Day Two at the Yerawada Prison
In two days, the women have already completed packing a significant number of packets and this entire project is going to be done before I know it. I see the seven women sitting around the fifteen hundred packets, neatly lined up and I realise that time has a different meaning to them. Nowhere to go and nothing else to do.
I have my camera now and I want to take pictures of them. Just a part of the process says a voice inside but I know that really it is to be able to share with friends a bit of what I am seeing. Cameras are great ice breakers and I am hoping that mine will not fail me. But it is not easy to get some of them out of their shells and they refuse to look up at me. The pretty ones are tempted and I tease them about it! What really works wonders is being able to show them the images immediately – and I hear several voices saying – 'Show me what I look like!' The supervisor finally gets them all to sit together and by now most are genuinely pleased.
I am amazed at the number of pregnant women in this place and I cant help wondering about it. I suppose that waiting for a child to arrive must be important to a woman who has nothing left to look forward to. A family, to those who may have been abandoned by all of their own. An excuse, to be taken outside to a doctor on a regular basis and a hope, for some compassion from others.
But what would it be like for a child to be born here? To have to say for the rest of her life – Me – I was born in a prison. The children here seem at ease – I imagine they probably grow up thinking that this was a 'normal' place to grow up in. Ironically, one of the cats too has just delivered a litter and the little ones have been placed outside the prison wall on a gunny bag. When I bring it to the attention of the staff, they reply with a casual 'That's allright, we have too many of them already!'
I notice that there are several women who are not working and I wonder if they are given a choice or if there simply isn't enough work for them to do. In the shade of the trees, a group of ten are chanting bhajans, a younger group is gossiping. Some really old women are simply taking in the warmth of the sun on this winter day. I wonder what it was like when one of them died. What would the others feel?
Class differences are immediately evident. There are those who have their own clothes and wearing pretty salvar kameezes under the obligatory green saree, but then there are those who probably don't own any more than the prison sarees. Bindis, mangalsutras and glass bangles adorn many – signs of life and the need for beauty…I wonder if they are allowed to have mirrors here…
The lady who is walking me back to the gate is proud of the good work they have done. She has spent six years of a twenty year sentence and is looking forward to a vacation next week! Vacation? 'Yes', she says, 'every so often we are given some time off to visit family. I have my husband, children waiting for me'. It sounds as though being in a prison was an occupation as normal as any other!
Since the last time I was here, I have realised that probably, in a prison one doesn't speak of the past, only the future. And that glimmering ray of life at the end of a sentence…
Its beginning to feel familiar, and I wonder if after several visits I too will be at ease with the prison experience. Or if, as I discover bits and pieces of the stories of these women whether I will be transformed profoundly. As we discuss this experience in the family, an elder reminds me that in some way we all live in the prisons of our own minds. I can't help wondering – how has my own thinking imprisoned me?