A SPECIAL PARTY IN VENICE

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There’s a strange place in Venice, though it’s difficult to find anything less than strange in this city: it’s the Giudecca Women’s Prison. The complex is housed in a former convent from 1300 with interior gardens, cloisters, arcades, large spacious halls and large rooms that serve as both offices for the administration and places of life for the prisoners. I went – with Daniela Rosi and Patrizia Boglione, good friends with whom I always have open projects in Officina delle Nuvole – because I was invited by Liri Longo, president of Cooperative Rio Terà dei Pensieri, the main engine of the economic activities that see as protagonists the women and men detained in Venice’s prisons. o

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“We are a Cooperative, we deal with job placement of people in criminal enforcement. We have organized our activities inside the prisons of Venice and the region. Day after day, we invest in people, in their potential and their desire for redemption because we believe that everyone deserves a second chance to start over. All our production is special because it carries with it the history of the hands that have worked, stories made ​​of tortuous pasts, of present commitment and of expectations for best futures. Our productions tell of engagement, ethics and care for the environment: we cultivate an organic garden, we print in serigraphy Fair Trade Tshirts , we manufacture bags and accessories from recycled materials, we produce cosmetics, including an organic line. The cooperative was established in 1994 because the work makes sense of the time spent behind bars and lowers recidivism, because an inmate who works experiences healthy relationships, learns, has the possibility to rebuild a bridge with the world and with his or her own future. We believe that to combat deviance we don’t need jails that punish and humiliate, but prisons that help not to repeat the same mistakes.” o

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So, on a sunny September saturday I could visit L’Orto delle Meraviglie – The Orchard of Wonders  as the workers themselves call this place – together with about two hundred persons invited to party for the twentieth Cooperative anniversary and to discover what happens inside those walls. Unfortunately a few days earlier a strong hailstorm had devasteted most part of the seasonal harvest, causing a severe damage to the workers, who make a modest gain from the sale of vegetables and from the medicinal plants processing. o

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I have some experience of working in prison – since 2010 I regularly hold photography workshops for inmates – and I can say that I never met a more collaborative and peaceful atmosphere. Workers, educators, representatives of the Cooperative, guards, the management, all of them gave me the palpable feeling of a deep understanding of a common will to work to repair and to mend. o

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Gabriella Straffi, Director of the Prison; Liri Longo, president of Cooperative Rio Terào
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Marta, one of the inmates, reading her speech of thanks
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The guests listen to the presentation of Liri Longo
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The City of Venice Guarantor of the Inmates, Sergio Steffenoni
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Inmates, educators and operators of the Giudecca Prison.

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From morning to first afternoon people were free to walk, talk, admire and buy some of the products sold by the different groups. Finally we were invited to taste the produce, cooked by the same women who had fondly cultivated: the photographs tell only part of this so special experience. o

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Elisabetta Di Prisco, Giorgio Bombieri, Gabriele Soave, Liri Longo and Daniela Rosi

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Later we visited the fine installation “Io lavoro qui – I work here” realized at “Officina delle Zattere” Gallery with materials and machinery brought from the prison’s workshops and the beautiful portraits taken by the excellent venetian colleague Giorgio Bombieri. o

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Getting to the show “Io lavoro qui – I work here”
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Daniela Rosi and Liri Longo

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Daniela Rosi

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Patrizia Boglione

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Working in prison is not easy: the spaces – physical and mental – are tight, relationships are strongly influenced by the permanent impermanence of everything and you often retrace your steps back to start again things that you would like already completed… This was clear throughout the day: each person expressed the satisfaction for having overcome many difficulties together and at the same time was showing a genuine hope to do better the next day. So, thanks to all these persons of goodwill! (:o) o o

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