Clothes Fashion Men

Guilty of Being Cool: Project Pieta

By Chere Di Boscio

It all started with compassion.

Writer, designer, and artist Thomas had always felt a lot of compassion for prisoners. He understood they, like the general population, were comprised of people who were ‘good’, but down on their luck, and ‘dark’ characters too. He knew that the hardened criminals on the inside were often no different than certain CEOs and politicians on the outside, and was also aware that many innocent people were incarcerated due to human error, bad luck and poor lawyers.
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So, he invited his friend’s theatre troop to show their play in the Castro Castro prison of Peru, to entertain the men locked up there. He got to know some of the prisoners and was impressed by how kind and gentle many of them seemed. He noted that they had access to sewing machines to make clothing for themselves, and got an idea: why not keep the prisoners busy by involving them in the creation of a new brand? After getting the OK from the prison’s Heads, Project Pieta was born.

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The brand works with three prisons (2 men’s and 1 women’s) to create unisex hoodies, T-shirts, shoes and accessories with a prison theme, like knuckle duster and gun shaped purses and T-shirts that are hand-embroidered with words like ‘Notre Dame de la Haine’ (our Lady of Hate), ‘I AM a MAN’ and other rather macho slogans. The brand boasts ‘no logo, no tag, no sizes’ and says the designs may be a bit hard, but they are inspired by the hard lives of those on the inside.

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The Project not only pays prisoners for their work, but for every day they work, their sentences are reduced by a day. And perhaps best of all, creating this clothing gives them a sense of self-worth and kills the boredom and monotony that prisoners suffer from every day.

But what if your purchase is helping some mad axe-murder reduce his sentence? Thomas explains this is not the case: prisoners who are given access to things like needles and scissors are not the most violent, and besides he says, there are actually surprising numbers of innocent people who have been incarcerated in Peru.

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The Project not only pays prisoners for their work, but for every day they work, their sentences are reduced by a day. And perhaps best of all, creating this clothing gives them a sense of self-worth and kills the boredom and monotony that prisoners suffer from every day.

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Whilst some prisoners need training, others worked as tailors or shoemakers before serving their sentences, and can help novices learn the craft. For this latter group, it’s often the only form of job training they’ve ever had, and they usually go on to make clothing once they’re free.
Interestingly, only all-natural, organic cloth like wool or organic cotton and naturally dyed and tanned leather is used to make the clothing. Choosing organic materials was, for Thomas, a no-brainer: “it wasn’t even a decision; it was just normal for me,” he says.

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After getting to know the prisoners, his fascination and interest in their lives has deepened, and he feels more comfortable with them than ever. Thomas is now planning to make a  book that documents their lives through photography–most of the prisoners have already had some experience in front of the camera, modelling Project Pieta’s clothing.
Featuring these young men and women in their daily lives in captivity, there’s no doubt the book will spark even more ‘pieta’ for those locked up in Peru’s dark prisons.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Passport Couture
    Jan 16, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    This sounds like a unique and inspiring project. I admire the idea of giving prisoners a project and a goal to utilize their skills. I think it’s a great way to encourage their confidence and give them other options to pursue once their out of their current situation.

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