Jailhouse Grooming in Kerala

An inmate gives a haircut at Phoenix Freedom Expressions, Central Prison, Kannur
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The inmates of Kannur Central Prison have opened a beauty parlour for men

GOING TO THE prison once in a week does not sound like a good idea, but for residents of Kannur, Kerala, it is not that unusual. For them, jail is a place where they go shopping for food, organic vegetables, soft toys, glass paintings and even fertilisers.

There is one more offering now. From behind its high, secured walls, the inmates of Central Prison, Kannur, have opened a beauty parlour for men, offering services at rates lower than those of beauty parlours in the city.

Phoenix Freedom Expressions was formally launched with a haircut given to the Director General of Police, Jail Administrations, Hrishiraj Singh. A 700 sq ft room at the entrance—which was earlier the generator room—has been transformed into an air-conditioned, well-furnished modern salon, something similar to your regular street-corner salon.

Ashokan Arippa, superintendent of Kannur Central Prison, says that Phoenix Freedom Expressions has become a big success. “We get an average of 70 to 80 visitors per day,” he says. That’s an impressive number for a jailhouse salon.

A regular haircut costs only Rs 50. All the services offered are cheaper by 20 per cent than beauty parlours outside. The salon functions daily from 9 am to 5.30 pm. The idea of launching a salon came from the prisoners themselves. “When we decided to give them training in beauty treatment, we did not have the idea of instituting a parlour in the jail. My plan was to provide maximum occupational training to the inmates so that they are equipped to manage on their own when they are released. When the inmates suggested starting a salon, all of us welcomed the idea,” says Arippa.

Such innovations are not new to Central Prison, Kannur, where enterprising inmates have covered a vast range of occupations. It has a dairy farm, goat farm, is engaged in the organic farming of vegetables, organic fertilisers, soft toys, glass paintings, milk production, as well as cooking biryani and chapaatis.

The inmates are also given vocational training in plumbing, electrical work, coconut plucking, among other vocations. Every prisoner gets additional skills that they perhaps did not have when they were jailed. The Kannur jail has a long, consistent and successful history of reformative steps to convert criminals into responsible social beings.

Malabar Freedom Chappathi was one of the first initiatives in this regard. To everyone’s surprise, 3,500 chapaatis were sold on its first day. A packet of five chapaatis and curry is priced at just Rs 20. The success of the prison as a place for reformation and corrective measures began with this initiative.

An area of 88 acres in the prison premises is rich with paddy cultivation, organic vegetable farming, banana trees and dairy farms. “We produce 1,000 kg of cow dung everyday. Banana is sold every week. There is high demand for all the products and there is long queue even before the vegetable outlet is opened every Wednesday. The dairy farm is also growing in popularity. Currently, we get milk for the use of 70 per cent of the inmates,” says Arippa.

For paddy cultivation, inmates receive the assistance of the state agriculture department. No pesticides or chemical fertilisers are used. Sufficient quantity of organic manure is produced in the jail compound and the same is used, which delivers a yield of two tonnes per hectare.

Uniforms for inmates are also woven and stitched in the jail itself. Kannur jail supplies dress materials to two other prisons in the state. The superintendent says there are inmates with ‘amazing’ talent in weaving and stitching. Thus, tailoring for fellow inmates is an added feather in their cap, and an additional skill they can make use of.

Recently, jail authorities launched a unit to manufacture soft toys, dolls and glass paintings, with training sessions currently in progress. The products will be sold at half the market price. As no venture has failed so far, inmates as well as jail authorities are confident that these too will be a success.

There are several takers among the public for the beauty treatments available at the jail. The parlour offers the usual services one would find elsewhere, such as different types of facials, hair-colouring, haircuts, threading, pedicures and manicures. So far, 30 inmates have been given 30-day training sessions. The criterion of selection was individual aptitude. Arippa is impressed by the talent shown by the prisoner- beauticians, and says, “When I see the skill of inmates engaged in different occupations here, I often think that if they had got such an exposure and opportunity earlier, they would not have ended up in jail.”

Customers do not have to contend with any cumbersome procedure to enter the jail premises, since the parlour is adjacent the main gate. “Everyone is welcome to this beauty salon,” says Arippa. According to him, there are criminals everywhere—both outside and inside jails. “Being a prisoner does not make a person an outcaste. He should be able to go back to the world outside to live a better life.”