DURANGO, Mexico — Hipólito López never thought that he would learn a new trade in prison that would lead to his own business after incarceration.
“Polo” spent 12 years in prison at Beaumont, Texas, where he learned various crafts such as making paintbrushes, beadwork and saddlery.
“I learned this leather craft at the prison in the United States. I studied and worked for 12 years doing this at the prison,” López said.
In 1998, López was detained for marihuana trafficking and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Due to good behavior, he was released three years before the end of his sentence.
About four years ago, López was released and deported back to Durango, Mexico, his hometown, where he was reunited with his wife and his daughter. It was difficult for him to reintegrate into the community, but his biggest problem was finding a job.
“I tried looking for a job for a long time, but the economic crisis here in Mexico is bad and no one wanted to hire me. I worked in agriculture, planting chile and delivering tortillas, but that didn’t give me enough money to support my family,” López said.
Due to the lack of job opportunities in Mexico, López decided to open his own saddlery business and utilize the skills that he learned in prison to create crafts.
Saddlery is the making of articles or accessories out of leather. “With saddlery you can make belts, saddles, chaps, wallets and handbags,” said López.
Because López lives in a small community in Durango where ridding horses is a primary form of transportation, his most popular pieces are belts and chaps.
“My clients sometimes request personalized belts with their names or with a special design,” said López. The pieces that he creates are hand made with his own designs and every article is unique, authentic and of high quality.
“The only thing that I do by a machine is to sew, but the designs are made by hand,” he said.
Despite the short time that his saddlery business has been open, López has had plenty of orders and everyday his pieces are gaining recognition due to their originality and particular design. His work is enhanced by the high quality of the materials that are native to the Durango area.
López found out through some friends that he could qualify for help from the state government to establish his own business.
After a long process and multiple interviews, La Secretaria de Desarrollo Economico del Estado de Durango donated two special machines to help start his micro-enterprise. The machines he received are for sewing and to cut the leather that he utilizes to make different pieces.
“From 60 people, I was one of eight chosen and with that intention they donated the machines to me, so that I could generate employment for people living here in Durango,” said López
Besides the machines donated by the government, he has slowly bought other tools that are especially design for his job. “The only thing that was difficult to me was to find a couple of tools that they don’t sell here,” said López.
He had the good luck to obtain most of his tools from a friend, who also was in prison in the United States and who does saddlery and his shop is installed in a location that was loaned by one of his relatives.
López does not limit his dreams of managing his own business. His plans for the future include relocating his business to a larger city and renting a bigger place.
For the moment, he is the owner and only worker at the shop, but he is willing to share his knowledge about the craft. He said would like to give employment to people in his community and generate more sources of income.