A couple of months ago, during one of the events organised by the sceptic association I volunteer for, one of our guests invited my partner and me to attend a stage performance inside our town’s prison, where she works as an educator1.

The prison is one of several jails in Italy where medium and high-security inmates serve time, and it has both a male and a female section.

She mentioned that a local, but well know stage writer and director has been cooperating with the jail and has formed a theatre company inside the prison, as part of the rehabilitation program there.

My partner and I decided to go, and I am pleased that we did, as it was an eye-opening, instructive experience.

I have seen the prison complex from the outside many times: it is just outside of town, near one of the main roads. From the outside, it looks like a big brown box with its tall walls with no windows; inside, however, it’s like walking into a suburb: several buildings separated from small roads, whit the windows lights on, clothing hanged to dry and voices coming from each window. There even is a small communal park, and cars are driving around (belonging to the penitentiary police, we found out).

The auditorium is very basic, but the writer/director managed to use it well by only having on stage the bare minimum amount of props, letting people focus on the actresses.

The all-women company was great: the performance of the actresses was moving, convincing, and overall very good. The drama was exceptionally well written, straight to the point and striking: a set of monologues in which each character recounts the circumstances that made her end up in prison. What I loved about it is that you’d never hear what they did, as the stories were all focused on the challenges they had to face in life. Hearing the stories from this point of view, in that setting and those circumstances, allowed me to leave the place aware of how privileged I have been with my happy childhood, and left my heart filled with sympathy and compassion.

When my partner and I realised there would be more performances like this, by the same author and with the same actresses, we immediately agreed to see them again, and so we did last night, for another striking, thought-provoking performance.

One particular moment stood out for me: one of the characters tells the story of how she has always lived to look pretty, then turns around to face the audience and asks: “And you? What do you live for?”

This experience has given me a lot to think about and has left me wanting to see more and visit again, and I will no doubt keep up with the new events in the new year.

  1. The Italian Constitution dictates that detention in prison has the aim of rehabilitating inmates and prepare them to go back to society as law-abiding citizens.