“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.
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-
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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