I silently stood behind 50 odd boys in the line. One thing that this place makes you habitual of, is standing in lines. There are lines for everything - to eat, to use the bathroom, to take a shower, for a chance in the playground etc. Sometimes there is a line to get to the main line too. They say it imparts discipline - a trait lacking dearly in all of us, punctuated by the very fact, that we are here. The warden tells us that in the most distinguished boarding schools too there are lines for all these things. Even the army operates in the same way, he adds. But I simply think it's because it's an insanely overcrowded place. Mostly the bigger and the stronger boys get their way every time. They will probably justify that by saying it's the valuable life lesson where the mighty would always win. I will remember it, once I am free.
This is the New Delhi Juvenile Correctional Facility. Today is the day of my release and I am in the line to collect my clothes and belongings. All that stands in the way of my freedom are a few people ahead of me, also awaiting release, and, some papers to sign.
Yes, sign. I can do that now.
I have spent the last 3 years in isolation. They kept me separate on the pretext that me getting attacked and killed by fellow inmates was a very real possibility. Honestly, I don't believe it. Even if it was true, it still beats the purpose. This is not a prison. It's a Correctional Facility designed, by definition, more for rehabilitation than penalization. How do they expect me to rehabilitate outside if they won't even let me blend with the other convicts? Even though I wasn't sentenced to it, I got Solitary Confinement.
But I don't think too much about it. I have tried to make the best of this time. I learnt to read and write. I revived my hobby of painting, the loss of which, came as a collateral damage with the move to the city. One of my paintings recently won an award too. Of course, I couldn't go to receive it, but I will get it once I am free.
I am fifth in the line now. Closer to freedom.
My counselor tells me that I have no trace of anger in me and that's a good sign before release. Actually, I have never had any anger. I was always more amazed being the subject of universal hatred. I was caught, tried and sentenced promptly. I never denied my crime. Everything went by the book. Still, there were strangers on the roads asking for my head. I became the poster boy for the media with the veiled face. People who had never met me or known me wanted an exemplary punishment, for me, even more severe than death. How did I become a bigger criminal than the ones accused for matricide or patricide or child molestation? Or even the same crime that I did.
However, nothing changes the fact that I committed a heinous crime. I destroyed a young woman's life that night. An act, so repulsive and irrevocable, that others got death sentences. I did unspeakable and unimaginable things to her. The fine details, like I was accompanied by 5 adults whom I had known since childhood or that I had to be a drunk to fit in with all the adults or that they provoked me, are meaningless. Intricacies hold no value for my demonic act. I realize it more than anyone else but nobody would ever believe so.
That's the last of the papers that I had to sign. I have seen this walk way , from the office to the main gate, everyday through my small window. It didn't seem so long.
I was never scared of coming to this place because deep down I knew I deserved it. Being surrounded by dangerous convicts wasn't intimidating because captivity is a big equalizer. But I am frightened of freedom now. As I walk through this final passage, I know there's a world outside that hasn't forgiven me. It might have forgotten me but the society doesn't believe in rehabilitating criminals. And as anonymous as I might be, she would always know me. I might be one among thousands but I am the one for her. And I shall always remember it.
I am the prisoner of my destiny. I am the prisoner of the society. And I shall accept my fate.
But there has to be a reason why they don't send 17 year old teens like me to jails. They must believe we still hold some hope for future. I think so too. I want to start afresh. I have always been a captive - of poverty, of illiteracy, of responsibilities - but now I want to be relieved in all aspects.
I am outside. I am free.
With my hands spread, as I take a deep breath, the earth's scent smells different than it was inside. This is how salvation must feel like.
I feel as if I am reborn.
I was shot thrice. Once between my eyes, once in my throat and the last one in my chest.
As I collapsed in the arms of the guard I saw her in my fainting vision.
She shot me. 3 in 3. She must have practiced all this while.
She had been a prisoner of destiny too.
Now, we both were free.
My rehabilitation was complete.
* Suggested reading and inspiration to this post - Washington Post article on December 16th Juvenile Rape Convict
* My earlier work on a related topic - Faces
**Image Courtesy - blog.cleveland.com