PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru (AP) — Prisoners convicted of crimes like robbery and drug trafficking at a prison in the Peruvian Amazon are using their time behind bars to build simple wooden chairs that indigenous leaders will use while meeting with Pope Francis.
More than a hundred inmates were commissioned by the Catholic Church to build 350 chairs that will be placed inside a coliseum in Puerto Maldonado, a gateway into the Amazon rainforest that Francis is scheduled to visit on Friday.
"We are paying for the bad we did," said Sergio Curay, 48, who is serving nine years for aggravated robbery. "We hope the pope will forgive us."
The chairs constructed in a prison woodworking shop have four thin legs and a back with an hourglass-shaped decoration. They're made of wood from Amazon forests where illegal gold mining and deforestation threaten the delicate ecosystem.
During his trip to the Amazon, Francis is expected to meet with indigenous leaders traveling from as far away as Brazil and Bolivia. The pontiff has spoken about the importance of protecting the Amazon in the past, referring to the world's largest rainforest as one of the "lungs of our planet" in a letter to bishops.