Male Prison Inmates Become Expert Knitters

Can knitting change your life? Yes, indeed.

I’d venture to guess that all dedicated knitters have experienced positive changes in their life that they attribute to knitting. In my case, when I began knitting more than three decades ago, I was a very impatient person. If I wanted something, I wanted it “now”. If I was motivated to do something, buy something, or go somewhere I always felt compelled to act immediately. My life at that time could have been described in one word: deadline.

When I was motivated to try knitting, my first project turned into a Fair Isle sweater. But, I soon discovered that I couldn’t complete it in a few weeks as I had planned, or a few months, which subsequently turned into two years.

Along the way I began a process of evolution. As I taught myself to knit, I also taught myself how to be patient, a change that I now value highly.

I have admired many knitters over the years who have picked up needles thinking they’ll simply make something of yarn, and in turn made something of themselves.

I came upon a story recently that inspires me to have even stronger faith in the power knitting has within people’s lives. In Brazil, there is a knitwear fashion designer, named Raquel Guimaraes whose line of women’s knitwear was becoming more successful. She needed to find a resource that could produce more product so she could fill orders from 70 stores across Brazil, as well as others in the U.S., France and Japan. But instead of searching for a factory in China, she chose to find workers who were close to home. She wanted to locate people willing to be trained as knitters of handcrafted fashion to provide her with what she required. As important, she wanted to provide these new knitters with an opportunity to change their lives in the process.

Raquel approached the Arisvaldo de Campos Pires, a maximum security penitentiary in Brazil, with the idea that female inmates could be offered jobs while incarcerated. They would be paid to learn how to knit and to produce women’s knitwear to be showcased in high-end fashion shows and sold in fashion boutiques.

The prison officials liked the idea, but they felt the need to work their male convicts instead of the females. A program was designed that taught volunteers how to knit and, by doing so, allowed them to reduce their prison term. These men earn a salary, a portion of which is saved for their release from prison so they can return to the outside world with money in the bank and, more importantly, a skill they can use to support themselves.

“This program gives inmates skills and confidence they can use when they return to life on the outside. This raises the self-esteem of the prisoners, and opens the door to work and employment for everyone else,” said Celio Tavares, a former inmate who had been jailed for armed robbery.

Today, there are more than 100 inmates participating. If you feel knitting has in some way impacted the quality of your life, please share your story.