Photo by Keisuke Higashio on Unsplash

Prison Work

When Vandana retired from working as a lawyer due to her mental health, she founded an NGO in honour of her mother and started teaching prisoners. Read how she experienced prison work as a former lawyer.
India, Southern Asia

Story by Vandana Lekhi. Edited by Melaina Dyck
Published on June 15, 2022. Reading time: 5 minutes

This story is also available in it kr



When I wound up my work as a lawyer, facing mental collapse due to depression, I sold my chamber [1], which my mother had gifted to me. I was in my middle 40s, and with the proceeds from the sale – which was my entire fortune – I ventured into founding an NGO: Kamla Jagriti Manch, named for my mother. In life, I have always been weak with my finances, but I make up for my weakness with my labour and love. My capacity for limitless social work was my sole achievement and capability going into my role as the president of my NGO. The NGO aimed to help underprivileged people by spreading access to education, and propagating compassion and equality for all.

Kamla Jagriti Manch enlisted with Tihar Central Prisons. It was one of a few certain NGOs that were permitted to interact with inmates. Kamla Jagriti Manch was a one woman show by me. I was assigned Jail Number 3, Ignou ward.


I never questioned any of the inmates about the offences responsible for their arrests.

My mother’s compassion in her personal life taught me to give understanding without being critical or judgemental. I never questioned any of the inmates about the offences responsible for their arrests. I cited the story of the Hindu sage Valmiki ji who had once been a dacoit [2] and a merciless killer. The sage Valmiki was first a dreaded dacoit who robbed and killed travellers crossing the forest. Once some hermits were going across the forest and Valmiki threatened to kill them. Fearlessly one hermit said, "You loot and kill to feed your family. Go and ask them whether they also will incur the sin of killing and looting to feed you.” But when Valmiki asked his family, all refused to follow his example to kill others to feed themselves. Valminki then prayed to Lord Ram and when he attained enlightenment, he became a great hermit and wrote the Ramayan. I believe that everyone has the potential to be like Valmiki. 

I told the inmates that being deprived of freedom and normal life would fill them with enormous strength, which often results from insurmountable adversity. Only a few were keen to study, but amazingly, when I got exercise books and stationery, there would be full attendance. They were like children excited for school supplies. Inmates requested the Holy Bible and Holy Quran in different languages along with Rapidex English Learning books. Accordingly, I had to arrange for them by placing orders with big booksellers. I selected the educated inmates as teachers for the rest of the group.


There are different reasons why people take to crime: uncontrolled anger, desperation, greed, poverty, not being able to make ends meet.

However, the truth behind bars is harsh and, too often, unknown. Some pretence of social reform is made but its effectiveness on a large scale is extremely doubtful. I often found that an inmate who I engaged as a teacher ended up facing brutal assault, probably due to other inmates’ wrath. The inmates were too scared to confide their problems to anyone. There are different reasons why people take to crime: uncontrolled anger, desperation, greed, poverty, not being able to make ends meet. Although I never questioned inmates about the crimes that led to their arrest, some confided in me and I got to know their histories.

I discovered that extreme provocation and unbridled anger resulted in violent criminal reactions. One prisoner was imprisoned for throwing acid. He had himself been injured in the process. Being very repentant, he asked me to approach the victims for forgiveness and compromise. On visiting them I discovered they had no faith in his word and were too traumatised to ever trust him. I felt sad for the prisoner because he seemed to be genuinely repentant. But as Shakespeare shows in "The Merchant of Venice," the quality of mercy does not come easily to most people. 


Footnotes

[1] private office of a judicial officer

[2] a member of a band of armed robbers. Term used in India.


How does this story make you feel?

Follow-up

Do you have any questions after reading this story? Do you want to follow-up on what you've just read? Get in touch with our team to learn more! Send an email to
[email protected].

Talk about this Story

Please enable cookies to view the comments powered by Disqus.

Share your story

Every story we share is another perspective on a complex topic like migration, gender and sexuality or liberation. We believe that these personal stories are important to better understand what's going on in our globalised society - and to better understand each other. That's because we are convinced that the more we understand about each other, the easier it will be for us to really talk to one another, to get closer - and to maybe find solutions for the issues that affect us all. 

Do you want to share your story? Then have a look here for more info.

Share Your Story

Subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter

Stay up to date with new stories on Correspondents of the World by subscribing to our monthly newsletter:

* indicates required

Follow us on Social Media

Vandana Lekhi

Vandana Lekhi

I am a retired advocate who ran an NGO earlier for almost 10 years. I have done a lot of social work during my life and presently take care of a large number of street animals. Writing is my passion and I am running a blog and an author’s page on Facebook.

https://vandanalekhi.blog

Topic: Liberation




Get involved

At Correspondents of the World, we want to contribute to a better understanding of one another in a world that seems to get smaller by the day - but somehow neglects to bring people closer together as well. We think that one of the most frequent reasons for misunderstanding and unnecessarily heated debates is that we don't really understand how each of us is affected differently by global issues.

Our aim is to change that with every personal story we share.

Share Your Story

Community Worldwide

Correspondents of the World is not just this website, but also a great community of people from all over the world. While face-to-face meetings are difficult at the moment, our Facebook Community Group is THE place to be to meet other people invested in Correspondents of the World. We are currently running a series of online-tea talks to get to know each other better.

Join Our Community

EXPLORE TOPIC Liberation

Global Issues Through Local Eyes

We are Correspondents of the World, an online platform where people from all over the world share their personal stories in relation to global development. We try to collect stories from people of all ages and genders, people with different social and religious backgrounds and people with all kinds of political opinions in order to get a fuller picture of what is going on behind the big news.

Our Correspondents

At Correspondents of the World we invite everyone to share their own story. This means we don't have professional writers or skilled interviewers. We believe that this approach offers a whole new perspective on topics we normally only read about in the news - if at all. If you would like to share your story, you can find more info here.

Share Your Story

Our Editors

We acknowledge that the stories we collect will necessarily be biased. But so is news. Believing in the power of the narrative, our growing team of awesome editors helps correspondents to make sure that their story is strictly about their personal experience - and let that speak for itself.

Become an Editor

Vision

At Correspondents of the World, we want to contribute to a better understanding of one another in a world that seems to get smaller by the day - but somehow neglects to bring people closer together as well. We think that one of the most frequent reasons for misunderstanding and unnecessarily heated debates is that we don't really understand how each of us is affected differently by global issues.

Our aim is to change that with every personal story we share.

View Our Full Vision & Mission Statement

Topics

We believe in quality over quantity. To give ourselves a focus, we started out to collect personal stories that relate to our correspondents' experiences with six different global topics. However, these topics were selected to increase the likelihood that the stories of different correspondents will cover the same issues and therefore illuminate these issues from different perspectives - and not to exclude any stories. If you have a personal story relating to a global issue that's not covered by our topics, please still reach out to us! We definitely have some blind spots and are happy to revise our focus and introduce new topics at any point in time. 

Environment

Discussions about the environment often center on grim, impersonal figures. Among the numbers and warnings, it is easy to forget that all of these statistics actually also affect us - in very different ways. We believe that in order to understand the immensity of environmental topics and global climate change, we need the personal stories of our correspondents.

Gender and Sexuality

Gender is the assumption of a "normal". Unmet expectations of what is normal are a world-wide cause for violence. We hope that the stories of our correspondents will help us to better understand the effects of global developments related to gender and sexuality, and to reveal outdated concepts that have been reinforced for centuries.

Migration

Our correspondents write about migration because it is a deeply personal topic that is often dehumanized. People quickly become foreigners, refugees - a "they". But: we have always been migrating, and we always will. For millions of different reasons. By sharing personal stories about migration, we hope to re-humanize this global topic.

Liberation

We want to support the demand for justice by spotlighting the personal stories of people who seek liberation in all its different forms. Our correspondents share their individual experiences in creating equality. We hope that for some this will be an encouragement to continue their own struggle against inequality and oppression - and for some an encouragement to get involved.

Education

Education is the newest addition to our themes. We believe that education, not only formal but also informal, is one of the core aspects of just and equal society as well as social change. Our correspondents share their experiences and confrontations about educational inequalities, accessibility issues and influence of societal norms and structures. 

Corona Virus

2020 is a year different from others before - not least because of the Corona pandemic. The worldwide spread of a highly contagious virus is something that affects all of us in very different ways. To get a better picture of how the pandemic's plethora of explicit and implicit consequences influences our everyday life, we share lockdown stories from correspondents all over the world.

Growing Fast

Although we started just over a year ago, Correspondents of the World has a quickly growing community of correspondents - and a dedicated team of editors, translators and country managers.

88

Correspondents

104

Stories

49

Countries

377

Translations

Contact

Correspondents of the World is as much a community as an online platform. Please feel free to contact us for whatever reason!

Message Us

Message on WhatsApp

Call Us

Joost: +31 6 30273938