It has emerged that New Delhi's Tihar Jail is helping transform the lives of its inmates through vocational training in diverse fields to prepare them for a fresh start, once they are released.
A variety of goods ranging from crispy potato chips to herbal products are being sold under the TJ'S (Tihar Jail) brand, to generate awareness about the positive activities happening inside the prison walls. And now the jail authorities have created a website for people to buy the products made in jail
Sanjivan Rai, one of the convicts serving his term in Tihar Jail for marijuana trafficking, said the skills acquired inside the prison would help him find employment outside, and earn his living with dignity.
"We can start our own business once we get out of here. We can maybe start a small snack-making unit. Even if we decide to seek work somewhere, whatever we learn here will only help us," said Rai inside the bakery at Tihar Jail, as he took a break from frying potato chips that are sold under the TJ'S brand.
Life outside the jail is still tough for inmates, as they have to counter the stigma of having been in prison.
Ram Niwas Sharma, Deputy Inspector General of the Tihar Jail complex, said the idea behind the "TJ'S" label was to break these very taboos and channel the inmates' energy constructively, while building their self-esteem.
"You are going to buy goods made by prisoners whose freedom has been curtailed to a certain extent. He is going to get wages, so in turn you are going to help a family out there. A few thousand people are working in prisons so this way their families are benefited," Sharma said.
"They are getting gainful employment, they are passing their time instead of idling around in the jail and they will be learning some kind of a skill and getting out of the jail with some worth(y) living conditions. So, that way, you are helping a family, it is something which is good for the humanity," he added.
Sharma said the "Made in Tihar" products registered a turnover of 110 million rupees last year and this year it was expected to rise to 150 million rupees.
The target for next year is an ambitious 230 million rupees - reflecting the growing acceptability of the jail brand, he said.
Initially the bakery was started to help quench the jail's massive food demand for its 11,500 inmates, who live in 10 prison blocks.
But gradually the operations were expanded to keep the inmates busy and channel their energies in a positive direction, helping them gain useful skills for their future.
Mohammad Sajid, another inmate serving a life sentence, said with his newfound skills, he would be able to go out and earn his living through lawful means.
"The advantage of doing all this work here is that once we get outside we can start earning through honest means and leave the path of crime," Sajid said.
Officials say vocational training is just one of the roles being fulfilled by the jail as it strives to play the role of a correctional institution, where inmates are even given meditation and yoga training for their holistic growth.
On completion of a particular training, the inmates are also issued certificates - with no mention of Tihar Jail on it.
Jail authorities said their products were finding favour with buyers because of their good quality and competitive pricing, as profit was not their driving force.
Ruby Bagga, one of the customers at the Tihar shop, said buying prison products would help boost the confidence of inmates.
"The people who make these products, they get some work and employment which keeps them busy and it benefits them. So, we think that instead of buying these products from somewhere else, why not buy them from here? They are also neat, clean, fresh and tasty," Bagga said.
Currently, TJ'S products are sold at the prison outlets and shops situated in various Delhi courts, but encouraged by the public's response and the online orders, officials said they plan to make them widely available through tie-ups with retail stores.