Minister steers clear of meeting Italian marines

At the Central Prison here, convicts are referred to more by the numbers inscribed on their non-descript jail attire than their names.

But on Wednesday, these numbers assumed distinctive personalities with their own life stories to narrate.

The occasion was the first visit of Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan to the sprawling 125-year penal complex here. Unhindered by jailors, the Minister interacted freely with prisoners in their dormitories and cells.

Prisoner number 9458, serving time for the murder of his father, is a computer engineer who turned an avid gardener in the prison. His cell mate is a trained singer and another is a fledgling actor who had authored a minor role in a popular Malayalam movie with actor Dileep.

Most convicts who met the Minister told him that they had committed their crimes in a “fit of passion.” One had killed his wife and son after he suspected her of marital infidelity. Another had killed his neighbour in a drunk brawl.

“It was an avoidable folly for which I have paid with my freedom,” he said.

There were prisoners who seemed dismissive about the Ministerial visit. Some were habitual offenders. One such convict casually told the Minister that he had been sentenced to death for committing a murder while serving life for another, a rare crime punishable under section 303 of the Indian Penal Code. The High Court later commuted the sentence to a life term.

Several prisoners told the Minister that they had served long years, one up to 19 years, without parole or remission of sentence. They complained that the parole board in the district seemed more stringent than their counterparts elsewhere.

The Minister steered clear of meeting the Italian marines who were standing outside their special cell in military uniform.

Even as Mr. Radhakrishnan left, jailors had started the routine head count of prisoners before the day's final lock-up at 5.45 p.m.