“We felt strongly that we wanted to immerse ourselves in the wounds of our city. We became inolved with Patrizia, a teacher and collaborator of Città Nuova magazine, who was writing a book about the children of prisoners and she had just met the Break the Wall Committee. This committee consists of 7 prisoners who were working to allow children to have a bit more than cold meetings with their fathers in large empty rooms. They wanted to hold celebrations and events that would leave the children with a happy memory of their fathers from whom they were separated. A collaboration of mutual trust was immediately established between us, the inmates on the committee, the teachers and the director.
The first meeting with the prisoners took place at Christmas 2014. I was struck when the police ordered us to leave all our personal possessions behind before crossing the prison gate. We took his words to mean our prejudices as well.
The detainees couldn’t believe that so many young people would spend a Saturday morning with them. Since the day of that celebration something more than a volunteer programme began: a true and deep relationship with the detainees themselves.As we described what we were doing, one of them remarked that it took a lot of courage. But for us it was a matter of trust in others even though they had committed a crime and of hope that they can change and begin again. We remember the joy of that detainee who was glad to be able to invest his talents in something legal that was not for profit – as were the illegal activities that he had been engaged in before. For him who had no children of his own, working for the children filled him with a sense of satisfaction.
Last year we met with the detainees on the committee to plan another event. A thank you note they wrote conveys their joy and enthusiasm over that meeting where we were able to sit down together as if we weren’t inside the walls of a prison. We also had a snack together, yes, because they gave us a warm welcome as you would among old friends. Now they call us ‘the kids on the external committee’. At that meeting they opened up and shared with us the practical effects of inprisonment on their daily life. For example, they said that people in prison aren’t able to bring the background into focus; their eyes need to reacquire the ability to look ahead, having lost the possibility to see the horizon. One of them said goodbye to us in a note; “To the youngsters I say continue to dedicate yourselves to this activity, because often the ones who are inside need only to see that there is someone on the outside who is interested in our problems so they can have a second chance. On my part, I thank you for that.”
Last March, for Father’s Day, we organised games and other activities in the mornings and afternoons. Half a day of simple things that allowed their usually divided families to spend some time together, and for their children to cherish fond memories in the area of the so delicate and difficult relationships with their fathers.
Some of them were present during the visit Pope Francis made on Holy Thursday last year, and they attrended the Mass and told us how moving it was for them. It has remained a precious memory for them. They often tell us that ‘Prison takes away your feelings along with your freedom’.
But perhaps now something has changed: there’s the joy of meeting and working together without any prejudice. In them we’ve discovered the face of Jesus the prisoner, Jesus the marginalised. Every time we’re leaving Rebibbia Prison we feel that we’ve learnt to have the courage to change, to admit our own mistakes and to begin again.We feel God’s personal love and His immense Mercy.”