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Prison no bar to young offenders' catwalk dreams

2014-10-14 09:44 Shanghai Daily Web Editor: Wang Fan

Catwalk style came to the city's young offenders' institute yesterday, when 15 inmates held a fashion show to showcase their design skills.

Industry figures attending were impressed with what they saw, with five of the Shanghai Juvenile Reformatory designers signing employment contracts.

The event was part its efforts to prepare inmates for returning to society by providing vocational training programs.

All the inmates who secured contracts yesterday are due for release over the next few months, said prison officials.

Established in 1953, the Shanghai Juvenile Reformatory is the only governmental agency where nearly 200 juvenile criminals between 14 and 18 years are held.

It also accommodates prisoners who turned 18 during their internment, plus other adults transferred from jails which are full.

The "Real You" fashion show fulfilled a dream of a 23-year-old offender named Zhenni — whose name sounds like "real you" in Chinese.

The Shanghai native was sentenced to four years in prison three years ago for organizing prostitution.

"I had a happy family background and my parents run a business. But I got into bad company and ended up in prison, bringing shame on my parents," Zhenni told Shanghai Daily after the show.

When first behind bars, Zhenni was unwilling to cooperate with prison staff on education and reform, and rebelled.

"I thought staff would give up on me due to my bad behavior, but they continued caring for me, which touched me a lot. So I began to calm down and took part in some training programs," she said.

Zhenni attended a tailoring and sewing class last year and became fascinated by it.

"It's great to see the cloth changing into beautiful clothes," she said.

This led to yesterday's show.

The institution contacted the China Council of Lion Clubs, a charity whose members help inmates with education and reform.

It provided training and materials for Zhenni's show. Other prisoners participated as designers, tailors and models.

Zhenni's hard work paid off as she was offered a contract.

"This show and the contract give me a sense of belonging. It shows that I'm still a member of society and can be trusted by others," she said.

One of the employers who hired is Wang Yun, a designer who taught the inmates.

"I found the girls to be very clever and eager to learn new skills. I think the best way to help them is to trust them and give them a platform to realize their self-worth," said Wang.

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