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HOMEWARE FROM BEHIND BARS – HOW ONE BUSINESS IS GIVING WORK TO PRISONERS IN PERU

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A womenswear and jewellery brand are expanding their range by offering homeware made by the hands of Peruvian prisoners.

Handmade Stories, who usually offer women’s clothing and jewellery pieces inspired by South American culture, are going even further in their support of the local community in Peru by reaching out to prisoners in Cusco for help making a new range of cushion covers and other décor.

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Founder of the brand Elena Brook-Hart Rodriguez explains how she connected with the inmates there: ”We’re working with a community of women in the Andes who design and craft our clothing. One of them happened to be the wife of a prisoner in Cusco who was part of a programme that encourages the men there to learn a trade – it’s called productive prisons.

“They partake in shoemaking, woodwork and traditional textiles – which is where we saw an opportunity to give these men more work.”

Through the programme, the prisoners can craft a range of items for companies that are encouraged to work with them so they can make money while they’re locked away.

“Not only do the men get to make money that they can send home, but they also get to learn a skill and a trade,” says Elena, “We print the designs we want and hand them to the guards at the prison, who then hand them over to the inmates. From there, they use looms to interpret the designs and create the cushions covers.

“The motifs are inspired by their local area, so they’re happy to produce them. I wouldn’t see the product until it was finished but I’ve been impressed with how well they’ve come out.”

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Throughout the pandemic, Peru has suffered multiple quarantines that have kept families from seeing the men in prison – relying on video calls to see their wives and children. For Elena, this has made the process a complex one, but one she’s also seen the great benefit for the prisoners and their families.

“It’s been over a year for some since they were able to see their families,” she explains, “So not only have these families struggled financially but also haven’t had the chance to see an imprisoned loved one.

“With the productive prisons programme, they’ve managed to keep busy and are able to send money home – an invaluable outlet for them and their loved ones on the outside.”

Elena adds that the programme goes beyond their time spent inside the jails: “It’s common for the men to use their newfound skills to set up their own business while inside the prison and then go out and start their careers after this.”

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