23 August, 2014 / Shawwal 26, 1435

KARACHI, Aug 28: At first glance, it is just a regular classroom with four students at each of the six desks quietly going through their lessons. But the students are not children and this really isn’t a normal class. Instead it’s an international standard rehabilitation programme for prisoners being run at the Karachi Central Jail.

All the students at different levels of the programme are allowed to carry on with it at their own pace. “It is a certification programme with four steps but each student can learn at his own pace. All get individual attention,” one of the two course instructors, Mr Abdul Ghaffar, told Dawn.

The instructor himself is an inmate who says that he completed the course in one-and-a-half months soon after his death penalty was changed to life imprisonment in 2007. “I had already done my BSc, but the programme is not really a college or university course. It teaches you about life,” he said.

“We teach how to study and grasp what one is reading for which focus is very important. The programme is designed to open minds,” said the other instructor, Abdul Rasheed, who is doing 25 years for kidnapping.

The regular class runs daily from 9am to 1pm after which they hold literacy classes — in Urdu from 2pm to 3.30pm and in Sindhi from 3.30pm to 5pm. “The literacy classes are for those who have had no formal education but want to be part of the programme too,” explained Mr Rasheed. “When found literate enough to follow the programme, they are allowed to attend regular class for the four-step Criminon programme,” he added.

Criminon, meaning ‘no crime’ in Spanish, has a tolerance drill for helping the students control their temper as its first step.

“Locked up in jail, a prisoner is pretty frustrated and worried about his family outside, their financial concerns, etc. The initial step ‘Control’ brings him out of his worries and focus on the present,” explained Mr Ghaffar.

The next step is ‘Learning how to learn’. It teaches how to get over obstacles in order to understand a subject. Learn stepwise rather than skip the lessons that aren’t understood very well. The first two preparatory steps are followed by the third step called ‘The way to happiness’ based on a book.

“The third step helps you think and reflect on your past and plan your future. It has some 21 points or precepts, for example, honouring your parents, upholding values, ethics, etc, and teaches one to accept and take responsibility for having gone wrong somewhere to have ended up in jail,” explained Mr Rasheed.

“While the fourth step talks about the ups and downs in life, differentiating between social and anti-social personalities, identifying the bad influences, why people may oppose you and how to handle such situations,” he told Dawn.

After completing each step, a student is not allowed to embark upon the next step without proper checking of his grasp over the subject by his instructors and then by a supervisor who represents the non-governmental organisation which has been running the programme at the Karachi Central Jail for the past five years.

Saleem Aziz Khan and Azhar Jamil, the main moving forces behind the NGO, explained that the programme is designed to restore a prisoner’s self-esteem, the most important factor in his rehabilitation.

Mr Rasheed and Mr Jamil then read out some of the essays written by the students on completion of each step. One was by a Nigerian prisoner, Christian Nwankwo, who was arrested for dealing in narcotics and has since been released.

“I only wish we had taken this course before ending up in jail. I wish it was made part of our college curriculum so that the jails in this country become empty. And I wish that people like us serving 25-year and over sentences, are given another chance and offered parole after getting rehabilitated so that we can go back to the free world as better citizens,” said Mr Rasheed.

The Criminon programme, which originated in New Zealand and is followed in several prisons all over the world, has internationally shown less than 50 to 60 per cent prisoners coming back to prison after being released as most turn over a new leaf. Since the programme was initiated here, only one prisoner who had been a part of it returned.

“What we are doing for the prisoners here is just a pilot project. We take only 24 students at a time, coming to around 100 a year. Since we are working on such a small scale, we haven’t yet been able to take this programme to other prisons in the country although it has now been decided to bring a selected few prisoners from the other jails to attend classes at the Karachi Central Jail so that they, after getting their certification, can go back to hold regular classes in their prisons like our instructors are doing here,” said Mr Khan.

DIG (Prisons) Nusrat Hussain Mangan, who allowed the programme at the Karachi Central Jail and says he is very enthusiastic about it himself, said that just to understand what it was all about and its relevance, he had first gotten himself and his staff enrolled in it. “I think the staff here needed it more than the prisoners,” he chuckled.

“Now, with help from the government, we plan to take it to the other jails as well,” he said.

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