The place where time stands still
The patchwork class at Silves prison is taught by local residents Liliana Rodrigues (pictured right) and Jacqueline Vangoidsenhoven. Photo: INÊS LOPES - ALGARVE RESIDENT
Enduring a prison sentence is probably comparable to reaching the end of a road with nowhere to turn, no horizon ahead and no choice but to wait. Glimpses of hope are few, among the frustration of life behind bars, but they exist.
Turning this waiting game into a productive and, to a certain extent, positive experience is the objective of a project developed by Silves-based charity Castelo de Sonhos.
The Fora de Portas (Out of Doors) project, the idea of charity founder Liliana Rodrigues, began two years ago with the aim of supporting prisoners at the Silves Regional Prison Establishment and their families, through a variety of activities that promote positive expectations and healthy behaviour, allow inmates to earn a small income and, ultimately, contribute to a successful transition from incarceration back into society.
The Algarve Resident recently visited Silves prison and spoke to its director and some of the prisoners to learn more about this project and other support systems available to inmates.
Silves prison is a remand centre but it also retains prisoners serving short sentences, “space allowing”, said prison director Dra Alexandra Moisão.
“If other remand prisoners are placed here, this may mean that some convicts may need to be transferred to other prison establishments in Portugal,” she said.
“The transitional nature of this prison means there is a lot of anxiety among prisoners as they wait to find out what their future holds for them,” she said. “They are frustrated by their situation and need a variety of activities to keep them occupied and take their minds off the uncertainty in their lives.”
As well as having to address behavioural aspects associated with remand prisoners, the woman at the helm of Silves prison also has to deal with another important characteristic of this Algarve detention centre - that of multiculturalism. Here, tolerance, acceptance and respect are invoked, albeit rarely achieved, among inmates.
An inmate turning a piece of cloth into a fashionable creation
Photo: INÊS LOPES - ALGARVE RESIDENT
Thus Dra Alexandra Moisão and the prison staff have the necessary systems in place to manage these multicultural differences. At the Silves prison, 50% of inmates are Portuguese and the other half from all parts of the world, such as Spain, Argentine, Brazil, African countries (Morocco, Algeria, Cape Verde) and Eastern European countries (Ukraine, Russia).
Dra Alexandra said: “The Algarve has become one of main entry points for drugs into Europe, particularly by sea, due to the region’s many secluded, inaccessible beaches, which create the perfect conditions for drug traffickers.” (read story on page 2)
“Dealing with a multitude of cultures, religions, traditions and people is not easy, therefore it is important to ensure everyone is respected for their principles or beliefs and their differences are accommodated adequately.”
Medical teams in a variety of specialities, from psychology to nutrition, are also on hand to ensure the prisoners’ healthcare needs are catered for. “For example, cases of obesity and diabetes are closely monitored by nutritionists who prepare individual menus for these prisoners,” said Dra Alexandra. “Infectious disease specialists from the CAD (HIV counselling and early detection centre) visit the establishment weekly to provide support and counselling.”
Most people would probably not spare a second thought for the needs of prisoners, however, two local women, one Portuguese and the other Belgian, have seen beyond the wrong-doing committed by these men to teach them the most unlikely of hobbies – patchwork classes.
Photo: INÊS LOPES - ALGARVE RESIDENT
It is hard to imagine 27 inmates using thread, needle, sewing machines and other tools to turn pieces of cloth into fashionable creations. But that is exactly what is happening at Silves prison twice a week, thanks to teachers Liliana Rodrigues and Jacqueline Vangoidsenhoven, who have volunteered their time to pass on their sewing knowledge to those men.
“Everyone deserves a chance,” Liliana Rodrigues is quick to point out. “We presented our idea of starting a patchwork class within the prison as part of our Fora de Portas project. It was accepted and we began teaching initially one morning per week. Then it became two mornings as interest grew. Now we teach two full days – Tuesdays and Fridays.”
Jacqueline added: “We never imagined these men to be so dedicated to the class. No one was forced to join. They simply did and from what we can see, they really seem to enjoy it and have incredible knack for sewing. They can repair hems, tighten trousers, adjust waistbands and sew zips. Some are even making dresses for their girlfriends. It’s amazing!”
The Algarve Resident had the opportunity to interview three students, who spoke openly about their past, what led to their incarceration and plans for the future.
Paulo, 35, is Portuguese and a resident of Lagos. He was arrested for theft and is expected to be released in 2015. A repeat offender, Paulo is a heroin addict undergoing methadone treatment. He said: “My drug addiction and bad choices put me here. I only have myself to blame.” When asked how he was responding to the treatment, Paulo said: “It’s tough. My addiction still controls me.”
However, he said he was glad of his new hobby which keeps his mind off things and helps time go by faster.
The desire to make time pass quicker is shared by inmates Ron (from Brazil), 27, and Revelino (from Guinea-Bissau), 26, both residents of Albufeira.
Ron has been jailed for robbery. “Blame the cocaine,” said the young man who will be out in 2013.
Revelino still has another three years in prison. He was condemned for attempted rape. “Alcohol and the wrong crowd” influenced his actions, he said.
Having sympathy for people who commit such crimes can be hard but Liliana and Jacqueline are only interested in the way that they can help these men through the patchwork class.
By sharing laughter, exchanging warm hugs and showing genuine care, these two women want to promote hope and positivity. They believe that the majority of the men at the prison are there due to a life of extensive poverty and if they do not offer help, once they are released poverty will take its stance once more and history will be repeated.
For the prison project to continue, Castelo de Sonhos is looking to the general public for help as state funding has been cut to a minimum. They need all sorts of sewing assisting materials and particularly sewing machines, which are “most desperately needed”.
Liliana said: “Some of our donated sewing machines have stopped working and need to be taken to a technician. But we do not have the money to take them for repair. Hopefully, someone will be kind enough to repair them for free.”
Most of the items made during the patchwork class are to be sold at the Castelo de Sonhos’ charity shop in Silves or fairs that volunteers attend. The money is then given to the prisoners for them to purchase basic personal hygiene products.
“They desperately need all sorts of hygiene products,” said Liliana. “Even flip flops to take to the shower are needed to avoid the spread of foot diseases.”
Other areas which Dra Alexandra Moisão would like to develop within the prison are music, visual arts, IT and physical education classes. “For example, we have all sorts of musical instruments locked up in a room but have no music teacher. All these activities would need to be provided on a volunteer basis.
“State funding has been reduced significantly, so if anyone would be happy to volunteer his/her time free of charge, this would be most welcome,” she said.
Other items in demand are computers, a video-projector, a sound system and fitness machines.
To know more about the Fora de Portas project, please call 282 441 089 or email email@example.com