Standing outside the Women’s Correctional Home, I remembered all the jail scenes that I had watched in the numerous Bollywood and Hollywood movies ever. A massive lock was opened by an enormous key and we (members of the All Ladies League Kolkata) were led in. As we stepped inside I saw a few policemen waiting to check our ID’s. Due to security reasons, we were asked to submit our mobile phones and cameras to the authorities. There was another huge gate which was supposed to take us to the inmates. A board read – 303 inmates out of which 40 were there for life imprisonment excluding 36 children between the age of 0-5 years, five being the maximum age limit here because after that the child is supposed to leave the mother and either go and live with the extended family or stay at a government home.

As we stood there waiting for the second gate to get unlocked, my imagination ran wild as it formed images that I was sure I would be seeing inside. Finally, the wait was over and we were asked to enter.

Well, as we stepped inside, my imagination stopped working as what I was seeing was just not the way I had imagined it to be. The home has a bakery, a school, a dance academy, a salon, a boutique, a tailoring unit etc within the premises. We were first led to the bakery where the inmates have learned the art of baking from the chef of a renowned hotel in Kolkata and the ladies are experts in baking cookies, buns, bread etc and I must add here that the taste and fragrance of the cookies were to die for. We then visited the tailoring unit where the women showcase their personally tailored clothes, bags etc. There were a few children dressed in proper school uniform studying inside a room. There is a boutique within the premises where the inmates stitch dresses for a well-known fashion designer of Kolkata.

Some of the ladies had organized a special dance performance for us and we were totally mesmerized seeing the grace in their dance and their extremely beautiful expressions and smiles. Seeing them we completely forgot that they are actually prisoners who are there for reasons beyond our imagination. The ladies seemed so happy there (at least their outward appearance showed that) and I wondered if the happiness was because of the feeling of security that they might be getting, staying in a secure place like the correctional home. We distributed stationery and some sweets to the children and then held an eye check-up camp for the inmates.

We liked almost everything about the Women’s Correctional Home and have actually come back with a very positive mindset after seeing the inmates there, who even after being away from their families and loved ones are still going on with life with smiles on their faces. But what really touched my heart was to see the children there, because of no fault of theirs, they would have to spend the initial years of their lives in a prison. I saw a pregnant woman and thought what a life her child would get once he/she is born because once these kids are five years of age and they are sent to government homes, life gets worse for them as these homes would only turn them into criminals. As for the mother of the child, she doesn’t even get to know how her child is being brought up or cared for in the outside world and this alone can be so torturous. I sincerely hope that something can be done for the betterment of the future of these kids.

The women are getting good opportunities by enhancing and showcasing their talents and above all, they are being given a secure and protective environment to lead a life free from exploitation and crime. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the prison is called a Correctional Home because it aims at correcting the lives of the women who have been (justly or unjustly) termed as criminals in the eyes of the law and society.