Published: 02nd January 2018
Madrasile Mon: How Reny George put his murderous past behind him to help ex-cons get a life
Ex-convict Reny George served his term in prison and has now made it his life's mission to rehabilitate other prisoners and their families — through the Prison Fellowships India programme
Twenty-two years ago, languishing in a prison cell at Trivandrum Central Jail in Kerala, Reny George would have never thought that he'd get to celebrate another Christmas, let alone walk out as a free man again. Yet here he is, ushering in the spirit of Christmas year after year, by giving hope to hundreds of prisoners and their families — all because he was once given a second chance. Once a murderer, the 65-year-old has now helped rehabilitate more than 500 prisoners and their families through his organisation Prison Fellowship in Bengaluru.
Green pastures: Reny, with kids from the home
Reny the Reformer
It's 7 am on a chilly December morning in Doddagubbi, a remote part of Bengaluru. There are about 40 boys and girls, all dressed in uniforms and sweaters, ready for the morning assembly. "Good morning, Daddyyy!!" they greet Reny in unison as he walks in. "Good morning, my children," he replies, in an affectionate tone. "These are children at risk," he tells me, "Children of single mothers or children whose families have been affected by crime in some way." The concern in his eyes is evident as he talks to each child as if they were his own. Reny and his wife Teena are keen to see these children get the education they deserve and have a chance at a better life.
Putting the past behind: Ex convict Gopi and his family
He then takes me to their rehab centre just about a mile away. At the entrance, I'm greeted by a little boy driving his red toy car. He takes me to his father, Gopi. (Names changed for anonymity) Gopi tells me that he was arrested for murder and spent many years in jail. "But God sent Reny to rescue me. He showed me that I don't have to live like this forever, that I can change my life. Now I am married, I have a wonderful wife and two kids," he says with a smile. I meet another young man, who seems quite disturbed, unlike the others. He has just been accused of murder and is awaiting his trial. He's worried and uncertain about his future, but the one thing he is certain of is that he will never go back to being the same person again. There are many other ex-prisoners who live here along with their families. Branded by society as 'evil', no one wants to have anything to do with them. But here, there's no record of their past, they are accepted and have a new identity.
A troubled youngster
"Why would you want to spend your whole life trying to rehabilitate prisoners?" I ask Reny, to which he replies, "I was given a chance and I want others to have it too." He then proceeds to tell me his story. "I grew up in Kerala in a very strict family. But somehow, I took interest in bad company. I started bad habits like smoking in grade IV. My parents tried to discipline me, but it didn't help. I just got worse. By grade IX, I was so addicted that I started missing school. I started stealing money from home," he says.
By the time he joined college, he was branded the 'bad boy'. He caused so much trouble in college that they rusticated him. By then, his parents moved to Chennai (then Madras) and he moved with them. This was in the late 70s when the hippie culture had crept into major cities like Madras. Foreigners used to come to the city for higher studies. Reny became closely associated with them, since he was a local and had his own connections. Soon, he got invited to all their parties and gradually became the leader of a group that included students from across the city.
Reny became closely associated with foreigners who lived in Madras city and gradually became the gang leader as he was a local and had his connections
But to enjoy that kind of lifestyle required a lot of money, money that his parents didn’t have. He tried to earn some, but nothing clicked. He had three friends, who were foreigners, and they were also desperately trying to figure out ways to make money. "So one day, with no specific plan in mind, we hopped into a car, which I had stolen earlier, and drove to Kerala," Reny says and adds, "We were high on drugs 24x7. Something kept telling me that we should go rob my relatives, a rich elderly couple who live in Thiruvalla. I had been to their house only twice, but I knew they were very rich. So, we drove down and knocked on their door. My aunty welcomed us and treated us to coffee and snacks. After a while, I pulled my friends aside and told them my plan. I had a pen knife, which I took out to threaten my uncle. He was stunned and raised an alarm. So, my friend and I caught him and stabbed him. By then, my other friends brought my aunty from the kitchen. She was also panicking and started shouting. My friend, who was a martial arts expert, grabbed a bottle and hit her on the head and she fell unconscious. We relieved her of her ornaments. But we didn't want to leave any witnesses behind, so we stabbed her to death with a kitchen knife."
He pauses. The memory still haunts him. And all I can think, sitting there, is how someone so monstrous could transform into someone so kind and benevolent.
He goes on to narrate how they brought the ornaments back to Madras and sold it. But what they didn't realise was that the maid was in the house that day. She had left before the murder, but she saw Reny and his friends come in. It was her statement that led the police to them. On October 6, 1980, they were arrested and capital punishment was expected for their crimes. But the judge who gave the sentence said, "The crime these youngsters committed is liable for capital punishment, but considering their young age, I give them the least of IPC 302, hoping that they will come out as reformed people and good citizens."
My friend, who was a martial arts expert, grabbed a bottle and hit her on the head and she fell unconscious. We relieved her of her ornaments. But we didn't want to leave any witnesses behind, so we stabbed her to death with a kitchen knife
Reny George, Founder, Prison Fellowship India
Ruling behind prison bars
Reny and his friends went to jail as the most notorious prisoners of that time. Their case had become a sensation. All the prisoners were waiting for their arrival. They instantly became heroes there. “Media channels were talking about us. There was a movie being made about us. Even in jail, we were high on drugs. I think I became a psychopath with no conscience. Being around other prisoners, I got all the know-how of the crime world. I spent six years researching crime, how to do drug trafficking, counterfeit trafficking, bank robbery, gold smuggling...You name it, I researched it," he says.
After six years, he got out on parole. That was 1987. He went home to his parents who were obviously living in misery; society had looked down upon them for the sins of their son. But it didn't bother him. He didn't have love in his heart for anyone. He was just planning his next big robbery. But that was the day his life would change. Unexpectedly, there was a visitor, “who wanted me to join him for a prayer meeting,” recalls Reny. To cut the story short, for the first time in his life, sitting there at that gathering, Reny felt remorse for the terrible crime he had committed. That day, he decided never to return to his old life again. "It was August 15, 1987. That became my independence day," says Reny.
No turning back: Reny walked out of the prison doors in 1995
A second chance at life
Reny served another nine years in prison. His inmates and the officers were shocked by his transformation. They didn't believe him at first, but by the time he left in 1995, there were at least a hundred prisoners who had made the same decision as him. There was no doubt in his mind — that was his purpose in life. Along with his wife, a nurse he had fallen in love with, he started the Prison Fellowship (India Chapter) and the children's home, Reny’s Children. Today, the couple continues to visit prisons and counsel inmates and conduct other correctional activities. "There's hope for everyone," he says, "Give them a chance."