Learning skills behind the bars

Learning skills behind the bars

Learning skills behind the bars

When they were imprisoned for different reasons in Trichy District Prison, most of them were crestfallen. They felt very bad and many regretted their mistakes. They were wondering how would they spend time inside the jail for years together. Now many learn new work and that could ensure better life outside the jail after their release. They take up organic cultivation inside the jail premises.

The farming initiative inside the jail complex started a couple of years back, but organic cultivation was launched after A Murugesan took over as the Trichy Jail Superintendent in the middle of last year. Now,  organic farming in the prison complex has yielded excellent results in rehabilitating inmates and also providing some financial assistance.

Trichy prison complex is spread over 280 acres and 65 acres have been earmarked for farming. Apart from cultivation, the prisoners produce vermicompost and biodegradable waste which are used as natural fertilisers.

Murugesan said kitchen waste and dry leaves are collected in a separate bin and crushed with an organic waste crusher, a small tool used for  smashing.

After crushing, the waste is converted to solid paste. About 20 kg of organic waste yields about 2 kg of solid paste and it is mixed with lime powder and saw dust. After three weeks, the solid paste becomes manure and can be used for gardening, the jail official said.

“Most of the prisoners had experience in agricultural activities and their knowledge is being effectively used inside the jail,” says Murugesan.

Accordingly, 75 prisoners are divided into 3 teams and engaged in organic farming. In January 2016, the prisoners cultivated sugarcane for the Pongal festival season.  “Though it is a tedious work, they produced good quality sugarcane,” Murugesan said. Sugarcane was sold at 25 % less than the market price. “Out of the profits earned, 25 % share is given to the labourers,” he said.

Organic farming experts assist and  regularly monitor the green project. As a result, acres of fallow land have been converted into productive land and vegetables are grown. Most of it is consumed in the jail and excess is sold through prison bazaars. The prison holds gardening classes and this year it has engaged the inmates in classes related to gardening and sustainability.

The idea to engage them in organic farming was born out of the growing popularity of vegetables and fruits produced in a natural way without use of chemicals. Such vegetables and other agricultural products are in huge demand in the market. In the prison, 65 acres of land has been divided into 3 different units. Paddy is grown in one portion and vegetables and onion and potato in other two sections.

The prison official said like last year, ADT-39 high quality variety paddy will be planted even this season and only organic manure will be used.

“Last year we produced 4,000 kg good rice. The rice was sold in the prison bazaar run by a group of convicts,” Murugesan said. Now, brinjal and tomatoes have been grown this year and a good quantity is sold in the market regularly.

Initially, buyers were reluctant to purchase vegetables cultivated inside the prison. However, when jail officials advertised that vegetables will be sold  at 25 % less than the market price, people started queuing up every day to purchase the fresh vegetables.
He claimed that vegetables are sold out in a couple of hours. “Now we get very good response from the buyers at market also,” the official said.

Besides brinjal and tomatoes, coconut, banana, mango, jackfruit and lemon are grown. “As we have adopted rain water harvesting method in and around the prison complex, we do not face water scarcity throughout the year,” Murugesan said. The prison has two wells to meet the water requirement.

The inmates are gearing up for cultivation of onion and garlic. “As onion prices fluctuate every year, we stock it and save a lot of money,” the jail superintendent said.

The jail inmates are happy with their work. After their breakfast, the  inmates work in the field. “They forget everything and their work gives them a lot of satisfaction,” Murugesan said. They are engaged for about 6 to 7 hours in farming activities.

The initiative is aimed at giving convicts a chance to reform and rehabilitate. Prisoners released early for good conduct have an opportunity to utilise the experience to lead a decent life outside the jail. “In addition, the skill provides inmates with satisfying work, marketable talent and fresh food to eat,” he said.

Sources said that prisoners, on their release, get assistance from the government. In many instances, loans and marketing facilities are arranged for the released prisoners.
“After their release, more than 20 inmates have started their own farming business with the help of the local authorities,” a jail official said. “We also help the ex-prisoners to open their own bank accounts if required,” he added.

Murugesan said the jail management is also taking measures for apiculture and poultry in the future.