Metamorphosis of a prison: in Volterra the jail becomes a cultural space

by Simo Capecchi from Volterra, Italy

At the entrance of Volterra state prison you can tell something unusual is going on. Tourists see people queuing to enter in the Medicean Fortress and try to join them. But to get in it’s not so easy! In fact we applied for a permission weeks ago to see Santo Genet (see the trailer here), the new performance by the Compagnia della Fortezza, a theatre company that involves more than 70 prisoners with the direction of Armando Punzo and that celebrates its 25th anniversary of activity.  “Santo Genet” show is based on a collage of Jean Genet plays, essays and diaries. 

Sketching was not easy at all, packed as we were, all of us moving from small prison cells to the main courtyard in a kaleidoscope of actors that performed simultaneously. I probably missed a large part of the show. On the other hand, the public could have a face to face relation with the actors/prisoners, an experience that can’t be easily forgotten.

I keep on believing that the community of artists should unite and open up to the sensitive people and all together should work to create dreams behind the times. I cannot see any other possibilty to get out of this condition of alienation and conformity”  says Armando Punzo here.

I’m not qualified to discuss the theatrical aspects of the show but what has been evident to all the audience that entered into the jail as inside a theatre, is the amazing opera that Punzo has accomplished during 25 years of work with such a large group of prisoners, prison guards and with all the prison’s staff. A metamorphosis of a place of suffering and mortification into a place where dialogue and culture is possible and where eventually a human being can have another chance. An utopia that I would certainly subscribe, a virtuous example for other prisons.

Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has condemned Italy for inhumane and degrading treatment for detaining prisoners in crammed cells, and the Permanent Observatory on Prison Deaths reported that inmate suicides in Italy are 20 times that of the general population.

I am so grateful to the Volterra Teatro Festival that included officially our 5° Urban Sketchers Workshop in their program. More drawings of mine here. Photos of our four days of hard work and sketching in “impossible” conditions with a group of ten brave sketchers, here.

In italian, on Simo Capecchi’s blog

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