Reform through romance: Collective weddings in Rio’s prisons

World Today

Brazil’s overcrowded prisons are known more for violence than romance. But since 2003, there’s been an attempt to rehabilitate inmates by organizing collective weddings in Rio de Janeiro’s prisons.

CGTN’s Lucrecia Franco has the story.
Follow Lucrecia C. Franco on Twitter @LucreciaFranco

The Bangu penitentiary complex is a sprawling maximum security facility located in Rio’s west end. Like all prisons in Brazil, it is overcrowded, with some of its units operating at double their capacity.

But on rare occasions it is a happy place, namely when inmates are allowed to exchange vows in collective weddings. Filming prisoners’ faces is not allowed in Brazil, but that doesn’t apply to the brides – who make every effort to look their best.

Priscila Diniz, for example, married her long-time partner who has served five years of his sentence for murder.

“It was a nightmare that happened in our lives,” she said. “He got in trouble and ended up here, but he is doing fine and we will live a good life because we have two small children to raise.”

Some couples met their husbands behind bars. Clane Jorge will have to wait eight more years before she is able to live with her husband. He too was convicted of murder.

“I can wait because I met him knowing everything, I got prepared, and I am here today making a dream come true, for me and for him,” she said.

The red carpet ceremony is part of the prison’s social work program. Authorities and NGO’s believe the benefits of marriage will help steer these men away from crime.

These prison weddings aim not just to help the rehabilitation of the inmates but also motivate them to study and work towards reducing their sentences.

Organizers – like Dalvina Moreira, a wedding organizer with the NGO Solidary Heart Rescue – say the structure of family life and responsibility are key to inmate reform.

“Having a family helps them begin again,” she said, “reflect and try a new story, start from zero, and that is our fight: to bring them hope.”

Marriage advocates acknowledge that these events are a mere drop in the vast ocean of Brazil’s criminal problem. Prison populations continue to grow at a rate outpacing the justice system’s ability to cope.

But it is still a worthy effort, organizers say, as they have been able to reform some inmates, one wedding at a time.