#RiseFromWithin: Beyond the Bars | Tech Mahindra

47-year-old Pudhu Raja is a convict at Puzhal prison in Chennai. 11 years ago, he was put behind bars for a not-so-serious crime. His life in jail paused all that he aspired to be beyond a convict – including his passion for painting.



Many miles north in New Delhi, Tech Mahindra Foundation(TMF) was celebrating the 7th anniversary of SMART, its flagship skilling initiative that has trained and placed thousands of young people in modern-day jobs, enabling them to be self-reliant and build a dignified career for themselves in a trade of their choice. As the team discussed exploring new avenues where SMART could make a difference – beyond their regular audience of youth, women, people with disabilities, and more – they came up with the idea of extending it to prison inmates.

Yes, it would be the road less taken—an experiment of sorts.

But then, if successful, it would also be an opportunity to repurpose a tainted life and give them another shot.

In April 2018, TechM Foundation teamed up with its partner SEESHA and the jail authorities at the Puzhal prison to launch a SMART Skill Development Programme for inmates who served a term for minor crimes. The idea was to provide them with career-based training, connect them with employers, and facilitate job placements to help them once they were released. In no time, the inmates started training to become professional four-wheeler drivers with the hope of beginning life anew.

In addition to learning to drive, PudhuRaja started painting again. Realizing his passion, the Foundation organized an exhibition of his work at TechM Chennai. This humble effort helped him sell 40 paintings and accumulate a sum of ₹27,000. While still in jail, Pudhu used it to fund his father's medical treatment.

Chetan Kapoor, the COO of TechM Foundation, visited the program in Chennai recently. In a heartwarming Facebook post, he shared his experience. He said: "I walked out of jail a few hours ago. It was an overwhelming experience as I visited the Puzhal prison in Chennai, where we ran the #TechMahindra SMART Skill Development program for convicted inmates. These inmates, most of whom are in for not-so-severe crimes, are being trained to be four-wheeler drivers to hope to start a life of dignity once released. We started this center as an experiment around a year back. After some initial hiccups, it is now emerging as one of our most exciting projects at Tech Mahindra Foundation. The real challenge lies ahead to ensure the acceptance of these SMART students once they are out there, ready to be hired as drivers. We are hopeful that our simple attempt at reforming lives will resonate with the world outside in general and employers in particular. Among the inmates was a middle-aged person who spoke fluent English and another who was a wonderful artist. All of them get emotional while talking about their families. And all of them are overjoyed to be a part of this."

In the 11 years he spent in prison, Pudhu has transformed himself completely. He learned to drive and returned as a painter, and now, he looks forward to leading a dignified and purposeful life in the years that await him. From rehabilitation to reskilling, he's had a journey to remember and a destination to look forward to. He's only one of the many inmates who've benefitted from this unique program and are waiting eagerly to start a new life.

With inputs from Tanish Maheshwari, TechM Foundation - tanish.maheshwari@techmahindrafoundation.org.