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“In prison you have to face your conscience, you can make your life better or worse”. Antonio is serving his time in prison for a murder: when he was twenty, he took part in a fight with some young boys and he ended up behind bars. Nevertheless, he did not give up, he did not let his life fade in a cell and he made his time in prison an occasion. Officina Giotto gave him that occasion. Officina Giotto is a social cooperative that opens a path of hope thanks to work for those who made mistakes in their lives.

Dostoevskij said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons”, if this is true, Padua may reassure Italy. Nevertheless, the work Nicola Boscoletto – president of the association – is running is just one of the few exceptions for a country that was condemned by Strasburg in 2013 for the overcrowding of prisons”.

Officina Giotto is very rare but it should be present in every prison. The Catholic University of Milan studied its work and it became an example for the USA, Brazil and Germany. “From this point of view, we have a lot to learn from you,” said Luiz Carlos Rezende E Santos, magistrate of Belo Horizonte, during a conference in Regina Coeli in Rome, on May 20th. “What you do is simply amazing. We are trying to spread your experience in the States,” said the sheriff Dart of Chicago in a video message.

Hence, in Padua, they try to recover prisoners letting them work in order to give them their dignity back. These people are encouraged to create an image of themselves they can be proud of, one that is opposite to the criminal one they had created up to that moment in their life. In 2014, 175 people worked in Officina Giotto, 140 of them were prisoners – 16% of the population of the penitentiary institute. 56% of them had to serve terms of imprisonment of 10 to 30 years, and 16% of them were life sentenced. This is a slap to those who think that social peace is built adding pain to pain and does not accept “repentance” and “forgiveness”.

“When I understood what I had done, I felt death inside me” told Francesco, who ended up in prison for murder when he was 17. Now, he is in charge of building bicycles in the prison of Due Palazzi. “Ask me what happened precisely, what he said to make me angry, I am not able to tell you – he explains – I became aware of it when I was going back home, I was thinking to my pregnant girlfriend, to my gone father, and to me being the eldest of my brothers. I destroyed everything, I am speechless”. He is another young prisoner who got the chance to start again in Padua. “When a product you did is commercialized and when people buy it happily, well, that is priceless satisfaction. When you see someone riding a bike, you feel like you were there pushing it”.

Paola Severino, Minister of Justice of Monti Government said, “It is necessary that enterprises get to know these opportunities, and that they have the necessary tools to operate in prisons without disadvantages”. What breaks the chains behind the bars in Padua is that prisoners are given trust and an occasion to work and learn to love themselves, this is a key passage to return to the society renewed and responsible people. “I get out of my cell at 8.30am and I am not a prisoner, I am a worker. I got my dignity back – tells another prisoner – and I can send the money to my family. I do it for my kids, and to challenge myself. Those I met here discovered a person behind the crime”.

Translation provided by Mary Ann D’Costa

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