It’s an unusual sight, tattooed men pouring over their fine-quality crochet. But for the prisoners of Brazil’s Arisvaldo de Campos Pires maximum-security penitentiary, knitting is more than just a hobby.
With every stitch and pearl the inmates are brought one step closer to concluding their sentence.
The initiative, named the Flor de Lotus (Lotus Flower) project is the brainchild of Brazilian fashion designer Raquel Guimaraes. She turned to the prison – just 160 kilometres north of Rio De Janiero – almost six years ago after she failed to find knitters for her Doiselles label.
Specialising in hand-made knitting and crochet work, the designer trained 18 prisoners, sentenced for a range of crimes – from petty theft to murder – to create pieces that sell in fashion boutiques across the world, from America to France and Japan. The hand-made, high fashion pieces undergo strict quality control and are sold in more than 70 stores in Brazil alone.
The collaboration sees prisoners earn an income – at a starting rate of 75 per cent of Brazil’s minimum wage – while serving their jail sentence. A quarter of what participating inmates earn is then put aside and paid upon their release.
“The remission of the sentence gives them the value of redeeming freedom, integrity and confidence,” Guimaraes argues.
Prisoners also have another incentive for taking part in the initiative – for every three days of work that the inmates complete as part of the project they receive one day off their sentence – an enticing prospect for all involved.
Celio Tavares, a former inmate who was jailed for armed robbery, believes the project gives prisoners the “skills and confidence they can use when they return to life on the outside. This raises the self-esteem of the prisoners, and opens the door to work and employment for everyone else.”