‘My Nation’ petrol filling station is run by the Telangana government and is entirely staffed by prisoners from the jail who have shown “good behaviour”

Run entirely by prisoners this Hyderabad petrol bunk is all about second chancesImage By arrangement
news Prisoner Reform Monday, July 11, 2016 - 20:52

On the short walk to a petrol bunk, less than a kilometre from Hyderabad’s Chanchalguda Central Jail, lies a small measure of freedom. It is also a path on which the hopes of prisoner reform are pinned.

The ‘My Nation’ petrol filling station is run by the Telangana government and is entirely staffed by prisoners from the jail who have shown “good behaviour”. There are similar initiatives in Warangal, Rajahmundry and Kadapa.

Thirty-eight-year-old Surender Reddy, who is serving out a life sentence for murder, has been working at the petrol bunk since the undivided Andhra government opened it in June 2013. Back then, it was called ‘Sudhar’ and had 24 prisoners as staff. It was re-named when the two Telugu states split.

A farmer in his village Kalwakurthy in Mahbubnagar district, Surender and his brother-in-law got into a fight with neighbours, who were allegedly trying to usurp six acres of their land.

“The quarrel turned violent and my brother-in-law, who was then a minor, and I, attacked them. An 80-year-old man was injured, and he died on the way to the hospital,” Surendar says.

After his conviction in February 2013, he has been lodged in Chanchalguda jail and was “very depressed” initially. Just as he began getting used to the atmosphere, the government opened the petrol bunk, and it has become his lifeline. “The work helps us cope with depression as well as enables us to earn some money through which we try to help our families.”

Naturally, this is not enough. “Although work keeps us busy all day, sometimes I wake up suddenly at night and again it’s difficult to get back to sleep. All we can then do is to cry under the blanket, which has become quite routine for us.”

He longs to see his daughter, whom he has only seen once since her birth. His wife was seven months pregnant when he was jailed in 2013. “I missed the most important part of her (daughter’s) life, which I will always regret. I saw her a year after she was born. Until then I had only seen pictures.”

He hopes that his appeal in the High Court will enable him to get out of prison soon, but recognizes that the short-staffed judiciary is overburdened. “I am just counting the days. I feel that this is the end of my life and want to spend my last days with my family. My family still hopes that I will be released when I myself see no hope.”

For J Srinu too, the government’s reform measures have meant a lot. He too is one of 50 prison inmates – both under trials and convicts – who work in three eight-hour shifts to keep the station open round the clock. Its annual turnover is Rs 10 crore.

27-year-old Srinu got married in June 2012. Within six months of the wedding, his wife killed herself when he was at work and her family filed a case against him. “I regret that I got married at all. I will never get married again. It’s better to die single.”

He claimed that her parents forced her into the marriage. “I am a normal uneducated auto driver but my wife was educated, and she was unhappy. I never misbehaved with her,” he claimed.

For him too, the petrol bunk has been a lifeline. “Working here is very useful for people like us. It is like any other job. We get salary which we save and help our family members financially. Once a year we even get leave. We can visit our hometowns. Our Jailors treat us like family members which is a very great thing for us.”

Senior jailor Ramakrishna knows each of the 50 prisoners’ story and recognises the effect that prisoner reform programmes have on prisoners.

“Most of crimes happen because of a lack of money. If they are independent, the change will definitely happen. Many prisoners become depressed in jail. Work keeps them occupied with other things.”

While many prisoners are given some kind of training which would help them start work or a business once they are out, open prisoners are selected on the basis of good behaviour. This has a ripple effect on other prisoners, Ramakrishna says. “We have observed lot of changes in open prisoners. Other prisoners look at them and are motivated to try and change, so that they too can become open prisoners.” Chanchalguda now plans to open a separate petrol bunk for women prisoners.

Open prisoners at ‘My Nation’ appear to have influenced their customers too. Through their work, they have indirectly dispelled any mental pictures customers might have of “criminals”.

Ramesh, a 50-year-old resident of Tirumalgiri, told TNM that he has been a regular customer since the petrol bunk was opened. “None of the workers here look or behave like criminals. I think it is a great initiative by the government to change their lives and to decrease crime rate in the city. Reforming criminals and giving them employment is a very, very good initiative.”

31-year-old Sai felt strange when he first heard that prisoners were the staff at the petrol bunk. Once he became a regular customer, he realized they behaved just like anyone else. “They may have committed mistakes, but everyone should get a second chance. I guess all of them who are working here have changed a lot.” 

 

 

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