013-2014 financial year as compare to Rs. 9.81 crores in 2012-2013 and Rs. 38.49 lakh in 2011- 2012 financial year. People from all walks of life queuing up in front of the sales counter outside the jails for chapathi and chicken curry and other food items are a common scene in the state.
“In 2011, there had been a debate in the Kerala Assembly on the escalating prices of food items in hotels in the state. It led to the idea of making food in jails using the labour force of prisoners,” Said Alexander Jacob, former Director General of prisons and Correctional Services, who implemented the food making venture. “On an experimental basis, we started production of chappatis in Viyyur Central prison. It was a grand success and we extended the food business to other jails in the state , “ Mr. Alexander added. Now there are nine prisons including three central prisons in Kerala which are engaged in food production ventures. Poor people who could not afford the rise in price for food were our target customers and we wanted to provide them quality food at a cheap rate," Alexander Jacob said.
“We prepare high quality food items like chapatis, curries, idli, Biriyani, banana chips, laddu and cake, in the most hygienic conditions and serve them fresh at affordable prices,” says K A Kumaran, Chief Welfare Officer, Jail department. The reforms implemented in the last few years had brought about many revolutionary changes in the state's prisons, he added. The prisoners are now fully engaged and most of the prisoners have developed positive thinking.
“We started production and sale of a variety of food items, commercial cultivation of vegetables, fruits, paddy, medicinal plants and flowers and dairy and poultry farming in addition to conventional activities such as weaving, carpentry and soap making in the jails to teach prisoners some useful skills as they usually while away the time playing cards or plotting to escape,” says TP Senkumar IPS, Director General of prisons and Correctional Services. We are planning to introduce some new skilled jobs like coconut climbing and beautician course, Mr. Senkumar added. Some convicts who were part of the food production unit were released and are employed in various hotels and a good one can even get paid Rs 1,000 a day, Mr. Kumaran said.
Food business in the Kannur central prison has contributed Rs. 1.71 crore profit to the government exchequer in 2013-2014 financial year. This central prison has ventured into the business of food articles launching of Chapati and curry under the brand name ‘Malabar Freedom’. “Now the demand for the chapati and other food items are going up every day said Welfare officer KV Mukesh. Now we are making 25000- 30000 chappatis daily, he added. We are selling these items through a main counter, which was set up at Kannur central prison and a mobile unit, which covers Kannur town. We have plan to expand the mobile unit to other places of Kannur district too, he added. Now chappati is selling for Rs. 2 per piece. Egg curry and vegitable curry are priced Rs. 15 each and chicken curry is sold for Rs. 30.
After the success in the sale of chappatis, the prison had also launched banana chips in March, 2013. “We expanded the business only because of the wide acceptance of the products. The price of one kilo chips is Rs. 200 in the prison. Now we are making nearly 250 kilo chips daily. These chips are natural and we don’t apply any flavours or colours,” Mr. Mukesh added. Apart from these items, the central prison is also making vegetable biriyani , chicken biriyani, and laddu. As many as 75 inmates are engaged in the food making business here.
Apart from food making ventures the prisoners are also now producing paddy, long beans, banana, cabbage and sugarcane. According to Prison Department , the prison Garden produce turnover was Rs.23.23 lakh in 2013-2014 financial year. In 2012-2013 it was Rs. 1.75 crore and in 2011- 2012 financial year it was Rs.1.89 crore. These kind of activities have not only been bringing a steady income to the inmates, who can use it for supporting their family or save them to start their own business after their release, but also offering a therapeutic effect on them, Mr. Senkumar added. A prisoner who does jobs related to cooking and food processing gets Rs 117 a day. This dissuades them from returning to crime after being released while the money sent home from prison makes sure their families don't do anything illegal to survive. At the end of the month, Rs 3,500 is sent to the family,” Mr. Senkumar said. "Often when the male member of a family is imprisoned, the woman and son too end up in jail as they engage in illegal activities for survival. But such incidences have come down as the family is getting money every month," he added.
Apart from educational opportunities and income generation, the prisons also give the inmates avenues for their literary and creative skills. There are published authors among the inmates and their books have been received well by readers and reviewers. Just imagine the self esteem and the sense of dignity such endeavours and accomplishments give to a prisoner who is otherwise an outcast and a pariah. Such attempts to transform and channelise the energies and frustrations and disappointments of the prisoners towards constructive ways are sure to be beneficial both for the individual and the larger society.
‘Jailil Mottitta Kathakal,’ (‘Stories blossomed in the prison’), a collection of short stories penned by 34 inmates of various jails in the state have been received well by readers and reviewers. The book, a brainchild of the Prisons Department, was published by Poorna Publications, Kozhikode. “ The stories of the book were selected by conducting a competion. Lissy, a 40 year old women from Chulliyode in Wayanad district and an inmate of Women’s Jail, Kannur, came first in the competition. “The life in the jail helped her in becoming a better writer. “I want to write more and the award was the first recognition of any kind in my life,” “ Lissy said. K.N. Shobhana, Kannur jail’s welfare officer (in charge), says now more inmates have expressed desire to write stories and poems.
Meanwhile, An anthology of poems by C R Shaji, an inmate of the Central Prison Poojappura, had also published by Aswasa Bhavan, Kottayam. Apart from that Jesus fraternity had also published book, ‘Thadavara Sangeetham’, which is a collecton of short stories and poems by the inmates of Kerala prisons recently. “The Prisons Department organises poetry, essay, and short story contests every year to find the upcoming writers, said Mr. Kumaran. We will give all support to the upcoming writers of various jails in the state, he added.
These new activities are a good move from the part of the Jail authorities to put the prisoners on the right path and make their life after jail release a much better one and also useful to their families and society. This endeavour was aimed at the evolving trend of seeing prisons as correction centers rather than centers of detention and punishment. This is the way, how the prisoners, when they come out of the prison can be productive citizens to feed themselves and their families. Else, they will go back to the old lifestyle of crime and more headaches to the society. This way, they get a second chance in life and their in-born gift and potential can be wisely used for their betterment.