Living Lenten Time in Poggioreale Jails


Lenten Time as a "Desert"

Lent time, penance time, sacrifice time. During lent time all the Christians, winning the seductions of sin, prepare themselves to the triumph of the resurrection. The "desert" is the biblical category that mostly gives us the idea of detaching from the "earthly things" to ascend to the "divine".
God leads the Israeli people into the desert to make them learn to detach themselves from all the earthly things and to confide just in Him. The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert at the beginning of his mission so that he can win the diabolic temptation of an "Earthly Messianism"( Lc 4,1 ss).
It's easy for me, Chaplain of Poggioreale jail, linking the theme of the desert to the situation in which all the convicts live in Poggioreale. It's our same Constitution (article 27, paragraph 3) that encourages this matching when it says: "The punishment mustn't be contrary to the humanity sense and must be used for the rehabilitation of the prisoner."

Poggioreale Jails as a "Hell"

We must, unfortunately, admit that when we talk about Poggioreale the most recurrent metaphor is the metaphorical image of "Hell" and not the desert one, and that happens although the praiseworthy commitment of the Direction of the jail that really has no faults.
 I can remember that after the visit of Mr. Castelli, the Home Secretary, all the media reported, with words in large print, his promise: "The Hell of Poggioreale will end". How good it would be for the whole civil society if the jail became much more "desert" (that is the place where you can have a real meeting with God that set us free from sin) and less "Hell" (that is the place where the negative trend of people get worst). But what does the Hell metaphor mean associated with Poggioreale jail?  We can try to figure it out reading some extracts from the book  "Il Carcere dimenticato" ("the forgiven jail") of the criminal lawyers of Naples, published by "Camera Penale of Naples, July

"The shortage of spaces, just an hour of air during the morning and the afternoon, common life in narrow rooms for their occupants, precarious bathroom shared with an elevated number of people, and the reduced possibility to have a shower constitute a serious prejudice for the health.
The prisoners forced for the whole day in cells, or in the same way in narrow spaces. Day after day they take on the habits of animals in cages.
They walk quickly; they turn automatically and then start walking again and again doing all that in a very little time.
The medical exam is given at the moment they enter the jails. Afterward the prisoner has a medical examination every time the  medical staffs says he needs it or when the same prisoner asks for it... From the sanitary point of view we think that it's difficult to guarantee a sufficient grade of hygiene and not some harmful effect from the food, which is preserved and cooked in the same place that approximately sixteen people live.  In fact the problem is that there is only one bathroom, that is used for the physical needs to wash the body and the dishes too."
Degradation of body and mind represent the result of the atmosphere the convicts can breathe in Poggioreale Jails.
The television- that is placed in each room- represents the only real means that could really reach every convict. The prisoner doesn't want and at the same time can't refuse the daily programmation all this contributes, especially because there are no indications about it, to destroy, in case it
exist, every possibility of rehabilitation.

The General Proxy

In the opening speech of the judicial year 2004, the general proxy has had to recognize that the cells are so overcrowded as a year ago. In the end of June 2003 the convicts in Italy were 56.403 (a little bit more than the 56.277 of June 2002). But a positive aspect has been reported: the reduction
of the number of convicts in precautionary custody in comparison with the people that serve a definitive punishment. So such as the Bible says in the book of Qoelet " Nothing new under the sun".
But the crucial questions remain: What is mostly useful for the security of the civil society: the certainty of the punishment? That is making sure that the authors of the offence serve a punishment proportioned to the offence the committed? Or the certainty of the rehabilitation? That is make sure
that when the authors of the offence come out from the jail they get rid of the criminal behaviour and can find a job acting like a civil citizen? In the end, it is better to invest in the repression (sentencing the authors of the offence) or in the prevention (try to avoid even that offences

The duty of a Chaplain

The duty of a chaplain inside the jail is giving his contribution to make this place of custody become much more "desert" and always less "Hell. To do that the chaplain can use a " Weapon" that is the Gospel! To talk about Jesus Christ the Saviour in a Maximum Security area in Poggioreale Jail in Naples, Italy is not a simple task because of the background of the prisoners hosted there.
But what is happening during the hours I have catechetical meetings in there is indeed impressive.
What you can see during that time is eight people trying to get silent, calm and after trusting everything to the saviour power of God trying to concentrate upon Jesus Christ.

The result?

- One of them once said to me: Father, you know, If I'd known about Jesus Christ and eternal life before perhaps Id never acted the way I did.
- Another one told me: I used to swear like a trooper but since I've known about Jesus I've not blasphemed anymore.
- Father you must know said one prisoner in front of everybody, that, paradoxically enough, in seven months here taking part in the catechetical meeting Ive done more for my spiritual life than in many years outside.
- The most important statement came from one prisoner when he said: after knowing about Jesus Christ I think changing life is possible!

Now:   How could we have doubts about the power God has to change the hearts of the people?


Fr. Bruno Oliviero