For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people, who are prisoners: For the last few years of his nearly two-decade-long career in the priesthood, John Puthuva, the northern regional coordinator at Prison Ministry India (PMI), has abided by these words.
"I believe it is my duty not to despise my own brothers and sisters, who are behind bars. I think by serving them and helping them to stay away from sin, I am following the Almighty's words," Puthuva, who is a regular visitor at Tihar jail in the western part of India's capital city, New Delhi, told Times of Oman, while he was in Muscat for a short visit. Within a short period, Puthuva had become a familiar figure at the jail, where the inmates await his arrival.
"There are some inmates serving a term for committing serious crimes. But as time passed, most of them realised the error of their ways. This is where my team from PMI and I step in. I visit and spend time with the inmates regularly. Most of them find our presence a great help. There are also a few who wait for my arrival. They find solace in our presence. We have been successful in releasing many prisoners from behind bars and from sin," Puthuva said.
Established in 1986 by a group of students for the purpose of helping prison inmates on their way to rehabilitation, the PMI, a national voluntary organisation in India, now has 850 branches and 30 rehabilitation centres across India for ex-convicts and children at risk.
"We, at PMI, believe that every prisoner has an ardent love, desire, and right to change and lead a normal life like any other citizen. We also believe that society also has a responsibility towards these prisoners and their families. But, in reality, we find that society is not prepared to accept these prisoners but rather condemn them, saying, 'Once a criminal, always a criminal.' At the same time, the prisoner is not equipped to face the challenges of society single-handedly. This is where PMI comes in, taking these prisoners into its fold, instilling in them a desire to change and renew their lives, and rehabilitating them. We try to give them back to their families and, ultimately, to society," he added.
PMI offers the prisoners an education, moral guidance, job-skills training, spiritual animation, and other proactive initiatives to enable them to spend their days in prison peacefully and profitably as they prepare to become productive members of society.
"When I started visiting the prisoners, I realised that once someone is convicted of a crime, he/she is never accepted by society, even if they are freed by the law after the completion of their term. It is quite difficult for them to lead a normal life. Nobody gives them a job. People are not ready to accommodate them. So, we have developed small plans and projects to help them. Some inmates were very interested in our small projects and are now leading a decent life, with their own earnings," Puthuva noted.
According to Puthuva, the group's main activities include equipping the inmates psychologically and physically for their post-imprisonment period to be spent creatively and fruitfully, providing rehabilitation facilities by means of transit/halfway homes, and establishing offices and other necessary institutions that are useful for the group's stated objectives or for raising funds and acquiring properties and using them for these objectives.
The total number of Indian prisons is 1,374; by the end of 2009, they housed 3,07,502 convicts and persons undergoing trial.
"We have successfully rehabilitated many inmates, who are still languishing in jail. When they find solace in our presence, I feel satisfied. I see smiles on their faces. That's enough for us. When I pray at night to the Almighty, I feel more satisfied and confident," Puthuva concluded.