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When one thinks about prisons, the thoughts that go through the mind are that of ruthless, well-built and muscular cops roughing up haggard, hapless, unkempt, hungry-looking and lean prisoners, and also the mean and vicious-looking ones in equal measure (one of the recent Malayalam movies shows a sub inspector in a police station using a coconut wrapped in cloth to ‘deal with’ the crimesters, both suspected and convicted as his means of ‘getting through, and at them’!). One is also reminded of cops resorting to third-degree methods to ‘investigate’ unsolved cases, till the victim in physical and psychological pain own up the crime. And also of sad-eyed, unkempt prisoners wearing prison clothes etched with the number with which they would be known in prison. (The prisoners’ names become nonexistent once they are locked up). One is also reminded of those awarded ‘rigorous imprisonment’ being put through activities demanding immense physical and mental wherewithal in quarries and the fields, under the elements.

But a report that appeared in the print media on October 19th of this year, painted an entirely different picture having the readers’ hearts full. The Ernakulum District jail near Kakkanad, in Cochin’s suburb runs a Food Court outside the prison where tasty food, prepared by prisoners are served at cheap rates without compromising on hygiene.  People flock to the outlet to satiate their gastronomic needs. Profit is not the priority of the Food Court. But rehabilitation of the prisoners is. The kitchen is often unable to meet the demand for quality food at rush hours. Besides the efficiency and reputation of the most unlikely among eating places, is the unique concept of ‘share a meal’ being practiced in the Food court through coupons. It is a venture that runs for charity. Those buying food from the Food Court run by the prison can contribute food for the penniless. Any hungry person without a paisa in his pocket can pick a coupon pinned at the outlet and partake of the food served there, without paying for it.

The world is not too bad a place. So is our country. At least not yet! In this part of the world, the penniless can have food to their heartful absolutely free. That too from an eatery where food is prepared by prison inmates under the ever-vigilant eyes of prison wardens, whose sole intention is not to punish the wayward, but to rehabilitate them.

Here, it is not only the stomach of those hungry poor which is filled, but their hearts as well. And also that of the society and community in which this ‘house of charity’ exist. This unique act of kindness comes as a perfect rebuttal for the tendency to disbelieve the existence of basic goodness in those labeled ‘outcasts, marginalized and the antisocial’, which so prevalent among the self-professing ‘blemishless and the good’, and to take such an existence, if at all, with a pinch of salt.