FROM THE REPORTER IN MANTOVA. In the heat of the most torrid summer in history, the public of Mantua shakes distributed cardboard shovels to get air in the courtyard of Palazzo Ducale and Luigi Manconi immediately uses the improvised fans to circulate the idea, moreover, the smell, « of that mass of bodies stuck together, superimposed, mixed in their effluvia and miasmas that make prison, the great removed of society”. People retreat onto the blue plastic chairs, an imperceptible suction that moves everyone one centimeter higher and one further back, as if to stand on the barrier of words deliberately fired in a burst and interlocking by Manconi: «terrible forced promiscuity – congestion of limbs – intersection of flows and moods – set of human activities of brutalized bodies». The images stick to each other, like Lego bricks and the rejection is instantaneous, unfiltered, immediate and involuntary but evident. Suddenly “Beyond Bars” is not just the title of a debate but a real presence that looms, the same one that society wants to ignore.
Speaking about it are the sociologist, politician and former university professor Manconi, who has long been an authoritative voice on the topic of prisoners’ rights and the cartoonist Zerocalcare who lives 100 meters from Rebibbia and has written about prison and prison and all the closed space that surrounds it environment. Together they seek an impossible path that Michele Rech himself, aka Zerocalcare, defines as impracticable: «I receive delusional messages from lawyers, so I wonder how it is possible for people who have studied law to promote torture, there is something that gets stuck somewhere. What is more complicated is finding a way that brings political consensus, now science fiction, and popular interest with respect to the desire to decongest prisons. People considering emptying them. My audience is now aligned, the Nazis only read me in secret, yet in that largely progressive percentage the topic of prison was mentioned only to say that it was the ideal place for Berlusconi. Stop. Now they no longer mention him, Berlusconi and therefore not even prison.”
Moreover, even Zerocalcare struggles to deal with the physicality of this dilapidated institution: «Those who grew up in Rebibbia are addicted to this moloch that spreads in Rome up to San Basilio: it is a citadel, on the one hand those who live there lives the work done by the many warders, on the other hand a unique humanity teems. The people who gather at the Pratone, the only point where you can see part of the women’s prisons, there are people who come from very far away and wait, there are those who embark for the journey late at night because they have to be there very early . You only see what happens beyond the walls in case of riots with black smoke and sirens, otherwise it remains in the background. Hidden”.
A mammoth system within which we move according to the rules of Lilliput, lowering and diminishing words and dignity up to the level of childhood which definitively dismembers the adult person and takes away autonomy while the prisoner is inside, but also responsibility when that same human being will be outside, as Manconi explains with another barrage of Lego bricks that are lined up on top of each other in an instant: «The words that are used and exchanged are decisive. Inside the prison, the relationships between inmates and custodians, between inmates and authorities, the requests, the requests refer to the “question”, which corresponds to a text with a facsimile, the cleaner is called a toilet brush, the person in charge of expense, Spesino, the cellmate Concellino, their conversations are dominated by a childish and endearing dimension that establishes minority, devoid of independence”.
Other cautious centimeters of collective recoil and despite the fact that an hour has now passed since the start of the meeting they are all standing straight, clinging to bags and backpacks, uncomfortable, with their hands under their butts, as if together there was a disgusted participation and a withdrawal plastic. Prison scares, distances, Zerocalcare would like it to be “transparent because if the ugliness were visible perhaps we couldn’t ignore them so easily”. And on this evening it is impossible to do so, but the opposite remains inconceivable as well, glued with our backs to the blue plastic, upright, in defense of a space that comes between us and what we have heard. The doubt swirls while the physicist reacts as he can, as he knows: he automatically rejects. It’s time to get up, Manconi throws out more numbers like knives stuck in the exit door, “Now, right now there are 19 children aged 0 to 3 years old imprisoned with their mothers, absolute innocents.” Zerocalcare searches the phone for thematic advice, films to see, books to read, even if the photo of what there is to understand is right here, in Palazzo Ducale, in Mantua, inside the serene Literature Festival, in the centimeters that a interested public digs between themselves and prison, people seeking distance from the words they have paid for. They are worth the full price of the ticket but that doesn’t mean you know where to put them.