MARCELLO DELL’ANNA has spent most of his life in prison. He was sentenced to ergastolo ostativo (life imprisonment prison without the possibility of parole) when he was 23, when he was one of the leaders of la Sacra Corona Unita (an Italian Mafia based in the Puglia region). Today, he is 49: he is held in the Badu’e Carros à Nuoro prison in Sardinia.
He was willing to enter into an exchange of letters with the Swiss journalist Laurence Bolomey as well as the regular publication of his letters on the Prison Insider website.
Laurence Bolomey writes to Marcello dell'Anna : "I was worried that my letter would not arrive, that it would get held up at the post office… I feel honored and proud to have your trust"
I was worried that my letter would not arrive, that it would get held up at the post office or someplace else… I was really pleased to receive your first letter. I feel honored and proud to have your trust, for I see that it is real and that you express your thoughts openly and directly as a result. Reading your letter was like a blow to the stomach.
In answer to your question, I will not use any part of your letters in the written press
… without your permission
… without the agreement of the site’s developers
… without telling you what type of media I am using it for
I will be careful with the translation of your letters to ensure that they accurately reflect your words. It is obvious that you take great pleasure in language and choose your words with care. I am a lover of language as well (French though, because my Italian does not always allow me to find the right words); that is why I will be very careful to be faithful to your choice of wording in my translations.
As for your letter, naturally, your words raise new questions. First of all, I want to be clear that some of my questions may seem a bit awkward, for a number of reasons:
Italian is not my first language
In my work as a journalist, I have a principle of not self-censoring. I ask questions knowing that the person to whom the questions are directed may choose not to respond.
In your answers, you can always ask that I do not publish certain phrases and we will respect that.
I am well aware that I have no knowledge of your world (except for what I have read). I understand your words, the strength of what you say, and I empathize with your reasoning, but I know perfectly well that I am not in a position to fully grasp what you and the other prisoners are experiencing. So, some of my questions might seem a bit naïve.
This is the first time that I will be conducting an interview by asking a number of questions to which I will not get immediate answers. Our dialogue will be less spontaneous as a result.
So this is a new area for me, and I would like to begin by exploring three themes bit by bit.
• Daily routine
Can you tell us about your daily routine, how you spend your day?
When I reread your words, I see that becoming a different person, a better one, changes little for you because you are locked away for life. So, can you explain where your motivation to study and improve yourself comes from? How did this need to study come into existence? Did you need time before beginning your studies, time to “grow”?
Were you always this careful in choosing your words? Is this care required because you are explaining your reality to those who have not lived it and therefore cannot understand it?
You speak of physical and psychological degradation. Does studying delay this process? To stay alive, even when “buried alive, “as you say? Is studying a way to raise your hopes, or is it a way of combating the process of dehumanization that you describe?
I understand what you mean when you speak about the paradoxical absurdity of this sentence; on one hand, there is integration, contrition, atonement for the crime through the desire to become a better person, and on the other, there is a never ending sentence.
You studied law and you have helped other prisoners, if I am not mistaken, in their legal battles. Is studying law also a way of trying to change the law on this “ostativa” (irreducible) life sentence?
Do you hope that the law can be changed? Is the topic of interest to those in the judicial system and the government? Is there an active lobby attempting to advance the case against life sentences, in the “ostativa” sense of the term? You mention the Pope, do you think that he may have some kind of influence on this matter?
Well, I will stop with my questions. You can answer all, or only some of them, I will leave it to you. And let me know if you think of a more pleasant way to communicate than through a list of thematic questions.
I am also interested in reading the books you have written. Can they be found in bookstores?
It was with immense pleasure that I received your letter dated November 11, containing a copy of your earlier letter from the first of October, which I had not received. Despite the interruption to our correspondence, I continued to write this entire time.
First of all, I want to let you know, Laurence, that you can post anything that I send to you on the Prison Insider site, if you think it will be useful. I think it is the only way of making my story relevant, a story that provides a first-hand account of the illogical and contradictory nature of a law. I am talking about the law that leads to the sentence of a life in prison (ostativo, until death), which can be adjusted if an accused collaborates with the judicial system.
This collaboration becomes useless and therefore impossible when all the evidence against the accused is presented in court. On the other hand, if the prisoner chooses not to collaborate, either to protect his or her family or for moral reasons, he or she will never have a chance to be free. The prisoner will never benefit from alternatives to incarceration, or enjoy conditional release. The prisoner will see his or her life sentence as the ultimate life sentence, ending only with death.
There is any number of reasons for refusing to give in to this type of blackmail. One only has to look at the risks associated with collaboration, such as the risks to personal safety and to the safety of friends and family. The Constitutional Court recognized this in 1993, observing that “A lack of collaboration cannot be taken as an indication of dangerousness, given that it could be the result of the inability of an innocent person to cooperate, or arise from the realization that the consequences of such collaboration would be unreasonable, such as the exposure of the accused or members of his or her family to serious harm. (Case # 306/1993)
The concept of “blackmail” may be refuted, but evidence cannot be overlooked. The life of a human being and those of his loved ones should not be exposed to danger[^Art52].
[^Art52]: These are references from Marcello Dell’Anna : “Articles 52 and 54, Article 384 of the Criminal Code; Article 199 of the Criminal Procedure Code, just to cite a few hypotheses.”
It should not be forgotten that the State has the right to investigate criminal acts, but first and foremost, it has the duty to respect and protect the lives of innocent third parties; collaboration becomes impossible if there are significant risks to the life and personal safety of the prisoner.
For myself and for eminent Italian jurists, such “blackmail” does not allow for rehabilitation. The way out proposed by the law goes completely against Article 27 of the Constitution.
I agree that we should correspond on a regular basis, one letter a month that you can post on your site, letters in which I can tell about my life and of life in prison, of a life punctuated by infinite time, so that others may know of “a sentence without end” (“fine pena mai”) that causes someone like me to suffer both physically and mentally, after having continually atoned for my offences during twenty-five years of imprisonment. Only someone without feelings or any humanity can fail to comprehend the absurdity of this “fine pena mai”, which lasts forever. An eternity in prison until… death.
Thank you for being there for me and for sharing with the world my words, my story, and my life, which is nothing more than an actual and tangible contradiction of an unreasonable single law. Collaborating with the justice system in order to obtain benefits during the sentence hearing is not proof of true repentance. In fact, it is the complete opposite. The accused collaborates for opportunistic motives, not to show true repentance.
More precisely, with the introduction of Article 4bis of the penitentiary law, legislators wanted to promote collaboration with justice – where it was necessary – as an indication of repentance. Well, I am a living example of a person who is becoming truly repentant and not out of opportunistic motives. Not to obtain any benefits, but to truly choose a life that leaves behind a destructive past. To resurrect like a phoenix as a better person.
I will end here and I apologize in advance if I was too long-winded, or worse, boring.
With warm greetings and a vigorous handshake,