This is part of our annual, series, “14 Days, 14 Stories”, about ordinary Pakistanis who are doing extraordinary things.
Prison and judicial reforms are one of the most talked about needs by commentators. This debate has time and again come to the forefront after cases like those of Asma Nawab, the lady who spent many years in prison for a crime she never committed, Zulfiqar Ali, an innocent for whom the authorities in Pakistan failed to take action, and the recent example of the former premier Nawaz Sharif imprisoned in Adiala Jail, the upkeep of which reflects of the situation in Pakistani prisons, were highlighted in the media.
The state of Pakistan’s prisons right now is that the capacity of the prisons is 56,363 prisoners but at the moment, they are housing 78,160 prisoners
The number itself shows how horrid the conditions must be with regards to proper housing and rehabilitation of prisoners- we’re talking about a severe lack of manpower, funds, and facilities. Despite such a dismal state of affairs, not many have thought about prison reforms.
There is no effort to facilitate the rehabilitation of the prisoners who get free because the system is still under immense pressure due to the increasing number of cases and the lack of attention given to the prisons and the judicial system.
However, back in 1997 Shaheena Waqar along with two other friends established an organization by the name of Women Aid Trust in order to help out female prisoners suffering in literal hell
The idea behind was simple yet one that no one had ever considered before and there’s a reason for that. People think that those who are imprisoned don’t need attention or rehabilitation into society and that they deserve to live in adverse conditions.
It’s important that we give these individuals the utmost attention because if we don’t work on helping them get back to normal lives when they are released, they are most likely to indulge in crimes again or be involved in activities contrasting proper positive behavior.
The aim of the organization set up Shaheena was to facilitate the female prisoners. They would go around from prison to prison to teach the female prisoners life skills along with educating them with the basics so that once they are out in the world, they are able to take care of themselves.
Shaheena understood how weak the judicial system is and how many end up imprisoned for petty crimes
They are not just imprisoned but are also rejected by their families and have to live in complete isolation in a prison which is disconnected from the world and the conditions for living are ghastly.
“They are also a part of a community and should feel that people around them care for them. The idea behind sending someone to prison is that they learn that their actions were not alright and to help them improve themselves so that when are out, they can adjust into the society. That’s why it is important to help them.” said Shaheena while speaking to The News International.
This is why she along with her friends started providing the female prisoners sewing classes, computer classes, and recreational activities
To help improve their mental health, they also gave them motivational speeches to connect with them and to rekindle hope in them that the future was not as bleak as they imagined, and that they could take charge of their lives.
This organization has been functional since 1997 and continues to provide support to such prisoners. Another reality which they have come to accept and address is that many female prisoners raise their children with them in the cells because no one wants to take care of them outside. They set up a nursery for them and started teaching them as well so that they can also have a normal childhood. And they care for these people without any bad feelings and without making them feel that they do not deserve this help.
It is important to understand that it’s very difficult to care for others and think for those who we think are at fault, especially when the state itself has not introduced any corrective measures. But at the same time, it is inspiring to see individuals from Pakistan taking measures themselves to improve the lives of those who have no one looking out for them.
For more stories from our series about extraordinary Pakistanis check out “14 Days, 14 Stories”.
cover image via Youtube/Realities of Love