The transformative journey of prison inmates

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Prison is supposed to be an awful place where inmates live their whole lives in dark, dark cells with the torturous behavior of prison guards. But all these things go way back now. Advancing an inspiring work culture is much like what Jaipur Central Prison is focusing on with other prisons to come. Located at Jaipur Agra Road near Ghat Gate, Jaipur Central Jail is completely a Sudhar Grah that transforms the lives of inmates by imparting vocational skills with the aim of getting a better life after their release. The unique initiative of Jaipur Central Jail, Aashayein, the first prison shop of its kind in Rajasthan where artifacts are made by prisoners under the training of master craftsmen and renowned designers like an expert in the textile industry Martand Singh, painter Yashwant Shrivastav, leading fashion designers Bibi Russell from Bangladesh, design duo Abraham and Thakore, and professors from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, among others. The store was inaugurated by Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria. Located outside the prison premises in the city market, when I entered the store, the atmosphere was so splendid. I was fascinated to see the beautifully painted front wall by the inmates.

Most of the items in the shop were made according to the needs of society. The shop has two sections, one where quilts, bedspreads, tablecloths, lehengas, tote bags, skirts, tie-dye dupattas, towels, pickles, spices, jars, envelopes and handmade paper bags made by women prisoners are on display and in the section other products such as furniture, coolers, murals, carpets and organic vegetables designed by male prisoners were featured. These items are available at very nominal prices and the price range varies from a Rs 10 envelope to a Rs 10,000 mural. It should be mentioned that the prisoners themselves design their prison clothes. The items are designed not only by male and female prisoners of Jaipur Central Jail but also by inmates of Bhilwara, Ajmer, Jodhpur and Udaipur prisons. Not only that, near the Aashayein shop, the Pink City prison department, in collaboration with the Indian Oil Corporation, opened a one-of-a-kind “Aashayein gas station” in 2020, the gasoline pump which is operated by the prison inmates who were transferred here from various prisons in Rajasthan. The goal of the initiative is to provide inmates with the opportunity to earn money. The prisoners are trained by the Indian Oil Corporation and receive Rs. 300/- per day. Revenue generated from the pump goes directly to the Prison Development Council for various prison rehabilitation programs. In an interview with me, Jaipur Jail Superintendent Rakesh Mohan Sharma said, “We are successfully running this petrol pump with petrol, diesel and CNG sale of Rs. 11-12 lakh per day. After their release, these prisoners have the opportunity to work outside thanks to the training that we give them and the experience that they acquire thanks to these companies. So far, we have released more than 100 trained prisoners and they have engaged well in their hometowns, as salespeople in various gas pump retail outlets. The sole reason behind these initiatives is to occupy the inmates and help them earn a safe living. Prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment or charged with more than 7 years of imprisonment have the opportunity to work at the gas pump or display their products in the shop. The income generated is used for the welfare of convicts or the development of prison infrastructure.

Previously, these inmates, after a whole day of hardship, earned a very small amount of only 20 rupees as daily wages. But, thanks to the Aashayein initiatives of the prison department, these prisoners receive between 100 and 300 rupees a day. Thanks to this money, the inmates feel safe and also meet their needs with other family members. This pioneering effort by prison authorities is fully supported by the government of Rajasthan. “In managing these businesses, our goal is that whenever the prisoner returns to society, their integration into society is very seamless,” said Rajeev Dasot, Managing Director of Jail (Rajasthan). Gulab Chand Kataria said, “The initiative has built a positive image of the prison authorities among the public and a feeling of compassion for these prisoners has also been created. The strong involvement of prisoners shows their degree of satisfaction. The inmates at the Jaipur prison premises also produce organic vegetables and also make them available to the inmates. These inmates, based on their good behavior and involving themselves in these factory jobs, get a rebate from 4 days to 3 months and then have the option of spending time in open prisons as well. True to its name, Aashayein brings a new ray of hope into the inert lives of prisoners that will ultimately lead them to a dignified and stable life through the vocational skills imparted to them.

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