Follow Up

From peddling drugs to penning poetry; Journey of a jail poet

Sunday, Aug 23, 2015,19:13 IST By metrovaartha A A A

New Delhi | Five long and lonely years behind bars in a women’s jail in Kannur district of Kerala transformed a middle-aged drug peddling convict into an author, a poet and a story teller. Lissi, 40, who hails from the high-range district of Wayanadu in Kerala was arrested in 2010, for smuggling drugs which she claims she did to meet hospital expenses for her sister who was hospitalised for deadly burn injuries.
They can imprison my body, but not my mind nor my freedom to think, says Lissi, who has till date penned eight short stories and numerous poems on topics ranging from rain, faces, love and loneliness to death, torture, lunacy and repentance. A narrative account of Lissi’s journey with letters including 14 poems and eight stories along with the tragic moments in her life is set to come out in a form of book titled ‘From convict to writer,’ by a journalist turned public relations professional Subin Manantawadi.
Lissi, who was an excellent student during childhood, as her teachers certify, had to drop out of school after matriculation because of her family’s adverse economic conditions. I used to write small plays during my school days. Whenever there was a dance programme in school, my friends used to approach me to write songs. But after matriculation, I could not even touch my pen till I landed up in this jail in October 6, 2011, says the poet.
Lissi says, when she started writing, everyone in jail used to come to her cell to request her to write for them. Some asked her to write to their children back home, others wanted her to pen small poems in letters to their husbands. Still others wanted Lissi to write for birthdays of their beloveds. Subin Manantawadi says he met the prisoner poet while he was undertaking a research on the ‘changing faces of Kerala prisons’ two years ago.
When I read her poems for the first time, they literally surprised me. Their quality and depth were far above than my expectation from a 10th class dropout, says Subin. With the large-hearted support from the prison authorities, Subin  had a series of discussions with Lissi in jail, which culminated into a book after more than 18 months.
Lissi, the second child of five children of Chulliyod George and Rosakutty lost her father during Christmas celebration in 1998. Her mother made ends meet through her job at a tea factory in Kerala. She married her teenage love 20 years ago but husband too died within a few years leaving her alone without a child. She has only one wish that this book should be released in the presence of her loving mother.
We hope that the authorities will allow it, says Subin who adding that the book would be released next month with complete royalties to Lissi. One thing is sure, with the release of this book, publishers will rush to her, says Subin. Lissi was convicted in two cases and sentenced to 25 years of rigorous imprisonment in the year 2010.