A recent video from the Puzhal Central Prison created a buzz on social media. The video clip showed how the prison inmates are giving a fresh lease of life to demonetised currency by converting them into customised file pads for use in government offices.The video was followed by numerous stories highlighting the process involved in turning the shredded currency into office stationery. But not many know that the Puzhal Central
Prison has many such ongoing programmes that give prisoners some purpose — and hope. Life in Puzhal Central Prison starts at 6am, and after the daily routine morning activities, the prisoners get busy with the tasks they are most interested in. So, there’s a paper-making unit, a tailoring unit, a baking unit, a shoe polish-making and packaging unit, a vegetable-and-fruit-farming unit, a rabbit-farming unit, a sweets-and-snacks unit,and many more. Here’s a little jail tour through the different units.
Super soft fresh breads come out of ovens and the aroma of cookies, pastries and cakes
fill the air! Yes, we are still inside the prison, at the bakery unit, where 12 prisoners are busy packing breads to send them to the Government Stanley Hospital and Government
Raja Sir Ramaswamy Mudaliar Hospital in Royapuram for free. A packet of bread sold in the prison bazaar costs just `8. This unit was set up in 2013.“We package 1,000 packets of breads every day and send them to the hospitals by 8.30am. We also make cookies, biscuits, rusk, cakes, pastries, and vegetable and fruit jams. We use whole wheat to make breads. We started making breads just eight months ago,” tells the in-charge of the bakery unit. Very soon, they will be distributing their bakery items to the Madras Medical Mission Hospital, the Government Hospitals in Royapettah and Kilpauk.
In the middle of grey stone walls, rusty iron bars and dusty floors, there is a small world of colours and art. The 10-year-old prison art gallery has eight prisoners who practise art. On any given day, they can be spotted busy carving and engraving, sculpting and painting. They sell their work in the prison bazaar.“I spent a year training to do something I love. When I came here, I was depressed for a year. I had so much anger in me, and even suicidal thoughts. After connecting with art, I feel a lot of change in myself; my mind is calm and composed now. The art I have learnt here, I would love to take it up as a profession if I go out,” shares Selvam, who is serving a life sentence (he has served
seven years so far). “If the government decides to release me after I complete 10 years, I know what I will be doing for the rest of my life,” he smiles as he paints.
The videos on turning scrapped currency notes into office files were made in this unit. This is the oldest unit in the prison. “We started making office file pads recently three months ago. The RBI contacted us saying they have tons of demonetised currency
notes and asked if we could utilise them after recycling. We received the first set of eight tonnes of scrapped notes in the shape of round cakes,” informs a senior police officer.
An in-charge in the unit guides 25 prisoners in learning this skill. “We process these cakes of scrapped notes to get office file pads. First, we turn them into pulp and then pour that in batter machine that drains all the excess water from the pulp. This is then taken to a hydraulic press where it is pressed into square shapes, followed by calendering machine to smoothen out the material and then brought to paper-cutting machine. We need to dry the pads in the sun before manually sticking them with papers,” explains the in-charge.
The convicts not only make cover files and file pads, but also envelopes and bound books after recycling old newspapers and scrapped used papers. All these stationery items are then used in government departments. There is also poster-and-banner-making unit where they print flyers for the police department.
SHOE POLISH MAKING UNIT
Brown and black boxes of shoe polish at just `22! It’s been a year and a half since the shoe polish-making and packaging unit was started to give employment to 35 prisoners. They package 10,000 boxes every day under the name ‘Freedom’ (this is the brand name that is used for all the products produced inside the prison), which is then sent to police departments across the state.
Senthilkumar, a prisoner, says,“We make the polish as well as the case. We have both manual and semi-automatic machinery units. Under manual production, we make 500 boxes per day, while we produce 1,000 boxes per day using the machinery” He adds, “I used to work in an oil company before, so I know the mechanism that’s used in making boot polish. I have been working here since the day this unit was started.” Apart from polish, inmates also make sealing wax here.
MUSIC ROOM IN PRISON
Music is good for the soul, and the inmates here know it better. The music room inside the prison has a guitar, xylophone, drums, orchestra bells, a bongo and a keyboard. “They sing in English, Tamil and in Hindi. They also perform on important days, like Independence Day and Republic Day.We have a music teacher on board, and have also tied up with an agency to teach them these instruments,” informs a senior prison official.
There are 130 women inmates who are engaged in several jobs, like farming, gardening, making sweets and snacks and even concrete hollow blocks. In the transit yard, there is a rabbit farm that is being taken care by a prisoner. “I have been taking care of them for the past two years. A rabbit gives birth to 10-12 kittens. Since I have experience in training dogs when I was in New Delhi, I found it really easy to take up this job,” says
Prabhavati, a who is serving a life sentence.
A mushroom farm, which was set up 10 years ago, is taken care of by two inmates. “We get produce of about a kilo every day and we sell it in the prison bazaar,” says an inmate who looks after the farm. There’s also a sari printing and dyeing unit, where, under a supervisor, an inmate dyes the saris. The supervisors help her sell saris in the
Right outside the Puzhal Central Prison gate is the Prison Bazaar, run by inmates who are serving lifetime sentences. They sell almost everything — from shirts and saris, and sweets and snacks to fruits, vegetables, rabbit kittens and even concrete hollow
blocks! The bazaar was started in 2013 and all the products are made by prisoners
PROJECTS IN THE PIPELINE
- SANITARY NAPKIN UNIT – The existing sanitary napkin-making unit is not functioning at present. But the government has recently allotted Rs 2 lakh for purchasing a machine that will help in largescale production. “We only work with the Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation Limited (TNMSC), which procures napkins in large quantity to supply in government schools, hospitals and institutions free of cost. Previously, we were manually manufacturing it for use by the inmates. We were also supplying maternity sanitary napkins to the government hospitals. Now, we are waiting for the purchase order and the new machine to arrive,” informs a senior official. A napkin pad costs Rs 2.50 and one packet contains six pads.
- PETROL BUNKS- A proposal to start five petrol bunks inside the prisons in Tamil Nadu has been submitted to the government. The five chosen locations are — Puzhal, Pudukottai, Coimbatore, Madurai and Vellore. “The proposal was sent five months ago to the government. There are some security concerns. Prisoners who have been sentenced for life, but have maintained a good conduct record, will be shortlisted and they will go through the selection process by a classification committee,” informs a senior official. He adds, “Nearly 15 prisoners will be employed in each location. We are expecting the government to announce the fund by March. We are working with Indian Oil Corporation, which will provide us with the infrastructure facility.”
- PAPER-MAKING UNIT- The existing handmade paper-making unit will soon be upgraded. To purchase advanced machines, Rs 10 lakh has been allotted. “The government has announced Rs 90 lakh for nine centres across the state. We are expecting the unit to be in the Puzhal Central Prison by April,” says an official. The manual paper-making unit has a capacity to produce 700kg per day, but the advanced machine can produce 4,000kg per day.
THE STORY IN OTHER PRISONS
VELLORE CENTRAL JAIL: Known for its shoe-manufacturing and shoe-polishing
unit for policemen across the state.
COIMBATORE CENTRAL PRISON: Popular for its powerloom unit, where around 500 prisoners weave and stitch uniforms for policemen across the state. They also make bandages that go to all the government hospitals across the state.
TRICHY CENTRAL PRISON: A soap-making unit has been set up recently on the prison
premises. The inmates make oil bath soaps, detergents and toilet cleaners. They have a
tailoring unit for both men and women, and produce woollen blankets, bandages, and
khaki raincoats, which are sold to various government hospitals and police departments.
They also have a book-binding unit, a bakery, and a packing unit.
MADURAI CENTRAL PRISON: They have recently installed a paper-making machinery
costing Rs 10 lakh.
DO CONVICTS CHOOSE THEIR VOCATION?
Whenever a convict enters the prison, they are produced to the classification committee every Tuesday. The committee is led by a chairman, assistant superintendent, jailors, doctors and psychologists who decide which convict is fit for what kind of job after analysing their age, interest, background, psychological test and skills. For those who possess no skill, there are trainers, who are called foremen, to train them in their field of interest.
SALARY PER DAY
SKILLED –Rs 200
SEMI-SKILLED –Rs 180
UNSKILLED – Rs 160
50 % GOES FOR PRISON MAINTENANCE
20 % GOES TO VICTIM COMPENSATION
30 % CONVICT SALARY
Photos by Johan Sathyadas