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Books

Those voices inside

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04 December 2021

A Sister, Emma Zordan, of the Congregation of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, worked as a volunteer in the Rebibbia penal prison for six years. She listened to the inmates, took care of the preparation of the sacraments, and organized a writing workshop. Not everyone knows that her book is the result of many days spent with them, of discussions, of them confiding in her and prayers. Voices from prison that try to communicate with those outside. That tell, that explain, that remember, that lament. Sometimes these are cries of pain.  However, they are above all voices that teach. What do they tell us? Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi writes in his introduction. They tell us, “the person does not coincide with the evil he or she has done,” that “no one can be locked irreversibly into error.” That - as Francis recently recalled during his visit to Regina Coeli, a prison in the centre of Rome -, “no one can condemn another for the errors they have committed, much less inflict suffering by offending their human dignity”.

However, most of us, when it comes to those who have lost their freedom, limit ourselves to condemnation. With harshness, even ferocity. Moreover, we issue irrevocable judgments, cancelling our pity and forgiveness. “For society - M.L. denounces in his heartfelt writing - between prisoner and ex-prisoner little changes at all, indeed nothing really, however we are seen by the prejudice as being “leftovers from jail”, criminals endlessly convicted, without the possibility of finding even a small space to rebuild their lives.

Sadness? Anxiety? Pessimism? These feelings are all there in the pages collated with care and love by Sister Emma Zordan; and, there is much more besides, for there is hope too. “It will be hard, much harder than I imagined,” writes A.R. on her first day in prison, “but this life teaches that we can bend, but not break”. There is knowledge. “From the day I walked through the door of the first prison, I found myself in the midst of a new humanity made up of a melting pot of races”. There is the trust in love. There is the request for help. Finally, there is the desire for redemption, which is very important. G.S. speaks of an unexpected goal, “I'm 75 years old, but I'm proud to say that last summer I got my diploma, too.  I would like to tell readers that prison can become a place of redemption.” R.L. adds, “When I came in I could hardly write, but I was able to graduate. I am currently enrolled in the first year of Law School”.

The voices, in the testimonies collected by Emma Zordan in the Rebibbia prison, follow each other, cross each other, and sometimes overlap. Clear or confused, angry or resigned, sad or obstinate, they need to be heard. Will we lend them our ear?

by Ritanna Armeni