Three years of incarceration have transformed Subeesh's (name changed to protect identity) life forever. After his recent release from jail, he started a new career in the television industry. Now he is associating with leading Malayalam television channels and handles every aspect of production from scripting to editing.
Subeesh learnt the tricks of the trade from the Viyyoor Central Jail, the first prison in Kerala to launch an internal FM radio station and a television production unit. Titled 'Freedom Melody', the units have been producing infotainment programmes for the jail inmates. What makes the venture special is that all the programmes have been scripted, produced and edited by the prisoners themselves.
They produce programmes, such as docu-fiction, chat with legal experts, phone-in programmes for inmates to dedicate songs to their dear ones and talks on health and wellness.
Unlike popular FM and television channels, Freedom Melody does not use sophisticated equipment to air programmes. It functions with basic facilities. Inmates watch and listen to the programmes on the television screens and loud speakers installed on all the 10 prison blocks.
The idea of radio station was mooted by former prison superintendent Vinod Kumar. The channel became a reality in 2017, but regular telecast started only a few months ago. His successor NS Nirmalanandan Nair, who is the current superintendent, launched the television production unit in March this year.
“We do not invite guests from outside for our programmes. People from different walks of life – doctors, advocates, singers, dancers and businessmen – live here. They will come up with ideas for the programmes. The jail officials vet the content before the programmes are being recorded,” Nirmalanandan said.
'Freedom' is the official brand of the food products – such as chapatis and Biryanis – produced and sold from the prisons in Kerala. The same name has been given to the radio and television channels.
Sunil Kumar, welfare officer at the prisons headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram, said Viyyoor has always been in the forefront of nurturing talents of prison inmates. “Inmates at Viyyoor published the first hand-written magazine from a prison in Kerala. People who are interested in literature took the initiative. All other prisons followed suit,” he said.
“The welfare department is now planning to set up radio stations and television channels in other central prisons in the state as well,” he said.
Prison welfare officer at Viyyoor Saji Simon said the media ventures have lifted the morale of the inmates and help in the transformation of the convicts. “You can see a cross-section of society in the jails. People from all walks of life live here. They take initiative to produce programmes in their areas of expertise,” she said.
“Exposure to art, science and entertainment will help them discover their skills and find a livelihood,” she said.
And Subeesh, the film production expert, was just one of them.