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Exclusive: Coping with the Stigma of Being an Ex Prisoner is not Easy, says Bengali Film Actor Nigel Akkara

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Ex prisoners
Ex prisoners working at Kolkata facilities management

By Deepanita Das

Sep 10, 2017:

“Every Fighter has that one fight that makes or breaks him- Elia Kazan.”

The above line sits appropriately on ex-convict turned actor Nigel Akkara who now wears self-belief as an accessory to fight his years of despair. But, what’s more interesting was that he came up with an intriguing idea for hundreds of ex-prisoners who had nothing to look forward to after they come out of prison.

NewsGram got in touch with Nigel Akkara about his take on the life after prison, establishing one of its kind organization to give job opportunities to ex-prisoners, counseling people to live a better life and much more.

What will a person do when completely rational people fail to cooperate or accept one as a part of the society? This is where Kolkata Facilities Management comes under the limelight.

Born in a middle-income Christian family in Kolkata in 1978, life almost went upside down for Akkara, after he stepped into the world of crime at the age of 15.

Nigel Akkara

One day, he went to a barber’s shop, where a fight broke out and as a consequence one person was dead. This was when he was still in school, but soon he got sucked into the crime world and became part of four gangs and got himself involved in kidnapping, extortion and contract killing.

He was arrested in December 2000 for his crimes and after serving nine years in jail.  He says how ironic it is that life after coming out of prison was much more challenging than it was while staying inside it.

When people around you become tone-deaf, it is time to be the ‘change’ rather hoping for one to happen. This is something Akkara believed in and followed with all his heart.

Akara was released from prison in 2009. “I will not deny it, that you carry a tag of being a criminal, it is indeed a psychological dilemma and people around you will look at you in a particular manner,” he said.

Uncertain about what to do after spending time in jail, and being rejected by several organizations due to “ex-prisoner” tag, he lost hope for a while and sat near the Tea Board of India office in Dalhousie where he saw men sweeping the streets in with long brooms to earn their living.

This incident stroked a thought that this is the only thing that doesn’t require any qualification. Later, “I cleaned offices too in the same year so that I can bear my expenses and fulfill my basic necessities,” he said.

On asking why a person in India cannot live a normal life after coming out of prison, Akkara said, “unemployment, illiteracy and political dramas are the primary factors behind this but what is good in West Bengal is that a prison is a correctional home for prisoners laced with education, proper food, and exams -therefore things changed for good in my case.”

There are 155 technical and vocational courses in the West Bengal prisons. Also in Berhampore, the prisons offer courses in mechanical engineering and prisoners are given certificate once they complete the course.

“There are dance and music therapies too correctional homes that can heal a person because at times it becomes lonely in there.  Theatre too is taught to people who have interest in it,” says Akkara.

Akkara found peace in spirituality and counseling other people later. He says, “ Spirituality has healed me a lot, and that personal connection to God is something I find peace in. I have conducted several music therapies for depressed people in several organizations like Psychogenesis Research Foundation, TCS and also in Jadavpur University.”

“When I started Kolkata facilities management, I realized that these people have hidden potential in them and therefore the area of work needed to be decided accordingly,” smiles Akkara.

To get a glimpse of the lives of these ex- prisoners and how they are dealing with the life after prison in an efficient manner, NewsGram had a chat with the employees of the organization (Kolkata Facilities Management), and it was interesting to look at how efficiently they are breaking the social stigmas that are attached to ex-prisoners-

 

Arijit Paul

The executive director of Kolkata Facilities Management, Arijit Paul (33) says, “I am with the organization for 2-3 years. I came out of prison in 2014 but I knew Nigel Akkara for last 15 years, he always had faith in me and had guided me throughout. It is sad that people are not ready to accept change but slowly times are changing.”

 

Md Ramzan

An employee of the organization, Md Ramzan (26), who is a resident of Satragachi was charged with a murder in 2007 but after serving a sentence, living a normal life and being accepted by people were the two things, Ramzan was looking for. He now works as a security guard.

Prasenjit Dutta

41-year-old Prasenjit Dutta used to work as a stuntman and as a body double in the movies, but now he has become a stunt director. He says the journey from 2000 to 2014 was tough enough to deal with. I tried to invest in a film too, but there were obstacles. Life was never easy for me. It is hard to come out of a situation when police, politicians form a team against you and people close to you get involved.” He went to prison for two months in Alipore Central Jail but used to keep himself engaged in the pujas performed in the jail premises. “I also worked as a Group D staff with Putihari Brojomohon Tiwari High School. Later on, I started working with Nigel from the sets of Yodha, and now I am like a family to him,” smiles Dutta.

Tarun Patra

Another employee of the organization, Tarun Patra (30), who is a resident of Sonarpur says, “I was a shop owner, seven years back I lost 6 lakhs due to which there was too much loan, and I had to shut down the shop. There was a fight where a person got killed, and therefore I  was arrested on the charge of murder.”  7 long years he was behind bars but, Patra never lost hope. He was also a tailor by profession, but because of the eyesight issues, he had to give up tailoring and soon after his parents also passed away. He now works as a security guard in an apartment in Kolkata.

What is important here is to take into account that a prisoner’s dilemma is beyond any doubt, a situation where self-interests and collective interests are at odds. This is high time for people in India to understand the crisis, be compassionate and sensitize themselves enough to accept ex-prisoners as a part of the society! 


NewsGram is a Chicago-based non-profit media organization. We depend upon support from our readers to maintain our objective reporting. Show your support by Donating to NewsGram. Donations to NewsGram are tax-exempt. 

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Convenience Store In North Korean Prison Exploits Convicts, Family Members

Prison authorities are failing to address the growing numbers of prisoners suffering from illness and malnutrition at Kaecheon, the source said.

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north korea
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency, Sept. 16, 2017. VOA

Guards at a prison camp in North Korea have recently enlarged a convenience store attached to the facility, pressuring inmates’ relatives to spend money there to purchase food and medicine formerly brought in for free, sources in the country say.

The new store at the Kaecheon Correctional Labor Camp in South Pyongan province was opened at the end of last year following a surge in the prison’s incarceration rate, a source in South Pyongan told RFA’s Korean Service.

“The store is now crowded with visitors each day, and is being used as a way to exploit family members of the inmates and suck the money out of them,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Korea, Missile

“They are not allowed to bring in food or other necessities, so they are forced to make those purchases from the convenience store,” the source said.

Employees at the store are family members of the prison’s officials, the source said, adding, “And they abuse their authority by selling things like alcohol and cigarettes at much higher prices than they could get by selling them at street markets” outside the facility.

“Visitors are afraid that their loved ones inside the prison could suffer badly if they complain about the ridiculous prices, so they reluctantly make their purchases at the convenience store,” he said.

Korea
A train transporting dozens of South Korean officials runs on the rails which leads to North Korea, inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea. VOA

Prison officials also pressure inmates to ask family members visiting the store to buy expensive items such as solar batteries, razors, office paper and other supplies, “falsely claiming that these things are needed for common use in the facility,” the source said.

Severe conditions

Inmates who fail to deliver the demanded goods are often beaten or receive other kinds of punishment during bed-checks at night, he said.

Also speaking to RFA, a source in Ryanggang province said he had gone to Kaecheon after hearing that his brother, an inmate at the prison, was suffering from malnutrition there.

“When I arrived, I was told that visits were allowed only once per quarter, and they refused to allow me into the visitors’ room,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

North Korea
A prison camp in North Korea’s South Pyongan province is shown in an undated photo., AsiaExpress

“I got frustrated, and argued with them when I was told that I should just buy food at the convenience store and send that in,” he said.

“I couldn’t bear their attitude which cares only about their business dealings at the store, while they reject visitors’ requests to see their family members inside the prison, so they can hide the severe conditions at the facility and stop the spreading of rumors about it.”

Prison authorities are failing to address the growing numbers of prisoners suffering from illness and malnutrition at Kaecheon, the source said.

Also Read: Human Rights Situation in North Korea Needs Reforms

“Instead, they would rather call up the inmates’ families and demand that they bring in medicine and food.”

Inmates’ families can now help save the lives of their loved ones in the prison by sending in a mixture of corn flour, sugar, and oil put into a meal, RFA’s source said.

“And they can do this only by purchasing these things directly from the convenience store,” he said. (Radio Free Asia)