Former inmates from different prisons in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have been employed in prisons as “reformers”. After undergoing prisoners’ training programmes for reformation they came back to the jail, but with a different uniform and a different identity.
“After serving time in jail, it became my identity for the outside world and nobody remembered me for who I was before I went in. It might be difficult to believe, but prison is the best thing that happened to me,” said Pritesh Singh, former inmate at Bhondsi jail, Haryana, and the project coordinator of the prisoners’ training programme in Dasna Jail, UP.
Pritesh Singh was convicted in 2012 for rioting and murder of the HR manager of Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant. A clash between the senior management and the workers’ union had led to the arrest of 91 people, mainly workers, after the charred body of the manager was discovered from the conference room of the Manesar office. 152 workers were convicted in the case and sent to the Bhondsi jail the same year. Pritesh was one among them.
“The first three months in jail taught me what hell must be like. It’s enough for anyone to swear to never go back there again. But I came back to jail and this time not as a criminal, but as a reformer,” Pritesh said.
Pritesh was released from Bhondsi jail last year in February after serving his time. A month later, he started working at Dasna Jail as the project manager of the prison reform programmes run by India Vision Foundation (IVF).
“After suffering from depression for the first three months, one of the mentors of the Foundation told me how I could use my time in jail in a better way. At first, I was unwilling. But among the various activities in the training programmes for inmates, one was dance. I always liked to dance and so I decided to attend the class at least once. Eventually, I enrolled in other programmes. A month later, I had a tight schedule in prison. We would wake up early in the morning and begin our day with yoga and prayer. During my time in prison, I learned how to dance like a professional. The time that I spent there changed me a lot.Now when I look back, it feels like it was meant to be. It was fate; otherwise, what I am able to do for these kids here in Dasna Jail, I wouldn’t have ever thought of doing without experiencing prison myself,” Pritesh said.
At present, Pritesh has a full-time job in Dasna Jail and heads the project for reformation of prison inmates. He mentors convicts between 18-21 years of age. Pritesh’s life before prison was not easy, but he was an educated young man who wanted more from life. “I had done my B.A. from Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, and did post graduation from Delhi after which I got a job as a mechanic in Manesar. The plan was simple. Marry the woman I had fallen in love with and earn to sustain our family. I was about to get married to her before I went to jail,” said Pritesh. After he was released, Pritesh had to do a lot of pleading and got married to his woman on the day she was set to get married to another man.
For Govind Singh, aka Lucky, sooner or later he was bound to end up in prison because of the choices he had made. He was convicted for a half murder case and sent to a Gurgaon prison to serve time in 2005. Govind lived a difficult life with minimum means and a dysfunctional family. Lack of education and poverty led him to become a henchman.
“After being imprisoned in 2005, I was let out on bail in 2010, but returned to prison again until I was released in January 2016. The India Vision Foundation started its prison training programme in Gurgaon jail in 2014. For me, things changed once I enrolled in the training programmes. I continued classes in jail for two years until I was released in January 2016. I was never motivated to dream, but since now I had a means to earn a livelihood, I had every reason to change,” said Govind, a former inmate of Gurgaon Jail and project coordinator, prisoners’ training programme, IVF, Faridabad Jail.
Monica Dhawan, director of IVF, said, “We began working since 2012 in various prisons of Haryana in collaboration with the state police department and G4S company who helped us fund our programmes under their CSR initiatives. One of the major challenges that we come across is to be able to establish a level of trust among the prison inmates and motivate them to look beyond their lives in prison. So far, we have employed five former convicts as reformers in different jails. All of them are men. Even though both the genders face equal stigma in society after serving time in a prison, women tend to be victimised more and hence they prefer to change their identities.”
Deepak Sharma, Director General, Faridabad prison, said, “I want the people in the jail to realise that living the life of a criminal is not the only option they have. They have choices and they can start changing their world right from prison. No matter how much we try to motivate them, there will be at least 10% of inmates who don’t want to change. But for those who want a second chance at life, we are giving an opportunity.”
Even though IVF has managed to provide an opportunity for an alternative future to the prison inmates, to be able to provide large-scale employment post-release is still a challenge.
Dr Kiran Bedi, former IPS officer and the founder of IVF, said, “This is a subject where the state must intervene. The government will need to bring in a system where prison inmates who have served their time well in jail are given a way for employment on the basis of the skills they have learned inside. The stigma runs deep among the people. No doubt, we have a long way to go and other stakeholders, too, must participate to bring in bigger change. Our motive is to help a convict so that he never has to go back to prison.”