Prisoners, guards work together to produce unusual beauty pageant in Colombia

World Today

Colombia is famous for its beauty pageants. The country has one of the highest number of beauty pageants in the world. Most are used to promote tourism or agriculture.

But CGTN’s Michelle Begue reports on a pageant used to promote better relations between women and their guards at one of the country’s prisons.

Prison officials said nearly 2,000 inmates are serving various sentences for extortion, kidnapping, robbery and drug related crimes.

The beauty pageant gives them a chance to forget their worries. This beauty pageant is held on the feast of the Virgin of Mercy, patron saint of prisoners. The announcer sings in Spanish “hopefully, soon you will obtain your freedom.” 

Each cellblock represents a famous Colombian carnival and has its own beauty queen competing for the crown. 52- year-old Patricia Guerrero was a spectator the last time the prison held this beauty pageant more than four years ago. Today, she has been chosen to participate as Queen Mother of her cellblock.

“You learn and reflect a lot, and you receive a lot of support from the officers, our custodians,” said Guerrero. “The director has done a lot of good things. I’ve learned to work with wood and craft materials like foam.”

The director of the Buen Pastor Prison, Nancy Perez, said the pageant has a therapeutic purpose. It is meant as an exercise to enhance the relationship between prison guards and inmates. Preparing for the event for the past year has been a joint effort. Props and dresses for the carnival are made out of recycled materials brought to them by their prison guards.

“I am so proud, because everyone collaborated so much,” said inmate Teresa Forero. “The inmates really put a lot of energy into this and because of them I am here.”

Each cellblock is evaluated on their performance, creativity and collaboration with the cell guards, and a winner is chosen. To some inmates, winning doesn’t seem to matter–the event is a day to forget the harsh reality of prison life.