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“Sisters-In-Law” of Brazilian Prisoners Going Viral on TikTok

by Jo Ellen Nott

The wives and girlfriends of some 8,500 Brazilian prisoners are finding fame and fortune with “sister-in-law” videos that have gone viral on the TikTok social media app. The videos offer a window into the harsh reality of life in Brazil’s prisons, where overcrowding and violence are widespread as the number of prisoners has tripled from a low of 200,000 at the turn of the century to over 900,000 now. The reason for the jump was a 2006 anti-drug law which punishes traffickers and consumers equally.   

Organized crime is deeply entrenched in Brazil's prisons, and the PCC, the country’s most powerful criminal group, often controls the flow of goods and services within prisons. Its control is so complete that it was able to organize visitor lines during the COVID-19 pandemic using the Telegram app.  It was also PCC that adopted the term “sister-in-law” to describe the wife or girlfriend of a prisoner.

Sociologist Fernanda Naiara Lobato, who researches the phenomenon of sisters-in-law on TikTok, notes that the videos provide useful information about prison life, such as how to pack a “jumbo” – a transparent bag containing food and other items that visitors can bring to prisoners – or how to charge an electronic ankle monitor. Lobato also says the videos serve to soften the stigma surrounding being in prison, building a sense of community among the women.

These TikTok videos are found with the hashtags #PrisonWife (#mulherdepreso in Portuguese) or #ReleaseThePrisonerMrJudge (#soltaopresoseujuiz). In these, sisters-in-law show a sexy outfit they would like to wear on a visit that is not allowed, or they show a bra and perfume they will wear for the next conjugal visit – which is allowed in Brazil.

The videos appeal to the average person’s curiosity about prison life and its affect on loved ones. You can find a video about the amount of money and time it requires to make a weekly visit a reality, as well as tips on ankle monitors or a “jumbo.”

The TikTok sisters-in-law do not report human rights violations, nor do they talk very much about their peers. They do not ask or tell what anyone’s partner is in jail for. “It is considered offensive,” according to Lobato, who added that “prison codes are not violated inside or outside prisons because it is not free.”

An interesting side bar to the popularity of sisters-in-law TikTok is that – much like the larger internet universe – the most successful sister-in-law influencers tend to be light-skinned with straight hair. Most Brazilian prisoners are Black or of mixed race. 


Source: El Pais

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