Views & Reviews
A Christmas Song for Prisoner No. CJ-XX82
It was Christmas Eve on a cold December day in 2018. I was inside the Central Jail, Dimapur visiting a young inmate in his 20s serving life sentence till natural death. When you meet him, the first thing you can sense was his amputated spirit. The walls have already imprisoned his youthful dreams for too long. Relegated to a mechanical life inside the prison confines, counting the days made no sense to him. A stiff smile greeted me doing little to veil the sadness inside him. In retrospect, I think he smiled not just at me, but also at the hope that he may be released one day.
I had come to know him in the process of rendering legal assistance under the aegis of the Nagaland State Legal Services Authority. It was only my third visit and on my previous two visits we had discussed the possibility of preferring an appeal against his conviction. Perhaps prison life has taken a toll on his quick sense and many a-times it took dreadfullylong time for his mind to register my questions. On my first visit after having spent a good part of the day with him, I had handed him a notebook and pen asking him to write down whatever comes to his mind in his defence. The notebook was empty on my second visit.
Being Christmas Eve, this time I had purchased some clothes and a pair of sandals for him. With emotions and enormous gratitude, the prisoner received it. That day I experienced the true joy of giving, not because of what the items I gave were worth, but because I had the chance to say Merry Christmas to someone who was not expecting it. Upon inquiry, I found that the notebook I gave him earlier was still blank. Here was a man facing imprisonment till natural death, yet he had not a single word to write in his defence. I sat with him again. This time he asked me whether he will be out of imprisonment one day. I took pity. I was caught in a situation where I could neither guarantee him his release nor take away his sole hope. Hence, I promised him that I will do everything I can to ensure that the appellate court hears his case, as for the final judgment it is only the court that decides not the counsels. I came out of the prison, having made a Christmas promise.
Thereafter, an appeal was preferred before the appellate court on several grounds including that scientific test such as DNA, body fluid test taken during investigation do not point towards his participation; though in the charge-sheet it was mentioned that blood stained clothes were recovered from his room, yet it was never produced in court neither was it send for scientific test to check if it was the victim’s blood; several weapons were recovered from the crime scene creating an inference that the crime could not have been committed by a single person; there were independent witnesses who knew the prisoner from before who testified that they did not hear the voice of the prisoner on the fateful night of the incident took place; residents of the house where the incident happened deposed that they heard nothing on that fateful night which an ordinary man under normal circumstances was expected to hear. All these, and more, casting serious doubts on the story of the prosecution. Though the human mind can be too eager to spin stories and jump to conclusions in cases that shocks the conscience of the society, yet law demands only proof, not suspicion.
Two years went by. By then his case had been taken up by the National Legal Services Authority for presenting an appeal before the Supreme Court. The latter after hearing his case was pleased to enlarge him on bail in February, 2021. When I went down to the jail to give him the good news, he was still oblivious about it. The pure joy that you witness telling someone facing life imprisonment till natural death that he is to be released soon is extraordinary. ‘It feels like a dream’ he said. ‘It is because you have written so much on your behalf that the Court was convinced to give you bail’ I joked. The notebook I gave on the first day of our meeting was still blank.
I wish I could tell that life was a bed of roses for him after his release. Yet beyond the prison gates, the hard life of a person with criminal records awaited him. He had a stigma. Society avoided him. Finding employment to support himself was a difficulty as people were reluctant to employ him, though in all fairness it is stated that his near and dear ones took very good care of him. Now and then he would call me with a different small-time business idea every time. To be able to live a simple life was then his dream. The young man with exuberance and big dreams had died inside the prison confines. Later on, in August this year he came up to stay with me. By the time he went back the following month he had already told me a dozen times how he will come back for celebrating Christmas with me and how we would make merry, light bonfires, feast and sing Christmas songs together. God had a different plan though. For a few days later I heard that he died in a road accident in Dimapur. Life abated and he had finally rested his case. And so here it is, my last Christmas song for prisoner No. CJ-XX82.