MARCELLO DELL’ANNA has spent most of his life in prison. He was sentenced to the ergastolo ostativo penalty (life imprisonment without the possibility of parole) at the age of 23, when he was one of the leaders of the Sacra Corona Unita (an Italian mafia based in the region of Apulia).
Marcello dell’Anna accepted the principles of a letter writing exchange with a Swiss journalist, Laurence Bolomey, and a regular publication of his letters on the Prison Insider website.
Marcello sent a new letter to Laurence, 1st January 2017, (read here. Here’s the continuation of this discussion.
The course of your 25 years of consecutive imprisonment seems to be of someone very powerful, driven by a strong will to move forward, to study, to become, as you say, a better person.
A letter from Laurence to Marcello - Morges, 10 February 2017
First of all, know that you’re not “wasting” my time when you write. I enjoy reading, because, thanks to your letters, I enter a world that is unknown to me. I learn. I see the confidence you have in my ability… if it is not to understand, at least listen and try to understand. I thank you very much for that. Most of all, your letters allow all those who follow you on Prison Insider to get a better glimpse the daily challenges of those convicted in the incompressible perpetuity: “ergastolo ostativo.” You’ve managed to let us into your reality.
Could you tell us about your daily life? What is a typical day like? The dimensions of your unit? Access or no to television and newspapers? Is there a control to what you have access?
Do you still study? How do you get books? Is there a library and if so, do many many prisoners go there or are you one of the few who have this desire to grow through books?
It would be interesting for us if you kept a sort of a daily journal; what time you get up, what you do during the day… to make us enter the pragmatics, to let us into your world… These are things very difficult to understand from the outside…
The course of your 25 years of consecutive imprisonment seems to be of someone very powerful, driven by a strong will to move forward, to study, to become, as you say, a better person. At the same time, it is impossible to expect a release, at least up until now, and as long as the legislation does not change. Maybe it’s difficult for me to understand this chasm between anxiety and hope… between the present and the future.
Another question: are you talking about this “archaic world that is prison”. Can you be more clear… Are you talking about the internal rules that are from another time? The fact that without internet, you stay behind on a life that advances? Or whereas the walls and structures are old and decrepit. Tell us about the decor in which you live.
I’ll stop there and greet you warmly.
Good reading and writing. See you soon via letter.
Studies, writing and culture have made me catch a glimpse of prison and sentencing as an opportunity for reflection and ethical and intellectual growth of hope; yes, truly hope.
Marcello's letter to Laurence — Nuoro, 27 April 2017
My dear Laurence,
It’s my turn to apologize for the delay with which I answer you.
I’m glad to know that you appreciate the value and the intensity of my writings.
And I reassure you immediately, the questions and comments that you have are not at all invasive. On the contrary, I find them very authentic.
And so, I’ll go directly to answering your questions. While not starting to try to explain to you what hope is for me. No, I didn’t get permission to spend Christmas with my family, a form of opening towards other more humane measures, because my condition as a prisoner condemned to an incompressible life sentence (ergastolo ostativo) allows you to benefit from nothing. That said, I can assert that I don’t even have a philosophical concept of hope to give you.
Therefore, I think about all that’s allowed me hoping in achieving it. And I cannot deny it, the non determined appearance my future scares me. But I am convinced that a man without hope, without expectation, is a man without thought.
Consequently, I support the idea that prison represents the final frontier of despair and human dramas that society denies, because it does not know or, if it knows, it doesn’t solve them. You know that at the beginning of my imprisonment, everything was for me demotivation; loss of bearings. In prison, it takes nothing to go astray. In an instant, the meaning of life and value of personal dignity yield a loss of confidence and despair.
But for me, no! I don’t allow myself to be swallowed up, absorbed by the belly of the “prison watch”, because I always thought that the lack of hope and consciousness of dying in prison represented the painful root of our deterioration and aging of our emotions.
So, I immediately started to react, demonstrating the failure of the Italian State and the weakness of its laws. Because justice, wrongdoing, trial, detention, prison, sentencing and rehabilitation are not abstract concepts, but very very real. And especially because justice and prison have a definition in Northern Europe… another in Italy.
I believe that the State is only better off if it doesn’t becomeone who has sinned, when it doesn’t use criminal logic; that is the law of retaliation. Punishing by an incompressible life sentence is not justice but multiplies the suffering that the inmate has already underwent. We can’t teach legality through coercion and life sentencing anymore than through blackmail which requires you to cooperate with justice to put another in your place in prison.
The ergastolo ostativo is the sentence where rights end and arbitrary punishment justified by error begins. In a civil country, a sentence should certainly be proportionate, but the fact that it provides a term must be the major objective of a lawful State. A sentence must be a deterrent function, but also a function of reintegration in society. A worthy sentence reflects a worthy society. A sentence that aims to rehabilitate is the result of an empathic society, which considers each individual as a citizen who has all of his rights.
Studies, writing and culture have made me catch a glimpse of prison and sentencing as an opportunity for reflection and ethical and intellectual growth of hope; yes, truly hope. Conversely, if you don’t react this way, then prison remains only a small area of shade, a cold place of suffering in solitude.
Hope makes you feel alive… alive inside, and me, I’ve decided to find my human connotation. I’ve decided to live through whatever happens, head held high, becoming trustworthy and credible to show the finger to this fault in the Italian justice system which is incompressible life sentencing.
I wanted to prove, to myself and to others that I’m a man in line with human nature, transformed, better, not only the author, but rather a bearer of change, an example, a better person capable of adapting to even the worst imprisonment conditions.
You ask me to tell you about my day. Well, everyday I fight against any risk of collapsing. I draw my strength from my own resistance to continue living. I’m trying to keep my spirits high, I want to overcome this endless torment with dignity and courage… because here, in this “castle of cement” life goes on without a apathetic soul. It is cold for a man condemned to “ergastolo ostativo”. And when you get to no longer serve your sentence, but only suffer through it, there is no longer rehabilitation or repair but only torture, disease and violation of dignity.
In any case, I’m looking to hang on to my stainless temperament and maintain this sharpness of thought, which has helped me during all these years to confront reality, with a smile day after day, even though sad… I stay “alive” and since I’m a nonconformist, I spend my day sometimes by reading and writing or sometimes by offering legal help to my companions. Studying new arguments that will give me the ability to testify the greatness of a “different being”, in a static context, in an eternity of repetitive minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades.
How can you not see, not want to see, the family devastation? This blindness continues to legitimise absurd judicial decisions. And then in Congress, they continue to declare, through hypocritical, contradictory and fake speeches that the imprisonment should tend to the rehabilitation of the inmate. But they don’t absolutely take into account the gulfs that these same people dig between those who continue to love them, overcoming distances impossible to meet; the only force of their feelings.
It is sometimes said that prison is the mirror of the state of health of the democracy of a country. And well, Italian democracy is truly sick.
They must go beyond the only thought according to which makes an error pay. They pay nothing by paying with endless imprisonment. We pay nothing in losing our dignity.
A State that allows these inhumane conditions, which does not validate change, in my view, is intended to fold in on itself, to burn within its prejudices apathy. A country like Italy that punishes without rehabilitation is a country which has failed in its own mission.
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect, once again, on the meaning of the word “time”. What this unbroken sequence of momentsmeans to me and what it means to great philosophers such as Seneca, Aristote and Saint Augustine.
The importance of our time on this earth switches on something in me, it awakens a certain drowsiness in me, because even in the worst circumstances, even in places forgotten by God, as is prison, it is possible to give thanks to life, because at the moment where a soul comes to life and becomes conscious, the universe fills with goodness, even for just a moment.
What makes me happy is just my will to live, even if it’s painful, this time to come that has been stolen from me but I’ve managed nevertheless to catch, to give meaning, this time I’ve managed to define as LIFE.
Now, dear Laurence, if someone were to ask you what is FREEDOM, I wouldn’t like to be seen as presumptuous but I would offer to read him some of my lines, to talk to him about myself and my time, and of this rattling that has lasted for twenty-nine long years in my head… Because only the faculty to catch the slightest moment as a precious makes no moment of life empty or lost forever.
No, I’m not crazy, I’m fine, I must only resist until the end of my imprisonment which, unfortunately, no one, not even me, knows the date…
Now, I’m going to specifically answer your questions. Yes, I’m still studying. I’ve registered with the arts faculty with a psychology option. A bet made with myself because, as you well know, my personal and academic training has been legal thusfar.
My cell measures about 23 square meters. I’d say it’s quite worthy… There is three of us. In the morning I get up at 6 o’clock. Every morning at 8:30, I get to walk in the courtyard. I do an hour of running and some physical exercises. I’m back the cell at 9:45 and after a nice shower I go to work. In the afternoon, around 1:30, I train at the gym for an hour. And then, I go back work. We have TV in the cell and we are free to watch any programme without control. In my section, there is a library where my fellow inmates go to read. Personally, I read books that are mailed to me in the cell.
With regard to writing a sort of diary over a few days, actually, for now, paradoxically, I don’t have the time. Theatre, studies, reading or even writing take up all my time.
When I talk of prison as an archaic world, I refer to the rules enforced on the inside and to the limits that are imposed on us. I feel that we’ve gone back a century. Everything must go through requests. Nothing is given to you. But I’m also talking about buildings. The majority of prisons in Italy are old and obsolete. These are structures that trample human dignity. There are very few newly built or renovated prisons.
I will stop there. I hope to have succeeded in leading you into my life, by thought, through my cell so that the readers of my testimony can have a new idea of this imprisonment that is ergastolo ostativo, the incompressible life sentencing.