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COVER STORY

I wanted to become another Dawood Ibrahim

Child’s play: Reny George started a shelter home for children of prisoners | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

One day in 1980, Reny George and three of his friends drove from Madras to Thiruvalla in Kerala to rob his elderly uncle and aunt who lived there. They were high on drugs and ended up stabbing the couple to death and stealing his aunt’s ornaments. On October 6, 1980, they were arrested and later sentenced to life imprisonment. Six years later, while out on parole, he happened to attend a prayer meeting that transformed his life. He became reborn as a Christian and, upon being released in 1995, started the Prison Fellowship in Bengaluru with his wife to visit and counsel inmates, and Reny’s Children, to provide shelter for children of prisoners. Today, the 65-year-old has helped rehabilitate more than 500 prisoners through his organisation.

I was born and brought up in a middle-class family. I started battling with personality issues from a young age. I was expelled from two schools and finished my 10th grade in the third one. In college, I was active in politics and was part of a political outfit that organised many strikes. I was kicked out of the first college and dropped out from the second. Then, I moved to Chennai. I wanted to make money, so I started dealing in drugs with three friends, a Kenyan, Malaysian and Mauritian.

One day, we drove down to Kerala and murdered my uncle and aunt for money. We were arrested 10 days after the crime took place. It became so sensational that I started thinking of myself as a hero. Even when the judge pronounced the verdict, I was sitting in the courtroom and smiling. During the first six years in prison, I became a big-time leader among the prisoners. I researched different types of crime. I wanted to become another Dawood Ibrahim.

I continued using drugs in prison. Someone used to come through the outer ward and throw bundles of dope for the prisoners. In 1987, I planned to rob a bank while out on parole. While I was preparing for the bank robbery, someone visited me at home.He offered to take me to a prayer meeting. I was not at all interested; but just to please the guy, I agreed. He took me to the same town where I committed the murder—Thiruvalla. I thought I would just sit for a while, but at some point during the meeting, my conscience started pricking me. For the first time in my life, I experienced guilt. I felt like I was the most wretched person on earth. It made me cry bitterly. I was broken and started repenting. I was 33 years old then, and I was cleansed of all my iniquities and shortcomings.

While I was out on parole, a cooperative bank in Chengannur was robbed and Rs 15 lakh worth of gold was stolen. My friends thought I had done it. They expected the booty when I came back. Instead, I returned with a Bible. They thought I was pulling a fast one on them and wanted the money for myself. I used to be a man of action in prison, but afterwards I became alone. Many weeks and months later, my friends realised that the change in me was real. They started coming to me one by one.

When people ask me about rehabilitation centres, I say that the most effective [way to get rehabilitated] is spiritual. I gave up drugs and alcohol. It is not like I never felt tempted again. Even today, I don’t drink coffee or tea to avoid temptation.

Many people look at me with suspicion. He has cars, they say. He lives in a three-acre facility. I know this is the talk about me. But if I listen to such talk, life will become miserable. I will not be able to hold on to my decision. Fear and doubt are the reverse gear of faith. Even though the path is narrow, I have been given many blessings. Can you imagine any woman wanting to marry [someone like] me? My friends told me that it was better to tie a stone around my neck and throw myself into the river. When I speak to prisoners, I tell them about my own experience. What I am today is not because of willpower. Reny George was a devil, until Jesus started his life in me.

AS TOLD TO ANJULY MATHAI