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Prison’s Got Talent

July 19
21:57 2019

A cache of treasure that sits inside the Kolbe Foundation Gift Shop located on the Boom/Hattieville Road is glaring testament to the amazing level of talent that lives behind the walls of the Belize Central Prison.
A recent visit to the Prison’s Gift Shop turned up woodwork, paintings and handicraft including beautiful picture frames, flower vases, wood carvings from zericote and rosewood, cutting boards, furniture, bed frames, doors, customized cabinets, hammocks, jewelry, bags and the most recently added product, colorful and creatively crafted piñatas.

Virgilio Murillo, CEO of the Kolbe Foundation, told the Reporter that items available at the gift shop can be bought at a far more competitive price than if consumers are purchasing from a regular furniture store or gift shop.
The prison, according to Murillo, recently started making piñatas and the project has been successful so far. The prison is looking into producing enough piñatas for mass sale but would need the public’s support. According to Murillo, piñatas are imported from across the border and a single one would cost somewhere between $60 to $70 Belize dollars.

What’s more important is that the local piñatas, as well as the other products, are being made by prisoners as part of their rehabilitation process and according to Murillo apart from showing off the talents that exist inside the prison, and offering competitive prices, money generated from the sale of items goes directly into the Prisons Welfare Fund, used to keep the programs going.

A portion of the money is also paid as a salary to the participating inmates, Murillo explained – “they get up every day just like in normal society and they go to work and part of the discipline is that they need to be at work from 7:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the evening. We treat them just as if they were in society gainfully employed by some business or company. Of course, they collect a little stipend – half goes into their hands so they can buy the little stuff they need and the other half goes into a savings account so that when they are discharged we would cut one big check for them and they take whatever they had saved up.”

Murillo explained that the prison offers two sets of programs – one that addresses attitude, behavior, addiction and criminal thinking. The other is a vocational program that is inclusive of woodwork, livestock rearing, metalwork, mechanic, block making and farming. Upon being admitted into the prison, inmates go through a screening process where they are tested for skills. Persons with specific skills in the relevant areas who are interested in becoming instructors would need to fill out an inmate job application form. They will then need to go through another screening process, where there will be assessed as to whether they are escape risks, or if they would likely harm themselves or others. If they meet the criteria then they are hired for the job.

The individuals who are without ‘instructor’ skills, according to Murillo, are required to fill out an application form for the program of their choice. If they have an aptitude for the program then they stay, but if they are not performing and are simply wasting time, then they are withdrawn from the program and sent to a proper rehabilitation program.
The Reporter spoke to inmate Danny Carcamo, who has already served three years for drug trafficking. He says that apart from equipping him with a new skill the program has also assisted him in his rehabilitation process and he is now ready to re-enter society and become a productive citizen – “I am trying to prove myself to society that I am ready to go out there and not commit any more crime because nothing is nice about being back here. We are thankful for the program because by participating in it we do not feel it too much because when you stay in a cell that sometimes stresses your mind. You start to think about all sorts of things, but right here we feel better because we are working and making piñatas and we could show society that we are ready to be released.”

The Reporter also spoke to the program’s instructor David Sandoval, who is scheduled for release in November 2020. Sandoval was sent to prison for a drug trafficking charge and has already served 4 years and eight months of his sentence.
Sandoval, deeply engrossed with sculpting a piñata in the shape of a prisoner, explained that the first process of making a piñata is shaping the frame with wire. Newspapers glued together are then used to cover the frame and then crepe paper is then used for the finishing touch. One piñata takes between four to five days to make while a hammock takes an entire week.

Murillo explained that “prisoners are not castaways. Yes, they make mistakes and they come afoul of the law, but they deserve a second chance and as you look around the gift shop you can see all of these things and I can tell you that the prisoners are the ones that are creating them, and coming up with the ideas. So it just goes to show you the talents that they have and I think that we need to recognize them for that at least.”

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