Most beauty pageants feature women who have talents like baton-twirling, singing, or dancing. But at the pageant held in Rio de Janeiro last week, talents may include drug trafficking, grand theft auto, or cargo theft. This is because it was held at the Talavera Bruce detention facility, and the contestants were the female inmates who were serving time there.

Ten inmates were selected to participate in the contest. They were given gowns, jewelry, and high-heel shoes. Their hair and makeup were done, and they smiled and chatted excitedly with one another as they prepared to walk outside to the tent set up for the event and compete for the title of “Miss Talavera Bruce.”

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The women’s effervescence and brightly colored gowns seem out of place inside the drab, gloomy prison walls. Their tattoo sleeves contrast sharply with their formal appearance, reminding the viewer that unlike most beauty contestants, they have a difficult past.

According to the Daily Mail, the facility is known for fighting and riots, but this fact and the women’s pasts are left behind as they strike poses.

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But this was the goal of the event— to help them to step outside of their role of a prison inmate, even just for a few hours, and to boost morale and self-esteem. According to BuzzFeed News, the prison director, Janaina Fernandes, said:

“This is important to rebuild their self-esteem, so that they understand this place is not just to serve time, but it also has the objective of rebuilding and resocializing.”

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The women walked into the tented area and onto a catwalk amid cheers from a crowd consisting of the 440 inmates at the facility and their family members.


The winner for 2017 was 29-year-old Mayana Alves. According to the Daily Mail, she was wanted for cargo theft and had seven arrest warrants by the time she was arrested in 2015.

According to BuzzFeed News, Alves said:

“Everyone is very happy to be with their family. I feel nervous and at the same time, happy.”

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To present the title was last year’s winner, 28-year-old Michelle Rangel, who was incarcerated for drug trafficking.

She said, according to BuzzFeed:

“I can’t even explain what I feel. Even though I am imprisoned and this is jail, during this moment, I don’t feel like I am in jail — like I am imprisoned. My soul is free.”

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Alves was happy that she won but also couldn’t help but feel a little sad.

Alves said:

“I just wished I had also won freedom as well… I would have taken my sash with me out here.”

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For prizes, inmates could also win a fan, a blow dryer, or a hair straightener. But it gave the women something more: a sense of their own humanity.

You can watch the Daily Mail’s video of the event below:

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Female Inmates Were Selected to Leave Their Facility. Then They Found Themselves Walking Down Catwalk

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