When Raquell Guimaraes had the opportunity to expand her Brazilian fashion knitwear label Doiselles, she looked to a most unlikely place for nifty fingers. She found her crafty companions at Arisvaldo de Campos Pires maximum security penitentiary about 100 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, who had time to kill—with a pair of knitting needles.
When Guimaraes first presented the idea of prisoners to help produce her designs, she thought that women would be likely candidates. The prison administration, however, found that it could be more productive to work with the male prisoners, a risk which has turned out excellent results (see above and below!). Several of the knitting prisoners have violent histories, having been imprisoned for offense like drug trafficking, murder and armed robbery.
Through this project the participating prisoners have learned a valuable handcraft skill that has also given them motivation to re-enter society. For every three days an inmate spends creating knitwear, he receives one day off his sentence, along with receiving a minimum wage salary.
Today 18 prisoners work with Guimaraes to help produce high quality, hand knit clothing under the Doiselles brand in Brazil, Tokyo, San Francisco and New York. She works side-by-side with the prisoners, spending time in a designated ‘knitting cell’ to share her designs and instruct patterning and stitching techniques for creating unique sweaters, vests, dresses and shawls. The results of working with these hard-working crafters has been tremendous for Guimaraes and Doiselles, which has recently received significant international recognition for its philanthropic and business-savvy prison venture.
As former inmate Celio Tavares stated, “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.” In the ‘knitting cell’ prisoners have a chance to socialize and learn a number of viable skills from the craft of knitting itself to design principles, time management, and dexterity.
Think about it: I know that if I had to do some time, I would definitely choose to knit. Wouldn’t you?
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