Italy- Excerpts from letters from anarchist prisoners Mattia and Niccolò, arrested on 9th December 2013 along with Claudio and Chiara


From macerie via
Translated by act for freedom now


Mattia’s letter
[…] Even if we expected it, our transfer came like a thief in the night (only not so welcomed as the latter). It was about 5:30am, I was sleeping a very light sleep because on that day I had to attend a hearing in Milan but I didn’t know whether or not they would take me there, so I woke up as soon as I heard the spyhole of the armoured door opening. A guard turns out and says: ‘Zanotti get ready, you’re leaving in half an hour’. Convinced it was about the hearing I was waiting for I jumped off the bed happily.  I’d see friends I hadn’t seen for a long time and I’d be hanging out of the jail. Taking care of not disturbing my cellmate (who by the way wouldn’t even awake with gunfire), I had a wash, got dressed, sad down and had something to eat for breakfast. I was almost excited at the thought of my first journey that wouldn’t be the short drive from the Vallette prison to the court of Turin.
Then the spyhole opens up and a second guard asks me if I’m ready. I answer yes and ask if I can take my biscuits with me for the journey. The guard looks at me bewildered and says: ‘Maybe you don’t understand. You must take everything, you’re leaving’.
‘Leaving’: a world opens up to me as I hear this, memories of books and tales, a word I’d heard so many times and never caught its real meaning, but a word so clear now. ‘Leaving’: to leave a place (and no to know where one’s going, I add).

In a fragment of a second a thousand thoughts come to my mind. First of all: they awoke me and not my comrades in the next door cell, so they are taking us apart. What we feared is happening. I say to the guard that I haven’t packed my stuff because I thought I’d go to the court and not to another prison. The guard goes to his colleague to check the situation. As soon as I’m alone I bang at the wall to awake my neighbours. Claudio’s voice answers from the window. ‘They are moving me’. Silence. Then Claudio says something but I don’t catch him, ask him to say it again, and again I don’t catch him, and so it goes three times. As his voice is weak and sleepy and I’m agitated, I close the window. I’ve to get ready in a few minutes. I pack my stuff. My clothes are already packed. I fill a bag with my books, letters, and then I grab at random some food, my camp stove, toothbrush, toothpaste…
The guard is back: ‘Zanotti, first you go to the court and then to another prison’.
The neighbours bang at the wall. I go to the window and they tell me they too are being moved. I tell them the news: ‘First they take me to the court and then to another jail’. ‘Then maybe we’ll be brought together’. I close the window with some hope. I awake my cellmate shaking him with force. He grumbles, turns around, I shake him again, he turns around again. ‘Alessio! Alessio! Alessio!’ He opens his eyes frightened.
‘Alessio, they are moving me!’
‘So it wasn’t a dream!’
‘No Alessio, it isn’t a dream’.
I keep on packing while Alessio gets up, take hold of his beloved tobacco and rolls two cigarettes.
‘Let’s have the last cigarette together’, he says.
We don’t have time. The guards come to pick me up. We hug. He takes a pair of trousers from his wardrobe and gives it to me. ‘Take this, I mean it’. ‘But no, Alessio. You keep it, you’ve got few clothes’. ‘I insist’, he says. I take the trousers and I’m not ready enough to fish from my bag and pick a garment to give him. The guards open the armoured door, then the cell. We hug again and say goodbye for the last time.
When I think about it one of the things that makes me more angry is that I didn’t reciprocate his gesture. I feel like a stupid. Of course I was confused, in a hurry and whatever else, but for two months we have shared those 10 square metres, and laughed, argued, cried sometimes. They take you away like this, just the time for a hug, your eyes still blurred with sleep, a guard hurrying you.
Out of the cell I ask if I can say goodbye to my comrades before leaving. The guard agrees and opens the armoured door of their cell. Claudio rushes out and flings himself at me. He hugs me the same way as he climbs mountains, heartily and clumsily. Then I hug Nico. I hold my emotions as I think I might not see them again for a long time. I say to them: ‘Be strong, I mean it. Whatever happens, be strong’. Time to go. I take my bags on my shoulders, they are heavy. A guard offers to help but I refuse. I grit my teeth, straighten my back and go. I only stop to shake hands with two prisoners in the wing; awaken by the noises in the corridor, they reach out for me from the spyhole. Then the bureaucratic procedures, and off I go on the armoured vehicle. I’ve been awake for little more than half an hour, I’m heading to Milan and then I don’t know.
One who leaves knows what one is leaving but not what one is about to find.
These are my most vivid memories of the departure.
Nothing to say about the journey.  On advice of a friend (who loves puddings) I’ve got a toilet paper roll to rest my head.
So many thoughts in my head, I get some sleep in order to detach myself and find some balance.
We are near Milan when I wake up, we are entering the city southbound. I recognize the streets, the places, the environment.  For once I love Milan, I feel at home.
What can I say about the hearing… you were there too. It was so good to see you again. Already in the yard, as soon as I get out of the vehicle, a group of comrades perched on a windowsill start shouting and greeting.  I immediately realize from this welcome that it’s going to be a beautiful day. I shout: ‘I take a coffee and then go!’ The leader of the escort (a quiet guy nearing retirement) comments: ‘There, we’ve just arrived and insults are already raining’. ‘Next time bring an umbrella’, I say’. He’s not offended and I take advantage of this to ask him about my final destination. ‘Alessandria’, he answers but then he regrets this and adds he’s not sure, he’s waiting for confirmation, it could be another prison, ‘Ferrara maybe’, but it is pretty clear that it’s not like this. Then the wait in the security cells on the ground floor, a squalid place, a huge room full of prison guards, with two rows of small cells (a concrete bench and smooth walls) on both side. From there they take me directly to the courtroom, through the basement of the court in order to avoid ‘bad encounters’. It’s very funny, it looks like a labyrinth and the escort guards of the Vallette get lost, they even want to trace marks on the walls in order to find the way back!
I’m reminded of how beautiful you are (not that I had forgotten this!) and of how much I love you. My only fear is not to catch glimpse of someone. I’d like to be on more trials so that I can see more of you!
As for the public being expelled from the courtroom and the effects of this on the trial, I don’t care this time, but we must be more careful next time. As you know the judge wanted to move the trial in a bunker courtroom and I wouldn’t like this, first of all because I want to stay close to you as much as I can, at least during the hearings, and then because I don’t like to be at the centre of the attention and be like a star, after all my trial is not the only one. Certainly you have to be patient, the courtroom is small and the judge very touchy.
We’ll see…
Here I come to the last bit of this long day, the most painful one, also because of the fatigue accumulated after so many emotions.  I doze on the vehicle (sleeping in prison and in moments like this is good but you don’t have to overdo it or you’ll be overwhelmed) and we are in the middle of a snowstorm when I awake. If it wasn’t for the signs indicating we are near Alessandria, I’d think they’re taking me to a gulag in Siberia! I get to Alessandria at around 5pm. I knew the prison from outside very well because of the various demonstrations of the past years, but I’d have never wanted to know its inside. I’ve always found it a sad place even from the outside.
Once inside they take the handcuffs off me (on the armoured vehicle one travels in handcuffs), I take my bags and without even going to the registry a guard takes me directly to the wing. I go through a deserted prison, looks like an abandoned but clean hospital. Still carrying my bags I walk through empty corridors. I don’t see a living soul (I was to find out later that when a special prisoner passes by, all the other prisoners are locked in the cells in order to avoid making contact with him).
As soon as I get to the wing I see Nico looking out from an armoured door. He tells me that we can’t meet and that Claudio isn’t there (unfortunately I had already heard about Claudio when I was in court). This was the last time since I was taken here that Nico was able to talk to me directly.
Then they take me to the warehouse of the wing. They make me strip naked and body-search me, search my clothes and check carefully all the stuff in my bags. They tell me to choose the things I want to take to the cell and to leave the rest there. I prepare a bag with the things I want to leave there and put it on a shelf which has a label with my name. I recognize some surnames on other labels, the surnames of comrades locked up there whom I never met in person. Then I get out of that room and finally I meet them. They are just two: Gianluca and Ivano (the other two are in the cells because they are not allowed to do sociality). They are waiting for me behind a gate, an aseptic corridor behind them. The place looks like an infirmary. We say hello, I bring my things to the cell and they lock me up there but the armoured door stays open. The comrades bring me a hot pasta dish and we talk a bit. Tonight I’m not allowed to sociality but it’s all right, it has been a long day full of emotions and I’m very tired. I do my bed and start getting accustomed to the cell.
My first impression of this wing is pretty hard but I know I’ll feel better in a few days. It’s incredible how a man can adapt to certain spaces. After all, more than half of the world population live in metropolis, and this says a lot.
There, I’ve been trying to describe the day in a subjective and quick way but a truthful one too. There are many more things to be said […]
As for the substance (better or worse, happy or unhappy…) I don’t know what to say. It’s a very subjective question. Here we all have single cells, the cell is larger and better organized, the wing is quite and silent, there are only comrades and not snitches…
But the environment is extremely aseptic and sad, and the sunset a pale gleam behind a white plexiglass. All contributes to sense and love deprivation and pushes to introversion (and I’m saying this even if I’m a lover of solitude).
Claudio, Nicco, my cellmate Alessio and I used to spend hours cooking and eating, singing sometimes. In the yard we ran and joked, and I still have bruises on my feet from when we played football with a gas canister! Here you spend the sociality walking up and down the corridor and you eat alone because it is not allowed to enter others’ cells. In this way you lose appetite and the will to cook. Of course the Vallette was a limbo, everything was suspended, the armoured door was closed… but an entire world was around us, a word of different stories, some good and some bad, some contradictory and some ethically distant from us, but still stories of life. On the contrary here everything is certain, given, our ‘status’ is acknowledged and treated as such, and I don’t know what to say about my days all the same. I’ve got double time in the yard (on paper I have to share it with Nico as we can’t meet), but I don’t do much with it. I have the armoured door open but on an empty and silent corridor. I’m surrounded by good comrades but I’m hermetically isolated from the rest of the prison. Compared to this place the wing D of the Vallette was like a marketplace…
But one thing I learnt during my brief stay in prison: ‘better’ or ‘worse’ doesn’t really apply to prison. I’m not saying that a prison is worth another, I’m saying that there will always be a worse place, be it in the same prison you’re in or elsewhere. This is where awards and divisions between prisoners come from.
You can get an idea from the example of the armoured door I gave you before. We used to complain about the armoured door always closed at the Vallette, now the armoured door is open but there’s no improvement because there’s nothing to see outside the door.
Another example: the other day I was complaining about the plexiglass panels on the windows that prevent you from seeing outside and someone made me notice that there’s no of such panels in the prison of Ferrara, but there all you can see is a wall because the AS unit is on the ground floor. Do you understand what I mean?
Look, the delivering of letters seems to work better here as they are delivered more quickly but the censorship seems to be even stricter. You gain on one side and lose on the other.  . A categorical value judgement ‘better’ or ‘worse’ can only be made through a very subjective and relative exercise of calculation. The reality is that prison is shit, full stop. Then there are many nuances.
However if you want my opinion, these wings are real punitive concentration places that affect the individuals much more compared to social wings, and it’s not only a question of being separated from the rest of the prisoners but also something affecting the locked-up comrades’ ability of making relations.
Then it is not only architecture or a code of conduct that makes a place liveable, but also the vitality of the individuals ‘inhabiting’ it. So it is up to us to try to live it as best as we can without adapting to the status quo.
But this is another story..
I hug you,
Niccolò’s letter
7th February 2014, prison of San Michele (fucking hell, it never stops raining!)
[…] the day we were transferred we woke up with Mattia banging at the wall from the next door cell, so we opened the window and his candid voice said the magic good morning words: ‘Boys, I’m leaving’. At first we thought it was only him but then they came to communicate us we were being moved too. Mattia had also to attend a trial and he left immediately, we hugged him with the hope to see each other again in the evening. Only I would have the chance to see him again, but ‘see again’ is meant in a literal sense because it was only a glimpse behind bars, when I told him that the prosecutor was banning us from seeing each other. Mattia is right when he says that prison is really a stupid place: to be10 metres away from each other without being able to say hi and only begging for a smile when we go to the yard.
After Mattia’s departure from the Vallette, we start getting ready in cell 109. In just three months we have accumulated so many things that it’s not easy to share them because we have almost everything in common (except, of course, underwear, toothbrush, etc.)
[…] We had also established to sleep alternatively up or down, so as to mitigate the effects of sleeping on a bunk bed, so there’re also doubts on the ownership of blankets. A method to share things between us: each thing reminds us of a special time, emotion or loved person, whereas other things remind us of each other. Finally we pack all neutral things in bags, knowing that we’ll have to buy again half of that stuff. In fact transfers, and here I make a digression, are yet another economic burden, especially for those who have always shared everything and – as wanted by the ethical code of prisoners – give things to prisoners who remain in the wing or prison one’s leaving.  Moreover, each jail has its own rules, so it can happen that when you get to a new place some of your things are not accepted and you have to buy them again, besides having to refurnish your new cell of all the stuff useful to your everyday life.
Coming back to the transfer and the division of things, books are a separate chapter, big fight over the sacred texts (Balestrini, Benjamin, Ricciardi, etc.) while none of us wants to take big tomes […] Pietro, from the opposite cell, says that there’s just one armoured vehicle and this gives us hope, but as soon as we get in and are put in two different cells, the guards say that one of us is going to Alessandria and the other one to Ferrara. We should spend the last time together to tell each other beautiful and intelligent things, but it’s not easy and silence prevails. I don’t like goodbyes nor do I believe in epic sentences pronounced in the last minute. We had already told each other what we had to say, and the burden of being taken apart upsets and disorientates me.
When we get to Alessandria they don’t allow us to hug each other, so I pinch my comrade’s fingers through the bars of the cell, those strong and knobbly fingers of a mad climber, and we exchange all our love in that gesture.
First stage, the registry: they check all the stuff, things that are allowed in and things that aren’t allowed in. Some things, such as shoes, slippers and letters, go through X-ray, some other things are marked so that they don’t go over the allowed number (2 overalls, 2 bed sheets, 2 blankets, 1 camp stove, 3 pair of shoes etc…) I find it out that there are also limitations on the number of CDs (maximum 10) and pictures (maximum 6-8) that one can keep in the cell; and some special rules typical of the AS [high surveillance unit], such as not more than one razor blade and one gas canister per cell. The guard in charge of the registry is being helped by a prisoner worker, the only ‘social’ prisoner I’ve met so far. He comes from Ivory Coast and I manage to exchange a few words in French with him before wishing him goodbye, and I’ll never forget his name. Before taking me through the corridors, the guard calls his colleagues to check if there are other prisoners around. I have photos and fingerprints taken in another office, then I look at the snow outside and here is what comes out of my mouth: ‘A fine day to be transferred’. The female guard of the office says in a genuine and sincere voice: ‘Yes, snow makes everything pure’… big laughter, ‘Yes, of course!’
I get a second search in the wing, and finally they show me the cell. It’s larger than that of the Vallette and it’s a single one. Later I’ll find it out that it’s not to make you more comfortable but to limit contacts between prisoners. In fact, in the AS unit the two hours of sociality from 5pm to 7pm take place in the corridor under the eyes of guards and cameras. The yard is very small, max 10 X 10, and the walls have grills on the top. There’s a specific time to have a shower but it’s flexible. Lunch is at around midday and dinner at 4:30-4:45pm, just before sociality, which is a bit of a problem. It is impossible to eat or cook together, which risks affecting your nutrition and it’s discouraging for us, accustomed as we were to big banquets for big chefs.
They open the armoured door at 8am and close it at 11pm, and I go to the yard from 9am to 11am and from 1pm to 3pm… a shit timetable. In the yard there are a little room with weights, an exercise bike and a treadmill, and the ‘disco room’ with 1 small table, 1stool, 1 drying rack and the so much longed for tennis table.
Shopping can be made on Saturday for the following Monday, which mean we’ve been without shopping for 11 days. Goods seem a little more expensive than they are in Turin and maybe some food items (like fruit and vegetables) have recently gone up in price, but all in all the food is acceptable on average […]
The comrades welcomed us in the best way, and gave us everything we needed. Francesco entertains us with many tales of his life, decade-long prison wisdom. Gianluca from Rome, Ivano and I are forging a friendship and we have discussions on the world that surrounds us. We are very different from one another but this is a good point if we can make the best of it.
The differences between the normal units and the AS one abound, considering that I’ve only visited one normal unit, the N.G. (Nuovi Giunti) in Turin, which is a reality in its own, even if rich in challenges. Do you remember when I wrote to you that in Turin they hardly gave you anything? Here it’s the exact opposite, at least at first. I’m not saying that they give you everything but certainly they are quick in the answer. The first sensation is that you’ve got them always behind your back, whereas in the other prison you were watched only if you exposed yourself above the others. Here you’re always watched and it’s as if they were trying to understand the meaning of any little gesture. In time this sensation diminishes but it remains a basic feature. This adds to the fact that the unit is small and has few people, so there’s little chance of emerging with protests along with the rest of the prisoners. At N.G. the few episodes of protests, although made by a minority, managed to express themselves as protests made by everyone, even if for a short time. Furthermore I felt one among the others there, and the guards didn’t treat me in a different way. One of our goals should be to find a common language between prisoners to deal with problems concerning the treatment we receive, without too much moaning, but it’s not taken for granted that this is easier between comrades. The sense of helplessness affects everybody, especially in the AS unit and I can feel it myself, even if I’m optimistic by nature. I can say that the challenges are the same, after all, but on a different level, and the concrete impact of your actions is different too. Moreover you have to deal with the highest ranks any time you move, which doesn’t mean that you get more than the other prisoners… that is to say you get many ‘no’. I forgot to say that all horizons are precluded to us, in a literal sense: behind the windows there are big dull panels of plexiglass, which cuts down inspiration and imagination.
[…]The demo was fantastic, we could hear everything very well, even the speeches. We shouted when we heard our names, and on a couple of occasions I had the impression to get some answer, and someone (a female voice) said: ‘we can hear you!’ And when I shouted ‘the valley can’t be stopped’ and scanned the words, the voice said she couldn’t hear me […] At times I could also catch the voices without megaphone. The music was very good, worth mentioning the remix of ‘Voglio vederti danzare’ during Mau’s speech. […] Let me know if some other prisoners here write to me, apart from Mattia.
Zero Stress! Just to quote my atavistic hip-hop background!

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