Thursday, July 21, 2011

The List: Freedom Behind Bars

Prisoners are among the most marginalized sections of society and some would say they deserve to be. That's one way to go about it but here are a few others -

1. The Clink Restaurant

A jail inmate serving a guest at the Clink restaurant

This is a commercial restaurant built inside a working prison situated in Surrey, Britain. Here, the chefs, the maitre'd and the waiters are all inmates charged with heinous crimes. The restaurant has a zero-tolerance policy and uses plastic cutlery instead of metal to keep things under control. And the aim is to train prisoners in high-end food service to prepare them for the hospitality sector, once they are released. You can book a table for this novel experience or make a donation for the clink charity here.

Jail inmates performing a famous scene from 'The Merchant of Venice'.

This 16-year-old program in North America has been designed to "develop life skills among inmates through theatrical encounters that deal with personal and social issues". The inmates are involved in a nine-ten month long process of producing a Shakespeare play which nurtures their literary skills and instills greater empathy and confidence. The recidivism rate (relapse into crime) has only been 6-7.5%, according to news articles. To participate, help or donate, visit their website

Jail inmates performing a dance drama, "Balmiki Pratibha".

Dance is another form of art that has been used to transform prisoner lives in West Bengal, India. Inmates are taught Kerala's martial dance, Kalaripayattu, as well as dance dramas. The dance 'therapy' has restored confidence and a sense of purpose in life where inmates were hopeless about the future, earlier. The best part of these performances perhaps is that they are not just restricted to jail premises but staged across India, giving a chance to these prisoners to interact with the outside world.

A happy customer posing after the prison massage. 

A correctional facility in Thailand has a massage parlour where female inmates are trained as masseuses to make their transition back into society smoother. The inmates give foot as well as full body Thai massages for 150-180 baht (Rs 200-250) an hour and the money goes to their financial independence once they leave prison, according to the newspaper The National. Though some reviews on say the masseuses are busy chatting among themselves to pay attention to the massage but everyone left happy with the thought that it was for a good cause. 

A jail inmate in Udaipur penning his thoughts for an autobiography.

As is proven by several inmates from an Udaipur jail who have been encouraged to pen down their thoughts on paper. One of the books written by an inmate is called "Panchava Dham Hai Jail" or "The fifth Pilgrimage is Jail", which apart from being an account of his personal experiences, is enriched with philosophical and moral lessons. He hopes he can reach out to the other aimless youth of the country though his book and make them think twice before committing a crime. 

A jail inmate taking part in a Red Cross class in Dublin, Ireland.

In Dublin, Ireland, there is a prison reform program involving the Irish Red Cross that trains inmates on basic first aid, disease prevention, hygiene maintenance to make them health advocates in the prison community. Not unlike communities outside prisons, only a small number of inmates volunteer to be part of the program. But their efforts have brought in small changes in prison life such as making peer support groups to help inmates quit smoking and HIV awareness programs inside prisons.
“If people get sick, we take them to the hospital and give them the right medicine to get better. If people’s behaviour is sick, we bring them to the prison, but we forget the medicines.”  – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. 
And that's the purpose of these projects - to help prisoners reintegrate into society successfully! 

**(The idea for the post came when I chanced upon an interesting blog written by an inmate incarcerated in a Texas prison, USA. His consistent efforts towards self-improvement while in prison and his craving to have a better future outside, is an inspiration for all who don't do enough, even when living outside a prison.)

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