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Stories of places and women that we don't see

Just like every other Venetian building, the prison is also imbued with history; lodged in an old cloister founded in the 12th century, shortly after 1600, it became a hospice run by nuns for “redeemed” prostitutes, or better said, for “women who converted to God from their lowness of their vices” – as reads the Latin inscription on the building’s façade.

In 1859, the Austrian government gave these merciful nuns the official task of running the women’s prison. And as a matter of fact, the Fondamenta delle Convertite leading to the prison, owes its name to these women, who joined the facility as guilty sinners. It was in 2015 that I first crossed the threshold into Giudecca’s House of Imprisonment for Women in Venice. You might think it’s a prisoner or former inmate writing these words, yet destiny has led me here as the co-founder and president of the Closer Association, which promotes cultural activities in socially-challenging contexts.
The person who welcomed me upon my first visit was Gabriella Straffi, the then director of the prison, who managed this facility and gave incarcerated women the chance to make the most of their sentence by working, studying, taking part in cultural projects, as well as adding value to any social gathering. Over time, dealing with conflicts became easier, as inmates were encouraged to take on responsibilities within the prison’s dynamics. Each room hosts 5 women, and the prison features a little more than 20 cells. There’s a kitchen, where everybody’s meals are prepared, a meeting room, workshops run by employment centres, a nursery, classrooms, a library and a theatre hall, where plenty of recreational activities take place: dancing, exercise, meetups with external guests invited by the associations. On Sunday afternoon, it becomes a discotheque. 

And it was in this hall that in spring of 2018, the Closer Association invited singer-songwriter and musician Jack Jaselli to join the Note Indisciplinate (“Disorderly Notes”) music project. 

It was a truly exciting moment that made me come to the realisation that by accepting my project Note Indisciplinate, director Gabriella Straffi’s administration had allowed me to open the prison’s doors and involve the external community in the re-education process. And involvement is the foundation of all of Closer’s projects. A term that though used and re-used by both researchers and poets, preserves its simplest meaning for Closer: cooperation. And cooperation goes hand in hand with another important concept: commitment. All citizens have to commit themselves to cooperate and give life to a virtuous, civil choreography.

I’m one of Closer’s founding partners, and I believe that the more we open the prison’s doors, the more the “free” society will peek inside. Within a prison, culture can claim its power to bring about openness and exchange. Access to culture should be considered as a mandatory rite of passage in a person’s path to responsibility. One of Closer’s goals is to offer cultural tools, because when access to culture has consequences that affect the public realm, responsibility itself is shared among both those who play an active role in the process (detainees) and those who play a – just apparently – passive role.

 

Nonostante tutto Lyrics (by Jack Jaselli)

Bisogna usare la filosofia e la sopportazione
Metter l’infinito dentro una canzone
e volare via di qua
Bisogna respirare la speranza in mezzo alla tempesta
come il profumo di un giorno di festa
che ricordi solo a metà

E non mi importa chi mi ha condannato
se il giudice, la sfiga o un destino sbagliato
voglio sapere che mi hai perdonato
ulrarti in faccia che tutto è cambiato

Lascia la porta aperta
dammi le ali che hanno messo via
la libertà non ha geografia
la libertà, qualunque cosa sia

Lascia la porta aperta
e tira fuori i sogni dal cassetto
che presto o tardi io torno da te
e ora so che un altro modo c’è

Si può provare ad essere felici anche per sottrazione
saper prendere a calci la disperazione
per resistere qua
Si impara in fretta che le spine fanno parte delle rose
esser leali al Dio delle piccole cose
spostare la tristezza un po’ più in là

E non mi importa chi mi ha condannato
se il giudice, la sfiga o un destino che ho amato
voglio sapere che mi hai perdonato
ulrarti in faccia che tutto è cambiato

Un viaggio, un figlio, una cena al ristorante,
la noia calda di una giornata come tante
il sesso, un odore portato dal vento
la libertà d’espressione, il senso del tempo

Guest Blogger: Giulia Ribaudo
published on 7/07/2021
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Giulia Ribaudo

Venice, 1990. Graduated in Philosophy (Ca 'Foscari, Venice). President of Closer. She has been involved in the prison sector for several years: since 2012 she has collaborated with Rio Terà dei Pensieri (Venice); in 2015 she did an internship at PREFACE, a training institution active in French prisons. He contributed to the conception and organization of De l'Ombre á la Lumière - projects carried out with people in detention, Bevilacqua Foundation. She worked for the Solidalia cooperative, collaborated with the Together Consortium, now he is HR for the Arsenalia group.

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