Prisons are hardly known for good food. But jails across Kerala are out to change that image. They sell food made by the inmates in the prison kitchens for a profit. Takeaway counters and sales vans sell the dishes and baked goods under the brand name “Food for Freedom”.
The modest experiment started at the Central Prison in Thiruvananthapuram in 2010 to help jails live up to the ideal of correctional centres has spread to many more centres. The number of workers and counters and the variety on offer have grown. The prisons contribute ₹3 crore a year to the exchequer from food sales. After serving their terms, several cooks who cut their teeth at the “industrial prison canteens” make a living out of the skill they learnt behind bars.
Meant for the poor
Targeted at low-income groups, the professionally packed ready-to-eat chapathis, biryanis and chicken curry are competitively priced. As if inflation has been arrested, the prices have not gone up for a long time. A chapathi costs ₹2 and a plate of chicken curry ₹20. Prison authorities say no preservatives or other chemicals are added. People crowd the outlets, prompting the government to open more of them.
The one-off cafeteria in the Thiruvananthapuram prison is top-of-the-line with air-conditioning and ample parking space. The Kannur prison will get one such soon. Both will have Wi-Fi connectivity and mobile phone charging ports. The kitchens are being modernised to keep up with the demand. The authorities say the cooks are selected based on aptitude and medical fitness. The prison authorities keep a wage register, and on the request of the inmate, send money to the family.
Team work: Inmates make chapathis at the Central Jail in Kannur, one of the prisons in Kerala that sell dishes under the ‘Food for Freedom’ brand. The kitchen churns out more than 25,000 chapathis a day and maintains industrial standards of hygiene.
On a roll: Inmates on the way to the kitchen at the Central Prison in Thiruvananthapuram.
Layer on layer: Work on chicken biryani begins in the Kannur prison.
Ready to eat: Freshly cooked food being loaded on a sales van at the Kannur prison.
Aroma rising: Chicken curry on the boil at the kitchen of the Central Prison in Kannur.
Brand play: An inmate at the Kannur prison displays a freshly packed ready-to¬eat chapathi set with a shelf life of six hours.
Nutty bites: Plum cakes ready for shipment to the sales counter. Only the Central Prison in Viyyur, near Thrissur, bakes breads and cakes.
Study in service: During rush hour at the cafeteria in the Thiruvananthapuram jail, prisonercooks wait on customers.