Seamstresses of Gomito a Gomito: Inmate Stories
November 2020: Dozza Prison: Bologna, Italy
Life in Dozza prison can be monotonous, and opportunities for expressing one’s creativity can be lacking. Gomito a Gomito offers work experience to combat these conditions, giving inmates at Dozza the opportunity to learn new skills and experience work they are passionate about. We were fortunate to speak with Maria and Elizabete, two current seamstresses at Gomito a Gomito, and learn about their personal stories and what brought them to where they are today.
“Yes, there is a future after prison, for anyone, even someone who is 50 or 60 years old. This doesn’t mean it will be easy, but there has to be a future.” – ELIZABETE
Video credits: Elena Giulia
“Gomito a Gomito has given me a second chance,” says Elizabete, one of the inmates working at the company. Born and raised in Riga, Latvia, Elizabete started working at Gomito a Gomito in 2014, while she was still a regular inmate. Later, after her internship, she was permanently hired and has been working with the company since then. On a typical day for Elizabete, she works 4 hours a day, from 9am to 1pm, then she either takes part in other volunteering activities or goes back to Dozza prison right after lunchtime.
Elizabete says working for Gomito a Gomito has also given her economic stability. She supports her argument by adding, “This is really important when you are in prison – you have to buy everything for yourself even if you want any milk, meat, or personal expenses in general, etc.” We asked Elizabete if this experience will help her once she is out of prison, she asserts, “Yes, absolutely social integration is really important, there are so many prejudices. Luckily, I didn’t experience many of them first-hand but yes, there is a future after prison, for anyone, even someone who is 50 or 60 years old. This doesn’t mean that it will be easy, but there has to be a future.”
Creativity is something Elizabete has always been very fond of and plans on exploring jobs with creativity components in the future too after she is released from prison. This is one of the reasons she states why she loves working for the company. When asked if she has been interested in fashion before starting work with Gomito a Gomito, or is this her newfound activity, the inmate responded, “I have to admit that when I was younger I was not interested in working in this field, I had completely different projects but that said, of course, I do like fashion and I love being creative.” Apart from fashion, she loves reading books and reads books by Marquez and Serrano regularly. She also likes Gramellini [Italian journalist and author] and believes he’s a good writer. For her, that’s important because “the words you choose to use matter.” When asked, Elizabete defined herself as a “curious person,” and we could sense this trait in her personality while interviewing her. Apart from reading, one other hobby Elizabete has is collecting foreign coins. In the end, we asked Elizabete what she has learned so far by working with Gomito a Gomito, she said she got more organized and meticulous about everything, even in daily life, “…after all, you need to learn how to be precise to do this job.”
“ I like looking for things that I can’t experience in my daily life – for example, I use the internet to see and to prove to myself there are so many beautiful things in life that oftentimes we don’t tend to realize.” – MARIA
Video credits: Elena Giulia
From an interest in fashion as a girl to creating beautiful pieces now, Maria has found a way to channel her creativity with Gomito a Gomito. Originally from Russia, she had taken a dressmaking course at 13, and she always had a desire to continue honing that skill by making her own clothes. While she never had much luck in creating tangible products from her designs, that didn’t stop her from having her ideas come to life. “ I didn’t have the skills at that time, so I used to take them to ateliers and tailoring studios that could produce them – but I explained how I wanted everything done.”
Outside of fashion, Maria was thoughtful in sharing her other interests. “…everyone has interests, but in our case, after so many years in prison, you tend to lose many of them, because you can’t “experience” them first-hand. For example, if you like playing tennis, you can’t practice and forget how to do that – so you have to re-learn and re-discover everything.” Instead, Maria stresses the impact that the Internet has had on her experience at Dozza. A curious woman, she desires to travel and see the world, and while she can’t practically do so, she has a great appreciation for beauty in the world, especially outside of Italy in places that are out of reach. “This also gives you a “spark” of life, new energy – I won’t say that it gives you the strength not to give up, because I’m not that type of person – but it gives you hope, a new perspective, a sort of push.”
Now, Maria has reignited her love of fashion design and sewing at Gomito a Gomito. Ten years ago, she was given the offer to take a tailoring course at Dozza prison, and ever since then, she has been practicing her craft and improving on her own skills. The course led her to a connection with Gomito a Gomito, a job that has changed her whole lifestyle at Dozza. A self-described “foreigner” to Italy, she lacks personal connections to family near the prison. Having a job has given her a sense of financial autonomy, necessary for her lawyers as well as personal expenses. On a personal level, she explains how important it is to have some kind of activity, job, or skill to “let off some steam, mentally and physically.” While she by no means considers herself a professional, Maria has learned to develop models that start from “what is just an idea” and lead to a marketable item at the end of the product cycle.
Photo credits: Gomito a Gomito facebook.
We were pleasantly surprised to learn so much about Maria and Elizabete’s lives following their interview. As college-age girls, we are not exposed to some of the realities of incarcerated life in places like Italy. We got to learn about opportunities that are available for inmates to pursue a passion and make a living, Gomito a Gomito being a prime example. It makes us hopeful for those experiencing the harsh reality of time in prison knowing there are still positive experiences to be had. Maria is still able to explore different parts of the world, be creative, and put meaningful work into the world. On the other hand, Elizabete is making the most out of her time at the prison by discovering new creative skills everyday. She is optimistic about the bright future that awaits her after she is out of the prison. At a time like now, when most everyone is feeling closed off from the world and the ones we love, we can look to strong women like Maria and Elizabete for the encouragement that life doesn’t stop just because things look different. A full and meaningful life is always possible.
What kind of business model does Gomito a Gomito use to run smoothly and offer these opportunities to women like Elizabete and Maria? See Jacob and Hannah’s page for more information or more posts on this topic!
If you are interested in listening to a podcast about the organization, tune in to Nick and Brad’s podcast here!
– A project by Maryam Khalil ’21 and Olivia Trombley ’22.