Brazilian prisoners vote for Miss Penitentiary 2005

South America's latest beauty queen won't be campaigning abroad for world peace any time soon, unless of course she's granted early parole. Angelica Macua, a statuesque Angolan serving five years on international drug smuggling charges, on Thursday was voted Miss Penitentiary 2005 after a six-hour contest pitting 40 women inmates from 10 prisons around Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo.

"People told me, 'you're tall, you should enter the contest,' so that's why I entered," Macua said. "I've always been interested in fashion." The women, serving sentences for everything from armed robbery to drug trafficking, took part in the contest that prison officials began last year as a way of trying to boost inmates' self confidence. "It helps their self esteem," said Irani Torres, director of a prison in the city of Rio Claro. "It helps them feel human. It shows that they're capable people, that independent of the crime, they are a part of society." The title also brings a 350-real (US$160, Ђ135) prize and a much-needed break from dreary routine.

The sweltering heat inside the Carandiru women's detention center Thursday was only made worse by the dozens of hair dryers working overtime. But anxious contestants did not seem to mind. Another contestant, Caroline Goncalves, said before the final vote that she hoped a victory could launch her modeling career. But she also said she'd be satisfied if she could shave some time off her prison sentence.

Last year's winner, Fernanda Maria de Jesus, gained early release months after her victory, but prison officials insist the shortened sentence had nothing to do with her winning the title. The contest is more than just a beauty pageant. Judges include celebrities, soccer players and journalists, and there are prizes in three other categories including writing, public speaking and congeniality.

But one of the contestants in the writing competition, 23-year-old Viviane Souza, complained that the beauty pageant winner gets all the attention, including appearances on television shows. "Last year they just showed the beauty contest winner. Why not show the ones who wrote, the ones who used their minds?" asked Souza, who hopes to become a journalist when she finishes her 21-month sentence for drug dealing. Even so, many were glad for the chance to let their hair down, or to fix it up.

"I'm not bothered by the attention the beauty contest (winner) receives," said Maria Aparecida de Almeida, 39. "She is raising the banner for all of us. She's a prisoner and she managed to make it. She helps all of us." Peru and Colombia also hold beauty contests in prisons. Sao Paulo's is one of the largest, drawing from its female population of almost 4,000 inmates, reports the AP. N.U.

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