Brazil’s Arisvaldo de Campos Pires is like any other maximum security penitentiary — inmates’ crimes range from armed robbery to murder, and armed guards patrol almost every inch of the prison. Except there’s one small quirk: many of the facility’s prisoners are becoming professional knitters.
As part of a prison-wide program called the Lotus Flower project, inmates are crocheting high-end clothing in exchange for a modest salary and — the real kicker — reduced prison sentences. The program, which began in 2009 after Brazilian fashion designer Raquel Guimaraes realized she was going to need help scaling up to meet demand for her Doiselles brand, has been wildly successful; over 100 inmates have now participated. And unlikely as it may seem, it’s been a male-only affair. While Guimaraes originally approached the penitentiary with a proposal to train female prisoners to produce clothing, they decided to work the men instead.
The incentives are so good that inmates aren’t merely willing, but are eager to start knitting. For every three days spent knitting, male inmates earn a full-day reduction in their sentences. And they get paid a salary — albeit a modest one — too: the workers earn 75% of minimum wage, a quarter of which is put aside and handed over upon their release.