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Inmates show off crochet creations in Brazil prison fashion show

/ 06:43 PM May 23, 2019
crochet for Brazilian inmates

An inmate poses with a crochet tablecloth as part of ‘Ponto Firme’ project in the Adriano Marrey maximum security penitentiary in Guarulhos, Brazil. The inmates are part of a project using couture to help rehabilitate convicts and give them a chance to stitch together a new life. Image: AFP/Miguel Schincariol

The catwalk arrived at a Brazilian prison Wednesday, May 22, when models from the Sao Paulo Fashion Week paraded a collection at a maximum security facility in front of the inmates who created them.

Intricate crochet bodices, cheeky skirts and denim finishes featured in the fashion show at the Adriano Marrey prison outside Sao Paulo, where inmates looked on, lavender-colored yarn in hand.

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A rehabilitation project at the facility teaches convicts crochet, a technique similar to knitting, to build self-esteem and life skills.

“I was proud of myself seeing my creation being modeled for the public and even more proud to know that people liked that piece that I made,” said Fidelison Borges, who is serving a combined 18 years for armed robbery and drug trafficking.

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Around 120 detainees have completed the program called “Ponto Firme: Portuguese for Fixed Point” since Brazilian fashion designer Gustavo Silvestre brought needlework to the cells in 2016.

As an incentive, participants’ sentences are reduced by one day for every 12 hours completed in the program.

Silvestre has taken the project twice to Sao Paulo Fashion Week, with some former inmates even modeling the crochet creations in front of the who’s who of Latin American fashion.

model in crocheted piece

A model presents a creation as inmates crochet clothing as part of ‘Ponto Firme’ project in the Adriano Marrey maximum security penitentiary in Guarulhos, Brazil. Image: AFP/Miguel Schincariol

The theme of this year’s collection, chosen by the inmates, was an “opportunity,” Silvestre told to AFP.

“Sometimes the detainee has the desire to change and reevaluate their life and search new paths for his life, but when he gets outside prejudice and the lack of opportunity are the biggest challenges,” Silvestre said. “Often the person can’t get past this stage and returns to crime.”

For this year’s Sao Paulo Fashion Week, Silvestre shepherded prisoners and former inmates, who now work with him, to complete the 35 pieces in three months.

‘Calms me down’

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The inmates dismiss those who mock the idea of men doing crochet.

“There are people who say that it’s only for women, but I don’t see it that way,” said Islan da Luz, a 28-year-old drug trafficking convict, while crocheting a powder blue skirt for his wife and a magenta one for his mother.

inmate doing crochet

An inmate crochets clothing as part of ‘Ponto Firme’ project in the Adriano Marrey maximum security penitentiary in Guarulhos, Brazil. Image: AFP/Miguel Schincariol

“I think those who think like that are ignorant and prejudiced and a minority.”

Most of the 2,200 inmates at Adriano Marrey were convicted of drug trafficking. 70% did not finish primary school.

“Crochet created a will in me. It calms me down, it helped me overcome smoking and using drugs,” said Felipe Santos da Silva, who is serving 11 years for robbery.

Silvestre recalled a former inmate who sold some of his crochet work to fund his application for a driver’s license upon his release.

“He won’t carry on with crochet, but it is helping him to build his path,” Silvestre said. “He wants to drive his Uber, be a taxi driver, own a business, but it’s crochet that’s helping him with these first steps.” HM/JB

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