Different Ways of Seeing
The story of the double sentencing of a convict

A Portrait of a Prisoner

 Ritratto  di  detenuta  DCM-005
06 May 2023

My name is Teresa, I was told you wanted to talk to me, and I accepted. OK, I’ll tell you who I am and why I'm here. I am someone who has been screwed over, who has been in prison for a few years for this and will stay here for another two years.

A woman came here before you, from an association, and told me that there are about 2,400 of us women in prison; far fewer than men. Just four per cent of the prisoners, as if that number could possibly console me. She intended by this that we are less likely to be delinquent anyway, and that this helps us to think that we can get out.  But there was me in this four per cent. And there was also Amira – didn’t they tell you about that? They keep bad things hidden here, even though we all know in the end. Amira wasn’t my friend, you don't have friends in prison, and because of the language we spoke badly to her. She was an immigrant, more or less 30 years old. But I had met her and she had told me she was not well. She felt weak, she wanted a medical check-up, but even that is not easy here - well, it's not easy outside either. We think it took them too long to do tests on her, too long to tell her she had a tumor. So Amira died. The health issue is serious, we need more checks, even those for diseases that are specific to women. But we women prisoners - in their words - are fewer, the women's sections inside men's prisons are small, so it is not worth it. In some prisons they say there are three, five women. It is not worth the expense. The number of Men, on the other hand, are many, and are better cared for. And for them they offer courses, they try to interest them in work, especially a trade that can serve them when they get out.  Inside, they use us for cleaning or as kitchen helpers, and the training for us women is to make us crochet, knitting, a beauty course, at most. What do we do when we go out? There are foreigners like Amira who would need to learn to read and write, but sometimes they can’t even form classes because there isn't the minimum number.

But you want to know why I am here... When I talk about me I feel anger rising, I am full of anger. I fight with everyone. You took a risk too when you asked me if I was Italian. What did you expect to find? A black woman? A Romanian? There are many Italians here.

I was born in Naples, and I was a happy child. My father had a vegetable stall at the market and from time to time he sold contraband cigarettes, my mother helped him, I lacked nothing. “You Teresa will have another life,” they told me. And so it was until I was eighteen. Then I met him, Bruno, and I got involved with him. I liked him because he went fast on his moped through the streets of Naples and I held him close from behind. And then he’d take me to the sea and the boats would come. He’d pick up some packages, we’d put them in the top box of the scooter and we’d go home happy. He told me he was a delivery boy for a gentleman who paid him well. I can see him looking at me now- naive, dumb, yes, I believed it.

He asked me if I could keep some of these parcels at home; he didn’t tell me what was in them, however I understood. But what did I care? I was happy with him, we were now engaged. I didn’t expect anything, but one day, when I handed him back a parcel I had kept in the cupboard for over a week, he gave me money. It started like that ... and went on for two years. I was happy, I was earning good money and just to keep a few parcels in the house. Once he gave me a bag, it was full of money.  I didn’t say anything then either.

It was like that until the carabinieri came and found everything. They didn't believe that I didn't know anything. That I took those packages because Bruno gave them to me. Now we're both in prison. The same years, both responsible, for theft and drug dealing.

I'm lucky, they tell me, because after the months I spent in a men's prison wing I'm about to be transferred to a women's one, one of the four that are exist now, in either Trani, Pozzuoli, Rome-Rebibbia, or Venice-Jiudecca.

In a women's prison they have to take care of us women a little. So we were told by the social workers who sometimes come. Because women, even in prison, have a few different needs.  A bidet, for example. And specific health checks.  And then there, if there is internal or external work to be done, they call one of us. In a mixed prison they favour men.

Here a nun also comes, and those who believe in God say it’s good for them. I am not an atheist, but neither can I say that I believe. I did the baptism-communion-confirmation like everyone else, now I don’t have faith.  Amira did. She didn't say what religion she was, but she prayed and I, apart from the nuns, never saw anyone. They say that in prison if there is freedom it is religious freedom, I don’t know about that.

Do you know what my only good fortune is?  That I have no children. Bruno said we would get married and have at least two, a boy and a girl. We didn’t make it in time and thank goodness, otherwise that child would have been jailed with me. Children in prison. When Carmela came to us she had two, a one and a three year old. Yes, I know, they say there are only a few children in prison, here in Italy now there are about 25, but for me it’s still too many. Those two...I still remember them. They didn’t want anyone to come near them. They were silent, with their eyes in a vacuum. Always attached to their mother. And I remember her saying it’s better in jail with me than outside with no one. Good choice. Now, apparently, they have thought about it. For imprisoned mothers there are different prisons, without guards, without cells. For me it is still jail.

They tell me I have to put up with it because two years pass quickly, I am young and I can rebuild my life... Maybe, but I often think my mother is right. When she comes to see me, she cries and says that I am ruined now. Who will want to marry a woman who has been in prison? Who will want children with someone who is a criminal? They tell me the same thing in here, the female cellmates. When you get out you can only continue doing what you have been doing. For a man, they say, it's different; if he serves his time and gets out, he can make it... But you ... No one will believe that you have changed. That you can be a good mother and a good wife. You are marked. Bruno - I learned later - was married. So I’m in here because I trusted someone who said he loved me. Do you understand why I am filled with rage?

Everything angers me, I also hate those in my condition. Here everyone is happy about the misfortunes of another. Do you know what someone said to me who had just come in and I didn't even know her? “She who has been fooled once will be fooled again”. I couldn’t take it any more... I knocked her down, luckily, someone stopped me. Otherwise I would have lost the only thing that gives me a few good moments. They put me in the kitchen to help, and I learnt. Minestrone, the way I make it, they say nobody makes it that good. Of course, the vegetables at my father's counter I got to know well. Working does me good, the anger subsides, the taste of minestrone makes me happy... If I learn to cook, maybe when I get out I’ll find a job... A husband, children? I don’t know, now I’m afraid.