PUENTE GRANDE, JALISCO.- In Mexico —and in many other parts of the world— going through the penitentiary system means going against the current to reintegrate into social and working life. Beyond the merely punitive, many judicial systems fail to offer the individual the opportunity to once again become a functional element within society.
Even when the judicial process rules that the person is innocent, the “stain” of going to jail persists and people experience firsthand the weight of marginalization. This is the case of Jorge Cueto, who was held in Puente Grande, one of the largest prisons in Mexico.
Jorge was accused of fraud in a process that he considers “corrupted and unfair.” Later, after proving his innocence, he was able to start a fashion project from prison, which provides jobs and financial support to people seeking his social reinsertion.
Jorge’s time in jail was something he never imagined would happen to him. When he was jailed he had no idea what he was charged with. In fact, he no longer even worked where he was involved in the legal process.
“Since I no longer worked in that company, the truth is that I did not find out until the day I was arrested. A year later and after requesting a change of judge -because the one I had was totally corrupt- I obtained my immediate release and my declaration of innocence.
A prison crowded and governed by organized crime
His time in prison opened his eyes to a reality that until then was completely foreign to him: an overcrowded prison system, a self-governing microcosm in which everything is at hand for those who have the means to buy it.
In addition to noticing the prevailing corruption in that place, he was able to observe first-hand how even inside, where in theory justice should be horizontal, discrimination against vulnerable groups is also experienced and the same violence that culturally prevails abroad is reproduced.
Leaving the prison did not mean that the nightmare for Jorge ended. His deprivation of liberty was only a stage, but he would experience the discrimination that all people with a criminal record bear, like a “mark of Cain”.
His time in prison not only brought him closer to a world of corruption and discrimination. He also witnessed that many people inside had great creative and artistic potential. There he learned how with a few rudimentary elements, such as a sewing needle, a lighter spring, a pen tube, and a DVD motor, a tattoo machine could be improvised. Tattooing is one of the most practiced forms of artistic expression inside prison, but not the only one.
Through the organization Proyecto de Arte Carcelario that he himself founded, he began to select people who wanted to reintegrate into society. The important thing to apply was not their artistic skills, but that they wanted to get away from what led them to jail: people with the desire to have a new life.