Montevideo, Uruguay - Project for Women Deprived of Freedom

In 2019, the University of Montevideo decided to undertake, together with the Jóvenes Fuertes association, an initiative linked to the National Prison System. The project “Kintsugi: Scars of Gold,” which takes its name from the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, has completed the diagnostic stage and is now planning initiatives and seeking funds to implement improvements in the women’s prison in Montevideo.

Beginnings and allies

Some time ago, the Jóvenes Fuertes association decided to explore the possibility of providing positive psychology workshops for women prisoners. Upon learning of this initiative and the work of volunteers at the center, and of other similar initiatives at the regional level, the University of Montevideo approached them to create a joint project to improve the living conditions of the women inmates.

This is how “Kintsugi: Scars of Gold” was born. The project seeks to lower the recidivism rate of women deprived of freedom in Uruguay and focuses on generating a positive impact on their family environment, as well as on their immediate community. It also involves trying to obtain the resources needed to achieve the plan, as well as seeking the collaboration of various sectors of society: state entities, public and private institutions, the people deprived of their freedom, their families, foundations, companies and the media.

Focus on the root causes of the problem and the role of women

“We aimed the project at women since women play a very important role in the family. Therefore improving job opportunities for women who leave the prison system can have a great impact on society,” emphasizes the woman who directs Initium (the center for leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Montevideo), which is carrying out the project within the University.

“The project started with the idea of helping women deprived of their freedom to start small businesses after leaving prison. But in the diagnostic stage we realized that these women had many other needs before they could learn to lead a project like the one we were thinking of,” Initium’s director explains.

With this change in perspective, the working plan began to focus on improving overall conditions in the women’s unit of the prison, upgrading the food plan, addiction and drug rehabilitation assistance, medical care and the development of at least three inclusive businesses within the women’s unit. This also seeks to provide training to acquire the skills needed to be successful in life upon release from prison. and the creation of a network of institutions linking all public and private organizations that collaborate with the women’s unit.

Self-esteem and dignity

According to official figures, there are 13,000 prisoners in Uruguay, of whom 543 are women. Three hundred and eighty of these women are in the women’s unit in Colón. Twenty-six percent of them arrive because of a connection with the drug trade; most were unemployed before entering prison. In many cases, they were accomplices in crimes committed by their partners.

In the first field interviews, it was found that most of the women deprived of their freedom do not have a work habit and, in addition, have problems of self-esteem and dignity. They feel abandoned by their family and society, but are open to respectful dialogue.

Current stage of the project

During 2019, with the aim of getting to know the reality and making a diagnosis of the situation, various visits were made to the women’s unit. Sixty interviews were conducted with women prisoners, ten interviews with prison employees, eleven workshops on meaning and purpose in the life of women prisoners, three workshops on caring for the caregiver (for the employees).

Once the diagnosis and planning stage is completed, the coordinating team of “Kintsugi” will focus on fundraising, both nationally and internationally, to begin to articulate the following stages of the project: creation of the executive team and hiring, implementation, measurement, monitoring and control.

To ensure its sustainability, one of the project’s requirements is that each organization involved must hire at least one woman released from prison. According to Initium’s director, “this requirement seeks to generate awareness that the solution needs to come from society itself, turning the citizens and organizations taking part into true social transformers.”

Romana, n. 70, January-December 2020, p. 142-144.

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