Knitting their way to freedom, the maximum security prisoners who get a day off their sentence for every three days they work for luxury fashion label.
Poring over their fine-quality crochet, the prisoners of Brazil’s Arisvaldo de Campos Pires maximum security penitentiary are a model of concentration.
And it’s no wonder, when you consider what’s at stake.
Thanks to a collaboration with Brazilian fashion designer Raquel Guimaraes, the inmates have one day taken off their sentence for every three days of knitting they perform.
The designer turned to the prison for help in 2009 when she had trouble finding knitters for her Doiselles label, which specialises in beautiful knitting and crochet work.
She trained 18 prisoners sentenced for crimes ranging from robbery to murder, and their work is now exported globally, including to America, France, and Japan.
The hand-made pieces, which are strictly quality-checked, are also sold in 70 stores in Brazil.
Named the Flor de Lotus (‘Lotus Flower’) Project, the initiative is a chance for prisoners to earn money while serving their time.
Participating inmates are paid a starting salary of 75 per cent of Brazil’s minimum wage. A quarter of what they earn is put aside, and paid on their release.
Former prison inmate Celio Tavares, who was jailed for armed robbery, said the project boosts prisoners’ chances of finding a job when their sentences are up.
‘The program gives inmates 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,‘ he said.
The prison is located in Juiz de Fora, in the state of Minas Gerais, about 100 miles (160 km) north of Rio de Janeiro.
Ms Guimaraes, who works nearby, says around 100 inmates have taken up the knitting challenge since she started training them four years ago.
She sees the project as a way for prisoners to be viewed as something more than criminals, explaining:
‘The remission of the sentence gives them the value of redeeming freedom, integrity and confidence.
‘They are able to do any work and produce very well.’