Travel

Your guide to women's prison beauty pageants

Admit it: Your knowledge of the women’s correctional system is pretty much limited to Cinemax After Dark and about 3 ½ minutes of Brokedown Palace. Maybe the shower scene from Orange is the New Black. So you're probably unaware that some international jails are trying to inject a little sexiness into the penal system by throwing inmate beauty pageants, where female felons compete -- bikini, evening gown, and talent portions included -- for titles like Miss Prison, Miss Jail, and Miss Captivity.

If only we were making this up. Where on earth is this going on, you ask? Good question. Here are 10 of the world's top beauty pageants held behind bars.

Prison: Bom Paston Women's Prison
City: Recife, Brazil
Title: Miss Jail
The Prize: $1,000 deposited in winner's prison bank account
After a decade of brutality in Brazilian prisons, the country's Ministry of Social Development and Human Rights set up this contest, in which the winner receives a grand redeemable in cash or cigarettes. JK, just cash -- no smokes (otherwise a failsafe behind-bars bargaining device). The inaugural winner was a 19-year-old convicted murderer.

Prison: Laganta
City: Nairobi, Kenya
Title: None, offically, but maybe "Miss Prison - Africa" as it's the only contest on the continent?
The Prize: Rehabilitation program to beauty school
The winner of this contest held in Kenya’s largest women’s prison not only gets made up to look like a beauty queen, but then learns how to make others up as part of her prize, presumably so she can start a more-legitimate career once on the outside. Unfortunately, it did not do their first winner much good as she’s the only Prison Title Holder to hail from Death Row.

Prison: Penal Labour Colony
City: Panevezys , Lithuania
Title: Miss Captivity
The Prize:  $1,150, once she loses the "captivity" part
Created by a local television station to spruce up ratings during TV's summer doldrums, contestants undergo two weeks of intensive training that includes heel-walking, dress fittings, singing rehearsals, makeup consultations, and, obviously, psychological exams. They also compete in two bikini contests – one fur-lined, one leather, of course – wearing knee-high boots. Needless to say, 2/3 of Lithuania tunes in. Turned on? Inmates are allowed three overnight visitors a year, but you’re responsible for the $5 overnight fee.

Prison: Penal Colony #10
City: Primorsky, Russia
Title: Miss Spring
The Prize: Being the prettiest girl in all of Penal Colony #10
Because Russia is the kind of place with enough criminals and frozen wasteland they can devote entire regions to just BEING prisons, the 1,220 ladies who comprise the 10 clinks in this region near the North Korean border compete for the title. But don’t go signing up to be pen pals with last year’s inaugural winner; she won’t be eligible for parole until 2020.

Prison: UF 91/1
City: Siberia
Title: Miss Spring (Runners up: Miss Charm and Miss Grace)
The Prize: Momentary joy while you're living in Siberia
The women of a respective cell block spend weeks creating costumes for their pageant representatives, each of whom gets a theme like "Flower Gown" or "Greek Goddess". Then, prison guards and unit chiefs pick the Top 9 to compete wearing “Imaginary Uniforms” (which isn't nearly as awesome a euphemism as it sounds) and contestants model their self-designed prison uniforms of the future. 

Prison: Buen Pastor (Good Shepard) Women’s Prison
City: Bogota, Colombia
Title: Reina Madre (Queen Mother)
The Prize: Nationally televised Colombian fame
Held on a holiday to honor the Virgin Mercedes – the patron saint of prisoners –  this contest combines two of Colombia’s biggest passions: beauty pageants and drug trafficking. Most of the women at Buen Pastor are there for moving narcotics, and each cell block nominates a representative to compete in the prison’s giant atrium in front of a nationally-televised audience. The pageant is judged by TV personalities, soccer stars, military leaders, and other celebrities, then followed by a giant masquerade ball, which the prison staff surprisingly describes as “the most peaceful time of the year”.

Prison: Women’s Prison of Santa Monica
City: Lima, Peru
Title: None, but could be "Miss Incarcerated Universe". Most inmates (and winners) are internationals held on drug trafficking charges.
The Prize: Nothing. Not even a court date, as 794 of 927 inmates are still awaiting trial.
This hotbed of the drug trade has attracted women from all over the world looking to make a quick buck, then getting all "Brokedown Palaced" at the airport. Winners have hailed form Dominica, Thailand, Holland, among other nations, and are required to be on good behavior, attend therapy, and take classes in cosmetology, drawing, and fabric painting before being allowed to compete. 

Prison: Santa Teresa Prison
City: Guatemala City, Guatemala
Title: None
The Prize: None. With only 135 inmates who can afford it?
Even though they're working from a small talent pool, the entire inmate population of Santa Teresa turns out (along with invited friends and family) for this annual pageant held to commemorate “International Day of the Inmate”. Contestants compete in ankle-high leather stiletto spike boots, which might be used as weapons if the judges weren’t all prison authorities.

Prison: Talavera Bruce Prison
City: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Title: Miss Prisoner
The Prize: None
Imagine relaxing in a chair on a warm day in Rio and watching beautiful women parade by in cutoff denim shorts, flowing beach skirts, and long elegant dresses. Then imagine they’ve all killed someone. That’s pretty much what you’re getting at this women’s facility located not TOO far from the beach at Ipanema, where the ladies live 20-30 to a cell.

Prison: Capital Women’s Penitentiary
City: Sao Paolo
Title: Miss Penitentiary
The Prize: $160
Nothing makes people forget the most notorious and bloody prison rebellion in your country’s history than girls in pretty dresses and tiaras, right? RIGHT!? Well, that’s the hope at this Brazilian lockup just a few blocks from Carandiru, where 111 prisoners were killed in 1992. Here, the region’s female inmates – who number about 4,000 – select their best and brightest to compete in categories like beauty, writing, public speaking, and congeniality. A modeling agency culls the field to 12, who are then judged by celebrities, journalists, and soccer stars like Grafite.