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By the BBC's Steve Rosenberg
Profits from the fashion business help keep the prisoners fed
 real 56k

Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Russian prisoners take online orders

The prison is hoping for a financial lifeline
By Steve Rosenberg in Ivanovo

It is not exactly haute couture, but if you are looking for a Russian uniform then look no further.

A workshop near the town of Ivanovo makes almost everything you could possibly want, from jackets for road workers to top-of-the-range doctors' coats.

The cat walk might seem a little understated, but then the male models parading up and down it are not exactly kittens.

Prison chic

Take Vladimir for instance, who models the very latest in winter camouflage. He is currently serving 10 years for murder.

Russia's first ever prison web site contains full details of the stylish range of clothes stitched by the inmates

This clothes factory doubles as a maximum-security jail.

Like most Russian prisons, it is painfully under-funded. Profits from the fashion business help keep the prisoners fed, but only just.

After all, who wants to buy clothes from a place like this?

Now, however, the prison has come up with a pioneering way to promote its labels via the Internet!

Russia's first ever prison web site contains full details of the stylish range of clothes stitched by the inmates. Anyone can shop for khaki casuals from the freedom of their own home.

"By advertising our clothes on the web", says officer Vasily Golubev, "we'll be able to attract new customers and make enough money to survive".

Online lifeline

This prison is hoping that being on the net will offer it a financial lifeline - but, much more than that, it gives the inmates a chance to keep in touch with the outside world.

Prisoner Vyacheslav used to spend weeks waiting for replies to his letters. Now he makes use of the new emailing service for inmates.

Vladimir: Murderer turned model
He still needs a pen and paper, as convicts are not allowed near a computer.

Each word is painstakingly checked by prison censors and only then is the note whisked off to the prison office to be copied out and sent.

"The good thing about email", says Vyacheslav, "is that it helps me stay in contact with my family and makes me feel less isolated".

For Vyacheslav and the other prisoners, the internet may offer a form of escape.

For the prison, computers are providing at least some of the means to keep these men locked up.

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