ANEW team along with rotary midtown members were invited to puzhal central prison to explore the possibilities of working together to provide more effective livelihood programs to women inmates, especially the habitual offenders.
Until the visit, my perception of prison came from the movie scenes with nothing more to add to it. I was all excited about the visit, but little did I know how this experience would alter my perception. At the entrance, Our vehicles were checked and permits were verified and we were allowed inside the premises. The premises had large open spaces, few office buildings and hardly any vegetation. Khaki was the only color all around. As we drove through the campus, I suddenly became aware of this 60 – 70 feet high wall on one side of the drive, similar to the ones in a fort. Our papers were again rechecked and reconfirmed before we entered through a large solid iron gate opening into the restricted area – the high wall enclosure.
We met the superintendent along with other prison staff to discuss about the requirements of the inmates and the roles ANEW and rotary can play together in this project, keeping in mind the rules/restrictions of the prison. We also visited the highly secured computer training room and the inmates who had expressed interest in learning the skill. When we met the inmates, we could only wonder if they were capable of any crime at all and the nature of the trigger behind their act. We heard that most female crimes fall under one of the categories : theft, dowry, illicit arack brewers and drug peddlers in that order. 99% of the women criminals are married. Their families are usually supportive (or dependent?) enough to visit them frequently and receive them at the end of their term. Children under 6 years of age are permitted to stay with the mother. we did see a child also dressed in prison uniform color playing with a few women waiting to be taken for court hearing. As we left the premises, we saw a long line of visitors waiting under the hot afternoon sun, with carry bags stuffed to the brim, for tokens to visit their kith/kin.
Long after we got back, only one thing about prison lingered in my mind. It was not the guards, prisoners or their crime – but the huge wall – the high humiliating prison wall. It signified all that a prison stands for – A simple brick and mortar wall that physically confines fellow human beings and deprive them of range of freedoms, just as we confine the wild animals in a zoo. Are the criminals along with their crime a separate entity from the rest of the society? Isn’t the fact that majority of the inmates are underprivileged say something about the failed responsibility of the society? According to theories of crime, The combination of illiteracy and poverty leads individuals to break the law and turn against the system. We should be focusing more on those variables instead of displaying our helplessness by building sophisticated prisons, so we could isolate them securely behind the huge wall, away from our sight, while we carry on with our lives guilt free. What are we trying to achieve by confining someone in prison anyway? Is it to merely instill fear in the society or to transform an inmate into a refined individual with an offer for a better lifestyle? What good comes of isolating them from the society and confining them together with fellow law breakers? Suddenly the very concept of prison sounded bizarre enough for me to google out the origin of the concept. In my opinion, a Prison is largely a symbol, signifying the failure of the social system and knowingly or unknowingly we have all played and still playing a small part towards that failure.
I have always wondered about the feel of the phrase “air felt heavy”, but that day, in puzhal prison, though the environment was calm, quiet and even serene, I understood the meaning of this phrase. The air definitely did feel heavy.
Management Committee, ANEW