Crime & Justice

The clothing brand offering Peru’s prisoners an escape

By Carla Samon Ros

Lima, May 9 (EFE).- Clemente Espinosa’s sewing machine has become a crucial tool to help him pass the time and earn a modest allowance since he was incarcerated at Peru’s most populous prison, Lurigancho, three years ago.

He makes clothes that are sold as far away as Madrid and New York by Pietà, an ethical fashion brand whose prison program aims to help reintegrate convicts into society.

The humming of busy sewing machines fills the workshop at the prison, which is just a few steps away from Espinosa’s humble jail cell.

“My job consists of putting the final touches to the clothes, making the hem of the sleeve, the hem of the skirt and the neck covering,” he tells Efe from his workstation.

Before prison, Espinosa sold cleaning products but later ended up helping his cousin, who had a sewing workshop, he adds.

“I had an idea of what it involved, but now I’ve developed my skills,” he says.

“Everyone needs to dedicate themselves to something here in the prison, because it makes it more bearable, but there’s also the economic side of things, to be able to cover bills and, if possible, send a little to the outside, to the family.”

At the end of each month, the prisoners who produce clothes for Pietà receive a payment of around 1,025 soles ($268), which is higher than the minimum wage.

It is a point of pride for the project leader Santos Arce Ramos, who says he has seen many machine workers come through the scheme and be released back into society.

The brains behind the project is Thomas Jacob, a 34-year-old Frenchman who has lived in Peru for over a decade.

“I had a friend who gave French classes in prison,” he tells Efe. “One day she invited me to come see a theater production that she had prepared with some of her prisoner students and I saw they had sewing machines. Others did embroidery, prints or weaving but they didn’t have work.

“I thought it could be interesting to work together, an original and authentic clothing brand.”

The brand’s logo, the number five written in tally marks, is a reference to counting down the days in prison.

“They also represent the bars they have in the cells,” Jacob adds.

Jacob launched the project 10 years ago in the prisons of San Jorge in Lima and Santa Mónica in Chorrillos amid an effort to boost levels of dignity for prisoners and promote their reintegration into society.

By 2014, he had moved his focus exclusively to Lurigancho, the country’s largest and where Jacob says there is “more potential, many more people who want to work and grow.”

Lurigancho is home to over 10% of Peru’s 82,246 incarcerated and currently operates at nearly three times its official capacity — 3,200. EFE


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