Published: 19th April 2017
The Counsellor of Convicts: Here's why Rohit Kumar kept going back to Tihar Jail
Rohit Kumar's book Tales from the Jail is possibly one of the few accounts of what life is like for a man who keeps going back to prison without being indicted, arrested or locked away
I began my career in jail, says Rohit Kumar, with a laugh. While it started off as an idea put forth by a friend, he was soon hit with the realisation that “this is where I am supposed to be” when he entered Tihar for the first time. For this counsellor, the infamous Delhi prison would forever be where he discovered who he was meant to be. Since 1993, he has been working as an educator and counsellor for young inmates. And though he is no longer as involved as he used to be, Rohit is still there to serve others through the Family Vision Foundation, which provides support in various capacities to marginalised members of the society, especially children.
“After coming to Tihar, we did a number of things like counselling, drug de-addiction, character building, theatre, music, and tree planting,” says the author of Tales from the Jail, a collection of some of his most interesting experiences in the prison. The first play that he and his team put up for the inmates was an hour-long show, centered on the theme ‘leading a good life’. The intention of the play was to drive home the message that their lives are not over, and that the future is still in their hands. It was the first of many performances, where the inmates could provide insight into how a situation could be resolved and could learn important lessons, such as conflict resolution sans the violence and the dangers of using drugs.
Soon, the team started to teach the inmates theatre and they even put up performances, while discovering hidden passion and talent. Sometimes, famous actors were invited to watch these plays. “One of the inmates was a tailor by profession. We requested the warden to give him a sewing kit so that he could practise his skills. We also had an African-American rapper, who had a real talent for music and he learned to sing in Hindi too. He would perform at the prison’s annual functions. Another inmate, who had committed murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment, was so wracked with guilt that I knew anything I said to him would bounce right off him. So I sat with him everyday, until he opened up to me. Today, he is one of the most responsible inmates in the prison, and the administration can lean on him when maintaining order,” says Rohit, recalling some of the people he’s met.
Jail tales: Rohit Kumar spent a lot of time working with Tihar's inmates
And does Rohit believe that he’s made a difference? “Definitely!” he says. Many of the inmates who were released, went on to live decent and productive lives. Considering that the rate of recidivism is increasing, according to crime statistics taken in 2014, this is a remarkable thing. Rohit describes his relationship with some of the inmates as, “very warm, very friendly, and very deep.” The trick, he says, is to not focus on the crimes they’ve committed, but on them as human beings in very difficult situations; to be friends, not gurus, and from there, trust will form.
When asked about his experience of writing his book, he says, “I love writing. I feel alive!” adding, “The name of the book just popped into my head. A friend suggested that I put my experiences down on paper. I wrote a couple of chapters and I was encouraged to continue. My friends would give me constructive criticism. I loved writing it; I felt like this was the best thing I could be doing.” The stories are filled with humour, suspense, emotion, mystery, thrill and beauty. He intends to write more about his experiences in Tihar. “I wanted to write something encouraging, but not clichéd,” he says, “as prison is a place where miracles of hope can happen.”