IN THE midst of Thane prison, sessions court and Thane police commissioner office is a no frills shop with a blue hoarding which won’t be easy to miss. The shop, set up a year back, with a ‘small but loyal customer base’, claims to be different from other shops in the sense that it sells ‘100 per cent genuine products’ and at a price cheaper than market rates.
What mainly sets it apart from other shops in the locality, however, is that the people who make the products are Thane prison inmates. Sanjay Tiwatane, 45, who mans the shop along with a colleague, says that the few products on display are from the four ‘industries’ inside Thane prison: tailoring, carpentry, bakery and powerloom.
Most of the shop, open six days a week with a half day on Sunday, is occupied by teakwood furniture, with products ranging from chairs to stools to miniature aeroplane models. Apart from the furniture being made in the largest of the four industries, there are shirts and kurtis from the tailoring industry, towels from powerloom and biscuits and snacks from the bakery.
“The revolving chair we make out of teakwood is in high demand. We still have orders of around nine such chairs to be delivered across various government departments,” Tiwatane says with some pride. He adds, “It costs Rs 9,000 but will last for years. The teakwood is 100 per cent genuine as it is from ‘sarkaari jungle’ (government owned forests). Outside in the market, it may not be as genuine.”
A jail official explains that nearly 100 inmates convicted to rigorous imprisonment work at the industry at a time. Undertrials, those sentenced to simple imprisonment and those with health issues do not have to work.
Once the inmate comes to the prison, the superintendent assigns him to one of the four industries depending upon his background. There are around seven trainers who help inmates understand how to work on the industry assigned to them. Tiwatane is also a trainer in the tailoring department since he completed a course on tailoring.
A convict has to work from 8 am to 1 pm and 3 pm to 6 pm on weekdays and earns a petty Rs 55 per day. He can use the money that usually adds up to Rs 700 per month to buy things for himself from the prison canteen or get it deposited to his account and collect it once he completes the prison term.
Inmates also get a certificate from the industry where they worked as that would help them get work in the same sector once they complete the prison term. Apart from Thane, there are industries at Yerwada, Nashik, Kolhapur and Nagpur central prisons too.
“Each industry has equipment that a prisoner could use to harm himself or others. At all time, there are prison guards to ensure that none of the equipment is misused. Hence all prisons do not have industries as it requires a lot of caution,” a senior jail official explained.
The clientele for the shop, that earlier operated from a 10X10 room, is majorly government departments. “Mostly, it is tables and chairs for government offices. Several department including the prisons itself place orders for getting their uniforms stitched at the prison industry,” an official said.
“While at present, we do not boast of a huge clientele but once someone takes a product from here, they keep coming back again. There is a couple from Palghar that comes all the way to purchase products from us every few weeks. We have several such customers,” the official added.
Advertisements are also put out on newspapers during festivals like Deepawali and Raksha Bandhan about products made by Thane Central Prison. They normally receive good response. For senior jail officials, it also works as an image-building exercise for the prisoners.
A senior official said, “Most people think of prisoners as violent evil people. We are hoping that by putting up their products, it changes the perception about convicts behind bars.”