The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Art of living for inmates and jail staff

Art of living is set to sweep prisons. The dark, dingy and claustrophobic cells, the rude treatment by warders, the cruel jail regimen, all create in inmates an apathy towards getting back to a healthy, normal life.

In an effort to correct that malady, the state prisons directorate is introducing ‘yoga and mental classes’ for at least 1,500 convicts at Alipore, Presidency and Dum Dum Central jails and Howrah district jails.

The classes begin in two weeks, with the help of a non-governmental organisation, Bekti Bikash Kendra.

“We want to introduce these classes eventually at all Central and district jails in the state,” said Joydeep Chakroborty, inspector-general of prisons.

And not just the convicts, but the jail staff, too, will attend these classes, when they are off duty. Superintendents have already been told to ask the jail staff to play an “integral” role in the process.

The classes, however, will not cater to undertrials, “since most of them have spent very little time in jail”, according to the prisons directorate. “Prisons are meant to be correctional homes, where the inmates have to be taught the reality that there is a life beyond the confines of their cells,” Chakroborty said.

“We have held yoga classes in the past for inmates from time to time. But the present concept will include interaction and discussions on various aspects of life,” Chakroborty said. The state prisons directorate has taken its cue from Tihar Jail and some other prisons in the country, where such ‘lessons’ are considered an integral part of the correctional process.

Most convicts believe they cannot erase the stigma once they have spent some time behind bars. The directorate hopes that the ‘lessons’ will help change that attitude.

The jail staff have been asked to attend the classes so they can learn to “behave better” with the inmates. “They, too, need to grow as human beings, to learn sympathy. Their attitude is important, because it is directly related to how the inmates perceive life beyond the bars,” the inspector-general (prisons) said.

The classes will be held once a week with two professionals — a teacher and an assistant from Bekti Bikash Kendra — attending. The organisation will conduct the classes free.

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