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Beauty pageants are so popular in Colombia that they’re even held in maximum security prisons.

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epa03885580 Prisoners participate during celebrations of the day of Virgin of Las Mercedes at El Buen Pastor, the main women penitentiary center in Colombia, located in Bogota, Colombia, 26 September 2013. Prisoners celebrate with music the day of the patron saint of imprisioned, a religious and cultural activity which helps in their social recovery. Tomorrow they will elect a queen of the festival. EPA/MAURICIO DUENAS CASTANEDA

Inmates at El Buen Pastor Prison, aka “The Good Shepherd,” in Bogotá, Colombia compete in an annual beauty pageant. El Buen Pastor is huge and notoriously dangerous, being filled with murderers and cartel members. However, it also hosts the beauty pageant without fail every year.

There are 7 sectors in the prison, which each one containing between 100-250 women. Each of these 7 prison sectors nominates a representative to compete for the title. The pageant itself takes place over two days. The women dress-up and engage in several rounds of the competition, including evening gown and fantasy costume.

If this sounds like a small affair, you’re wrong. In Columbia it’s a huge event. The prison beauty pageant is even televised nationally. Well known TV stars and sports personalities are invited to be the judges, think the Kim Kardashians and Tom Bradys of Columbia. Afterward, the entire prison gets to participate in a huge masquerade ball.  

Beauty is a major obsession in Colombia. Cosmetics companies and spas thrive, so it’s no surprise that Colombia is home to a growing number of beauty pageants each year. But the country’s prison population is growing as well. In 2016, Colombia’s prison population was over 118,000 and more than 6% of that population is women. But just because the women are behind bars doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to feel beautiful.

Prison chief Nancy Perez Gonzalez believes it allows the inmates to disconnect from their legal circumstances for even just a moment. The pageant also creates a sense of community amongst the inmates, with all the women gathering to cheer each other on. She told Adelaide Now, “It’s important for the girl because it breaks their monotony. Not Just the two days, but all the lead up”

Incredibly, the beauty pageant in the prison is one of its oldest traditions. In fact, it’s older than many of the inmates. The first ever pageant took place 32 years ago and has been kept alive by the inmates ever since. The inmates organize all aspects of the competition, requesting the materials from the guards, with only the judges and the media coverage organized by professionals.

If you didn’t know better, you could swear that you were looking at pictures of an everyday free-world beauty pageant. From bouquets to tiaras, everything that you would normally expect to find is present.

It isn’t just confined to El Buen Pastor. There are female beauty contests taking place across the world. From Kenya to Siberian Russia, they’re taking off like never before. However, the capital for women’s prison beauty pageants is definitely still South America, with nearly every nation in the continent hosting contests.

While the only prize for winning the El Buen Pastor pageant is the glory of being on Columbian TV, some of the other prisons have decided to hand out actual tangible rewards. For example, Bom Patson Women’s Prison in Brazil and Panevezys Prison in Lithuania give $10,00 and $1,500 dollars to the winners, which of course is only usable once the winner is freed. However, the strangest of all the prison prizes must be the one from Laganta Prison in Kenya, which offers a rehab program that will take the lucky lady to beauty school.

Did you realize that prison systems across the world knew how to have so much fun?

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