Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Laura Teso
I had to wait nearly two months and to cross three different guarded gates to get to the Pasticceria Giotto laboratory. I walked along the prison hallways, with barred windows and heavy silence. But I found a light at the end of the corridor. And it was sweet. Because it tasted like sugar and possibility.
I took my time before writing this post. In fact the experience I lived is not a normal one. Not everybody can say: Hey I visited a pastry laboratory inside a jail.
A little bit of backstory
Giotto Bakery is very famous in Padova and well known in Italy for their panettone.
The social cooperative that is behind this started working in 1986 to help disadvantage people to learn a job and find their place in society. They manage several activities in town (restaurant industry, gardens maintenance). Since 2005 the pastry laboratory is at work inside the jail.
Two years ago they opened an ice cream parlour in the historic centre of Padua, close to the Scrovegni Chapel. The gelateria is so close to my home and above all the gelato was so delicious that I became an habitual client. I started sharing a picture of me having gelato on Instagram or Facebook from time to time. And one day, Sara, one of the lovely girls working at the gelateria noticed one of these photos and told it to her marketing manager Massimiliano.
A week later he sent me an e-mail invitation to visit the Padua prison bakery. But it took us about two months to obtain the permission for me and my camera.
So on June 15 I walked through the door of the Due Palazzi, the prison of Padova. I had never been so close to that buildings before. And I admit it gave me a strange sensation: a mix of agitation, thrill, fear, curiosity, guilt. Yes, guilt. Because they see you, from the outside world, going in and then easily getting out, while they can not. And I know, they did something to get there. But I firmly believe in second chances. And I believe in not hurting other people feelings. Whoever they are.
It’s been very hard for me to recollect all the sensations, the information and the thoughts of that day to write this post. I hope I’ll be able to tell this story properly.
Italian Jails Stats
Let’s start with some stats about Italian Jails (it dates back to 2012 but we’ll make do).
- Number of prisons: 205
- Capacity: 47.700
- Actual number of inmates: 62.500
- Recidivism rate of non working prisoners: 70/90%
- % of prisoners who are working: 3,6%
- Recidivism rate of working prisoners: 2%
As you can see, Italian prisons have huge problems. The first is overcrowding. Often a one man cell hosts two prisoners. And sometimes even three. There is no plan whatsoever for a reintegration in the society.
A way “out”
This seems a dead end, if you think to the generic economical crisis my country is living. Unless the system changes. And so there’s a window of opportunity. That’s why I understood that it’s extremely important to teach a job to the inmates, to pay them a salary so that they can save money, give it to their families and pay part of the debt they have with the society. This way they also are given a second chance. They can, if they get out, find a new place in the sun. Moreover, this system creates other jobs thanks to the satellite activities (like the girls working at the gelateria or the pastry chefs who teach the work to the inmates for example).
Do amor ninguem fòge
I had the occasion to hear about the APAC, the Brazilian alternative detention system with no guards or weapons, which empowers the detainees and involves the local communities. In the little yard outside of the working area, there was this blue writing in portoguese: Do amor ninguem fòge. This is a sentence of a prisoner, who had escaped two times from regular jails. But he did not break out from the APAC. When somebody asked him why he replied: No one runs away from love. In that place he felt part of something bigger. He had the chance to socialize and work and he felt loved somehow.
Let him who is not guilty cast the first stone
We shouldn’t be hypocrites. Everyone of us has done something stupid at least once in his or her life. Maybe not that serious. But who can really judge another human being? We can not know how a person has been treated while growing up, what difficulties or atrocities has lived. Sometimes I think: I only had a overcritical and depressed mother and I ended up having anxiety and weight problems. So I often wonder: how would I have managed with a violent father for example? Or if I were born in a country in war? Or if I had not enough food to eat? I think I would have gotten crazy or something. And maybe I could have ended up doing something very stupid. Who knows.
- I admit that I had some prejudices though. For example I was sure that the guys working at the laboratory were all charged with minor pains. I was wrong.
- I thought that they worked in perfect silence. And there was a radio playing instead. I was very happy for them.
- About the wage, I thought that it was a token wage. But no. They receive a regular salary. It’s really important for them to work in conditions that can actually allow an authentic rehabilitation. A real salary. Stimulating activities. Regular working hours.
- Another thing… I was convinced that every inmate was utterly happy when told he was chosen to work at the pasticceria. Wrong again. Matteo, my “guide” inside the prison, explained to me the real situation. These men are closed the whole day (or quite) in a hole. Often with another inmate. Guess the chances they get along. Low. And then there are rivalries. Prejudices also among prisoners. Some dynamics are those we all have seen in movies. Therefore, when chosen to work the convicts are always suspicious and distrustful. They thing something’s going on. That maybe they were chosen to be monitored. To be tested. It is really important for them to learn to work. Not for the specific job. But to be part of something. To learn to respect rules, schedules, procedures. And to understand what work can create. Work ennobles man, as they say.
The fruit of their efforts
And they create delicious products, believe me. Other than the famous panettone, you can find Veneziane buns, Easter Colombe, biscuits (those with hazelnuts are to die for). Pasticceria Giotto has won a lot of important prizes (such as First prize of the public at Taste in Florence (2012), Best Pastry Lab of the Year in 2008 and 2013) and their panettone is in the Italian Top Ten of Christmas Cakes by Gambero Rosso magazine.
I had the chance to taste some pralines and they were scrumptious, especially that with honey and rosemary and the extra – bitter ones. Wow. And what about the monoportion cakes? Nothing. Just eat them!
I sensed no heavy atmosphere while I was there. On the contrary. I felt quite at ease. I saw the guys focused on their tasks and very careful in doing things, cleaning up, kneading the dough, baking, measuring ingredients, checking machineries. And not distracted by a guest as I would have thought. I guess I was more of an inconvenience. Who’s this woman who comes and eat the fruit of our efforts? 😀
Anyway, I was utterly happy of my visit. To be honest, I had just experienced a couple of “negative days“, in which I felt kind of blue. And this visit helped me realize what I was missing. I was free and I didn’t know. So grazie mille to Sara, Massimiliano and Matteo. You can’t imagine how important this visit was for me.
I don’t die, even if they kill me
Before going out I turned back to take a last look to the writings at the entrance of the lab. Before the threshold, on both walls two quotes by journalist Giovannino Guareschi. He was the creator of Don Camillo. Not everyone knows that he was imprisoned in a nazi lager in 1943 for his antifascist beliefs and in 1954 he spent more than a year in prison charged with libel for publishing some compromising letters by the Italian prime mininster De Gasperi.
The quote on the right (from one of his books) says:
Margherita, the kids listen to us. We always forget about this. We should refrain from saying silly things, at home. If you try to say a hundred words, among which ninetynine are decent and one ambiguous, the kid who listens at you will remember precisely that one, even if he doesn’t know its meaning.
The quote on the left, written while at the lager of Czestochowa:
I don’t die, even if they kill me.