Three inmates serving life terms live a crammed life in a small and solitary room of the Central Prison in Karachi. None of them is isolated or cut off from the world. A collection of over 500 books gives them company. The books are stacked in an overcrowded shelf, an iron cupboard and a worn out suitcase. One can find Shakespeare’s plays, John Keats’ poetry and John Grisham’s novels. There are also books on forensic science, law, dictionaries and more.
But what makes these book buffs really proud is a recent achievement: a magazine, produced by them. The Prison Review, Sindh is the jail’s first ever magazine, a production of prison officials and inmates. It came out only 15 days ago; its readership is also confined to the walls of the prison.
A convict, Zafar Iqbal, proudly holds a copy of the magazine, which has a beautiful sketch of the jail façade. Neatly dressed in a white formal shirt and blue jeans, he beams and announces: “I am the editor of the Urdu section of this magazine”.
Another inmate Imran Ahmed helped with the layout and designing, as well as the magazine’s logo. He is a teacher at the prison’s computer lab. “It took three days to think this through and create this.” The logo consists of four symbols: pen, brain, lock and prison. “The significance is that the pen is unlocking one’s creativity in jail.”
Most of the books that are stored in the 20 x 12 room are owned by a former police officer, Pir Bux. He contributed to the write-ups in English and edited Sindhi ones for the magazine.
The bearded Bux has been imprisoned for 12 years, but being jailed has not made him hopeless. His write-up in the magazine talks about how discouragement derails the process of life. He considers himself as a changed man today. “I was full of anger when I came here, but now I have become calm.”
The 62-page magazine is the brainchild of Superintendent Kazi Nazir Ahmed. It is divided into English, Urdu and Sindhi sections.
The superintendent excitedly recalls how his article got published in a local Urdu-language newspaper in 1995. “I still have the newspaper copy at home. I was so happy then.” Nazir realized that if work of inmates also gets published, they would feel rewarded the way he did.
Now that the magazine is out, Nazir is both pleased with the effort, as well as critical. “Editing could not be done properly because of our busy schedule, but in the next issues, we will be careful,” he said. Most of the articles praise the jail unnecessarily, he pointed out. “I wanted the inmates to write short stories including their biography. This was not done.”
Another issue was of the funding for the magazine. However, two lawyers funded and supported the initiative.
With the magazine set to appear after every three months, the three inmates have started to work on the next issue.
“We are discussing the themes that we can work on,” says Nazir. In the current issue, he wrote on what it is like to live in the B-class ward. This ward is for inmates that are tax payers, graduates and professionals.
Working on the magazine has given hope and confidence to inmates, especially to these three prisoners, who are among the few prisoners who have done their masters in the jail. Prisoners register for master’s degree (private), take the exam while in jail and receive a degree from University of Karachi. Iqbal and Bux completed their masters in English literature while Imran acquired his degree in economics last year.
Bux, who loves collecting dictionaries, wants to write a bilingual grammar book.
Iqbal, an aspiring poet, wrote in the magazine about how a perfect poet watches people and nature from various dimensions, and is working on a book on Urdu poetry. “Yet, most of what I write is about freedom.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2014.