Thane jail 'bakers' working hard to meet rising demand for Christmas cakes
Thane Central Jail's 15-member bakery are busy cooking up a storm — even working double shifts — to meet the unprecedented rise in orders of cakes and other confectionery for Christmas
Orders for cakes from prison bakery has seen a surprise spike
We’ve known of several prisoner rehabilitation programmes, but this one takes the cake. Inmates of Thane Central Jail are busy cooking up a storm — even working double shifts — to meet their target orders of cakes and other confectionery for Christmas. Since 2012, the inmates have been running a bakery — under a rehabilitation initiative launched by Maharashtra Additional Director General of Police (Prisons) Bhushankumar Upadhyay — all year through. But come Christmas, and the demand soars. In 2015, 11,880 pieces of cupcakes were sold; this year, it’s 14,091 and counting.
Around 15 inmates prepare 500 kg of confectionery daily, which doubles during Christmas. They work under the watchful eye of a bakery instructor, whipping up plum cakes, sponge cakes, cupcakes, vanilla and pineapple cakes, among others.
Their clientele ranges from other prisoners from Arthur Road Jail, the women’s prison in Byculla, Adharwadi Jail in Kalyan and Taloja Jail, inmates of their own jail, and Thane Mental Hospital, to the babus of Mantralaya. A number of residents, police officials and NGOs from Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai also place special orders in the run-up to Christmas. There is even a celebrity or two who swears by the quality of these cakes.
NB Vayachal, SP, Thane Jail, says the idea is to keep inmates busy and rehabilitate them. "We want them to learn new skills so that when they get out, they can earn a decent livelihood." Low pricing is their USP. Cupcakes are priced at Rs. 7 a piece, sponge cake at Rs. 150/kg and pineapple cake at Rs. 380/kg. "Those who place orders with us vouch for the quality. We even baked a birthday cake for filmmaker Mahesh Manjrekar two years ago," says the SP.
Rs 3.5 lakh is the earning of the Thane jail bakery every month on an average, but it shot up to Rs 2.5 lakh for the three days prior to X'Mas in 2015. Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Although Christmas is the busiest time — the prison earned over Rs. 2.60 lakh in the three days prior to the big day last year — the product range is a hit throughout the year. The prison bakery’s monthly income stands at at Rs. 3.50 lakh.
The staff is split into three categories — unskilled (paid Rs. 45 a day), half-skilled (Rs. 50) and skilled (Rs. 55). The remuneration will be given to the inmates on completion of their jail terms.
"With the increase in demand [during Christmas], we have had to make the inmates work double shifts from 7 am to 9 pm. We hope to increase our daily production to meet the steady rise in demand," says Vayachal. The highest demands come from within the Thane jail as well as Arthur Road Jail. While the Thane jail takes 4,500 cupcakes and 480 kg of sponge cake on an average each Christmas season, Arthur Road jail orders in 400 kg of sponge cake and 5,000 cupcakes.
The path to reformation
Nagpur, Nashik and Yerawada jails have similar rehab programmes in place. Their inmates not only bake cakes but also make wooden articles and clothes. During his incarceration at Yerawada Jail in Pune in the 1993 blasts case, actor Sanjay Dutt made a bamboo chair. Prison officials recently launched Prerna Path, a reformation programme, to allow convicts to meet their children in jail.
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