GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Among threads, beads and fabrics, dozens of inmates are hard at work creating clothing in a haute couture workshop within the Women’s Readaptation Center in Jalisco, western Mexico.
For hours, these women give shape to complex embroidery and embellished corsets that will later become dresses for soon-to-be quinceañeras.
By sewing in the workshop, managed by the Ragazza Fashion company, inmates have an opportunity to avoid some of the stereotypes and prejudices often imposed on prisoners.
Alma told EFE that embroidery and sewing is a way to prove to herself that it is possible to carry on with dignity.
“It’s proving to myself and my family that it is possible, that no matter where you are, you have to hold on to the best you have to get ahead,” she said.
Over four years she has embroidered countless corsets, the most special of which was one she made for her eldest daughter who turned 15 last year.
For that design, she was allowed to spend part of her eight-hour workday completing her daughter’s dress, which she wore at a special party held at the prison.
“I saw my daughter’s excitement when she received the dress, the joy, the tears... and that’s when you realize how beautiful your work is,” said Alma.
The workshop began five years ago with six female workers.
Now, 74 women work there and receive a salary of up to 2,000 pesos (about $106) a week, depending on their productivity and skills.
The dresses, which are marketed in Mexico and the United States, are designed and brought to life by Ragazza Fashion to fit each quinceañera perfectly.
Two years ago, Berenice was convinced to get involved in the workshop by some enthusiastic inmates.
Without even knowing how to thread a needle, she learned how to sew and transform delicate fabrics.
“They are made completely by hand, jewel by jewel, we have calluses on our fingers from so many needle sticks, but what we want most is to sew, to do it quickly and well,” Berenice told EFE.
She explained that embroidery and sewing have helped her find an occupation and explore new challenges, even though she is not free.
“I’m very proud of myself, I look forward to it and I value the time I spend here, I don’t deny it, instead I learn new things, it makes life less tiring,” she said.
The initiative is part of the Reinsertion, Second Chance project, which aims to help women in prison learn a trade that will enable them to be productive both inside and outside the prison.
Jose Antonio Perez, Jalisco’s director of prevention and social reinsertion, explained to EFE that the prison experience no longer has to be so negative and focused on punishment: “It’s about making them productive and giving people the opportunity to contribute to supporting their children.”
Three inmates from the workshop even joined the Ragazza Fashion company full time following their release.
“These women now teach their former fellow inmates new embroidery techniques whenever necessary,” said Carolina Vazquez, Director of Andalusia Corporate, which represents the brand.
Vazquez described the workshop as a place where inmates can grow and make a career sewing inside or outside of the prison.
“They are an extension of the family which we have collaborating on the outside.”
“It has been a success to have people working with us once they get out and have the chance to develop,” she concluded.