Inmates work for Disneyland in Baja California

A unique program in Mexico

His tattooed hands grip the sewing machine needle, place 4 different colored strings, and continue to work the pedal full speed ahead. The man with a plaited brow, broad arms and upright chest has been working at a textile factory for five years.

From 8:00 am in the morning until 5:00 pm in the afternoon, he rushes to his worktable. From Monday through Friday, his work at this factory "sets him free"; and it's because he is currently an inmate in a medium security prison in Mexico.

Hector is an inmate originally from Sinaloa, he opens up and confesses that he is in prison because he was convicted for the crime aggravated kidnapping. It was in 2001 when he was barely 20 that he became addicted to drugs, that's where his story begins...

"I'm a mechanic, so they hired me at a house to fix cars, and since I was really hooked on drugs I never really knew what was going on there", he tells his story while he folds dozens of sleeping bags.

"One day the state troopers arrived. The army took three of us in custody. In the house there were two people who had been kidnapped, and well, they pinned it on me", he says that even though no one proved he was the kidnapper, he will spend 26 years in prison. Which is why his work at the textile factory dignifies him.

Since 2003, the Public Safety Department of Baja California implemented a social re-insertion program like no other in Mexico: rehabilitate inmates through work. In the penitentiary known as "El Hongo" which is located in Baja California, they allowed 5 different manufacturing companies with international reputation to set up installations within the penitentiary.

Office furniture assembly, clothes sewing as well as bed cover sewing, are some of the jobs in the manufacturing industries which have begun to use inmates as workers, mainly in prisons near the border.

The inmates have a salary of $10.5 pesos an Hour (roughly $ 0.84 dollars), which is divided in the following manner; 30% goes to their family, 30% to a savings account, 30% to repair the damages their crime could have done to society and finally 10% for them for their expenses inside the prison.

The advantages for the companies that install their workshops in a Baja California penitentiary, is that the rent cost is barely $2,500 pesos a month (around $200 Dollars), this information was provided by the penitentiary authorities.

The main buyer is Disneyland

What many people don't know is that the companies that have set up shop in the penitentiary of "El Hongo" in Baja California, are actually internationally renowned companies, one of them even works with capital that is being invested all the way from Belgium.

Gilberto Sifuentes, production supervisor of the manufacturing company where Hector works with a chapter in Tijuana, says the textile products made by mexican inmates are mainly distributed in the United States.

He also shared information regarding the products, such as the shirts which are 100% cotton, that are sold mainly in Los Angeles, California, and one of the main buyers is the "Disneyland" theme park in Anaheim; Hotel bathrobes and shirts that are sold in the amusement park are made by inmates here in Baja California. "The cloth is made, tinted and sewed"

"Confection of these products in a penitentiary is 35% cheaper, making it that much more productive to be here, and there are so many people who need the job in here, it's best to keep them working", Gilberto considers this being someone who commutes every day to work, which is inside the penitentiary

Thanks to the work done by the manufacturing companies, some inmates such as Jose Ramon, who is originally from Sinaloa and has been in prison since the year 2000 for bank robbery, can afford to put his son through school as an Industrial Engineer, outside in the "real world"

He has been in prison for 6 years, 11 months, and he still has 6 more years to go, and during this time he hopes to pay his sons tuition with the work he's doing inside the penitentiary.


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