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Thursday, 15 June, 2000, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Inmates wed in mass ceremony
Brazil's Carandiru prison
The prison is better known for unrest than romance
The brides wore white - the grooms wore prison trousers.

A mass wedding of 120 inmates has gone ahead at the largest prison in Brazil, after officials decided it could help the men's rehabilitation.

The event, at Carandiru jail in Sao Paulo, was organised by prison officers and local evangelical churches, who send dozens of volunteers into the notorious jail.

Today we marry 120 but we have a waiting list and would like to do more weddings

Prison official Paulo Braga
The brides, many of them wearing traditional gowns and veils, had to turn up at the prison two hours early to undergo body searches.

The grooms were allowed to dress for the occasion in jackets and ties - but had to complete the outfit with regulation beige prison trousers.

The prison's Cell Block 6 was converted into a church for the event.

"For us, this is social work," said Paulo Braga, an official who organised the event.

Evangelical

"Today, we marry 120 but we have a waiting list and would like to do more weddings."

The mass ceremony followed a concerted evangelical effort at the jail.

A total of 19 churches send volunteers into the prison, with an estimated 200 visitors a day taking part in the effort to turn the men away from their lives of crime.
Moonies mass wedding
Mass weddings are more often associated with the group known as the Moonies

Many of the inmates who got married had become Christians while in jail.

Some had even met their future spouses behind bars.

Others were formally tying the knot after years in relationships.

Celia da Silva married her long-time bank-robber partner Lenilson in a long white dress and rhinestone tiara lent to her by the church volunteers.

I love him. We don't yet know how long he will be here, but it could be years

Prison bride Celia da Silva
"I love him. We don't yet know how long he will be here, but it could be years," she said.

The couples will be allowed conjugal visits over the next few days to consumate their marriages.

"I know in my heart it is going to be a very special visit," said Mr da Silva.

Not the inmates were so lucky. Robson Emiliano said his girlfriend had refused a prison wedding.

Inmates killed

"She says if I really love her, I will marry her on the outside," he said.

"You can't imagine how sad I am that I'm not getting married today."

The jail houses 7,400 prisoners in a complex built for 3,600.

It was the scene of serious unrest in 1992, when 111 inmates were killed by police.

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See also:

15 Dec 98 | Americas
Inside Latin America's worst prison
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