Meet Meike, our production manager in Peru

Meike Mickisch has been as the Carcel production and design manager of our first facility in a women's prison just outside of Cusco since March. Meike has the coolest attitude, a bad ass talent and a fantastic understated, German sense of humor, and we're simply blessed to have her. Here is her own story and pictures from her life in and outside of prison.

I have been in Cusco for three months. During this time here I didn’t only get to know the city - but a prison right next to it and the women who are incarcerated there. Before my arrival I thought a lot about what is to come, obviously. I was curious, sometimes anxious, how I would get along with the women, and if I could guide them doing work in which I myself am not yet an expert. I mean… me, a country far away, a prison, and a bunch of to this date unknown women… :)

Long story short: The women are fantastic. It gives me a lot of joy to work with them (and I dare to say that the feeling is mutual), their enthusiasm, humor and honesty is refreshing and inspiring.
Especially over the past few weeks we connected. Now you can feel how we are growing as a team. That makes work way more rewarding - and of course helps to produce the clothes more efficiently. I will just give you a little inside of a normal „prison day“ here in Cusco.

A normal working day starts around 8 am. Me and the team in Copenhagen talk almost every morning, that is around tea time in Europe. There is a lot to organize, to discuss and to figure out. And yes: the production in prison needs a little bit more preparation, a little bit more communication and patience than in a “usual” working place perhaps.

After talking to Copenhagen, I will leave the house around 9. The little house I share with three others (and a cat, Amalia) is situated in the beautiful historic center of Cusco. Cusco is fantastic especially in the mornings. It’s still freezing, the air is clear, everybody seems to walk a little faster to get their systems to heat up. Kids in their uniforms get picked up for school. I usually stop by my favourite market. Here you can buy flowers, fresh regional fruits and vegetables. It stimulates every sense plus you get cheap and fresh breakfasts; the juices there are my favourite way to get myself started, sitting on a little bench, just watching the sales ladies doing their thing.

Before heading to prison I often need to get stuff done in the city. Buy new material, organise this and that, send samples to Denmark. It helped me to get to know the place pretty well pretty quickly. Cusco is small, but you can find a lot of beautiful and special places here. From Yogatemples, nice little Plazas, every kind of food, coffee stores, small ateliers, Ayahuasca treatment centers... A lot of places where you can escape from the street dogs, the crowded and very touristic life of the inner city and its honking cars. 

If I really need to get out, well, I get out. One of Cusco’s biggest benefits is the nature surrounding it. The Sacred Valley e.g. is really nearby. You just hop on a bus, pay 1.20 Euro, and after a short while will be left in awe about the landscapes awaiting you.

But back to my working day. After my little city tour, I will leave to prison, it’s out of town, near the next higher mountains. I like driving there. I just stare out of the window, so much to observe in the sometimes absurd Cusco street life. It takes me half an hour to get there.

I know the security guards by now. The still pretend sometimes that they don’t know me though. I never know what to expect. Sometimes they’ll stop me for quite some minutes for security check without acknowledging that they see me every other day, sometimes they greet and joke and let me pass.The guards are in general really friendly and the inmates have a good relationship with them.

During the day, I‘m helping the girls as much as I can. I try to teach them some new stuff about how to produce clothing but also about how to organise production. And of course, there are always little things that need to be solved.

The atmosphere in the working space is friendly and the girls are making a lot of jokes among themselves, while they are working and singing along to their little radios. You sometimes forget that you are in a prison. But there will be reminders.

There is a lot to do and the girls are highly motivated and work hard. They have improved so much during the last months and the Kickstarter order is almost finished. The women who work for CARCEL are the only ones who will stay at the working space during lunch. If they want, they can leave, but the team prefers to stay and eat together on a huge table that they prepare during lunchbreak.

I often stay with them, listen to their stories, how they giggle about other girls, gossiping. Even if it is not allowed to cook in the working space, the girls always find something to prepare besides the boring prison food. Actually, I don’t think the prison snacks are that bad, I like the roasted nuts from Teo. I stay until the afternoon.

After work I often prepare things for the next day and talk to the production manager in Cusco. Perhaps some more juice! I guess that’s how a normal working day looks for me in Cusco.