Maryland Blogger Alliance

Alliance FAQs

Latest MBA Posts

March 14, 2005

Italian prisoner rehabilitation

Generally speaking, rehabilitation of prisoners is not for government; it's for religion. The exception to my rule is rehabilitation through work. In the federal prison system, the work programs have had some success in reducing recidivism -- especially Federal Prison Industries, which is a program allowing inmates to work in what are essentially factories to produce furniture and other goods.

The Washington Post now tells us what the Italians are up to. Some prisoners are working in the vineyards making wine. As skeptical as I am of rehabilitative programs in prison, this actually sounds like it might be a good idea. But if you read down to the end of the article, the rehabilitative programs take an odd turn -- into a poetry society for the inmates.

At San Vittore prison in Milan, for instance, some inmates are organized into a poetry society. They publish their works on their own Web site as well as in a magazine called Two, after the prison's address, 2 Piazza Filangeli. Getting "sent to No. 2" is slang for ending up in San Vittore, one of the old-style Italian prisons with closet-size cells designed for two inmates but often holding three. "Getting out of the cells is one reason to write poetry," said Francesco Ghelardini, a convicted bank robber. "It would be crazy to think that everyone is going to take us seriously. This is a way for us to pass the time."

Ghelardini, in a poem he titled "Mezzobusto," which means a head-and-shoulders portrait, expresses the frustration of seeing his girlfriend on visiting days only from the bust up, across a table and separated by a window:

Patrizia, my lady,
for years became a body
from the bust on up

And every time our visits ended
I'd imagine her
In my mind, whole

You just can't make this stuff up. Well, on second thoughts, maybe you can. Saturday Night Live did it back in the 80s, when Norman Mailer was championing ol' Jack Henry Abbott. SNL ran a short movie featuring prisoners who were becoming writers. Eddie Murphy did a fantastic bit as Tyrone Green, a prisoner who declaimed the following poem:
Dark and lonely on a summer's night
Kill my landlord
Kill my landlord
Watchdog barking
Do he bite?
Kill my landlord
Kill my landlord
Slip in his window
Break his neck
Then his house
I start to wreck
Got no reason
What the heck
Kill my landlord
Kill my landlord
my land-lord
Sometimes life actually does imitate comedy.