Brazilian Inmates Pedal Their Way to Freedom

At one particular Brazilian jail, inmates don’t actually need both wheels on their bicycle to make an escape. By pedaling on stationary bikes, they can reduce their sentence and also get into shape.

The medium-security penitentiary of Santa Rita do Sapucai, a mountain range city about two hours north of Sao Paolo, has recently made headlines for its controversial sentence-reducing program. Thought up by the local judge, Jose Henrique Mallmann, who said he was inspired by a piece of news he read on the Internet about gyms in the United States where people generate electricity by riding stationary bikes, this two-month old program has inmates doing the same thing to reduce their stay in jail. For every three eight-hour days riding the bikes, criminals have one day of sentence shaved off. It’s a pretty good deals, but like other recently-implemented programs in Brazilian jails, it sparked some controversy around the South-American country.

Photo: Euronews video caption

“We used to spend all day locked up in our cells, only seeing the sun for two hours a day,” Ronaldo da Silva, an inmate at Santa Rita do Sapucai jail, said. “Now we’re out in the fresh air, generating electricity for the town and at the same time we’re winning our freedom.” He has already managed to shave 20 days off his sentence and lost 9  pounds in the process. The eight participants in the unique program quickly work up a sweat on the stationary bicycles, as producing energy makes pedaling hard, but the cool mountain air makes it bearable.

Photo: Euronews video caption

Almost everyone in Santa Rita do Sapucai pitched in to make this program possible. The municipal police contributed bicycles from the lost and found department, engineers turned them into stationary bikes and hooked them up to batteries donated by local businesses, while other firms provided the converter that transforms the battery’s power into the 110 volts required to power 10 streetlamps along a riverside promenade. Every night, a guard drives the battery from the jail to the promenade, hooks it up to the converter and in just a few moments, the streetlamps begin to light up. In the morning, the battery is taken back to the prison to be recharged.


“It’s a win-win situation,” Gilson Rafael Silva, the prison’s director, said. “People who normally are on the margins of society are contributing to the community and not only do they get out sooner in return, they also get their self-esteem back.”  But although people do enjoy walking on the promenade again, and jail representatives say they’ve received inquiries from mother penitentiaries, not everyone agrees cycling for freedom is a good idea. “People say that we’re turning prisons into a kind of luxury hotel,” Silva said. “But this is the only hotel I know of where no one wants to stay.”

via ABC News

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