In transito
a port in prison

A special ward
in Milan's San Vittore prison

On July 14, 2002 La Nave was born on the last floor of the third ray of the Milanese prison San Vittore. A ward for the treatment and cure of addictions, La Nave is a special place for the inmates/patients, with its cells open twelve hours a day, a revolution for that time, and all the psychotherapeutic activities - lessons about lawfulness, drugs and addictions study groups, creative writing and theater meetings, a monthly magazine, cardboard works, yoga and the choir in between. True "commitments" that scan the lives of these people - the inmates - that the normality of many other prisons often forces to bivouac in anonymous and alienating places with nothing to do and nothing to learn.

For the patients la Nave is first and foremost a health service to stem and fight addiction to substances prior to reliance for recovery and reintegration services outside the prison.

“A defendant shall be considered not guilty until a final sentence has been passed. Punishments may not be inhuman and shall aim at re-educating the convicted.”

Article 27

Italian Constitution

Living inside La Nave is not a pastime, nor a way to overcome the boredom and isolation of the prison. It is a commitment that the guests take on by signing a sort of real contract with the operators of the Asst Santi Paolo and Carlo who manage the therapy and the activities inside the department. The goal of the therapy is to cure the inmates who are detained for the crimes they committed because of their drugs, alcohol or compulsive gambling addiction. The means to reach this goal are different but all related to self-knowledge, relationships with classmates and family members, mutual respect and compliance with the rules. In short, it is a matter of regaining the dignity of free, conscious, supportive men.

Thus it's therapy, for example, the videobox: every patient sits alone in front of a video camera talking about his feelings or problems in absolute freedom. After, the recording will be examined and discussed with an educator. Then there are the education on legality, the parental groups, the study of addictions, music, reading, theater or yoga: all these are also therapy activities. An important role is given to the Oblò, the La Nave monthly magazine. Once a week the guests of the department hold an editorial meeting. Who wrote an article reads it in front of everyone and discusses it. It’s normally published in print but from this year there is also a online blog that family and friends can visit to read the their relatives’ writings and articles.

The “air” in a prison means the three hours that can be spent daily outdoor. Fresh air to breathe and a sky to look at. The chance to move in an open space. And, of course, it means the courtyards for sporting activity: especially football and rugby. For the guests of La Nave, sport also plays an important role. All the therapeutic activities of the department give great importance to the idea of building a team, to the commitment to achieve a common purpose, mutual respect and tolerance. Football and rugby are thus another special moment of this journey. Those who live in a cell, often inadequate and overcrowded must make a great effort to share space and time with people sometimes different in terms of geographic origin, language, religion and eating habits. The commitment that the guests of La Nave exercise every day is very much related to the acceptance of diversity, mutual aid or psychological support.

This is what’s taught in terms of being a team, both outdoor and indoor. It’s the welcoming of a newly arrived inmate; the food cooked and shared with others; the help in writing a letter or an article for the department’s newspaper as well as sharing difficult moments such as a heavy sentence, a problematic conversation with a family member, or the simple homesickness. In every prison and even more in an engaging department such as La Nave, all these obstacles are overcome much more easily than in the “free” world. La Nave has also a codified role: the "peer" is the inmate who has the responsibility to mediate relations among the guests and between them and the staff. A timed role, assigned to those guests who demonstrate, with their daily work and commitment, to know how to facilitate the overall well being inside the cells and the department in general.

Singing in a choir is an immersive experience. The choir of La Nave is composed of prisoners, psychologists, volunteers, educators, guests, without distinction of roles. In Milan they have sung on several occasions outside the prison: at the Casa Manzoni, at the Refettorio Caritas di Greco, at the Auditorium of the Teatro Verdi, at the Casa della Memoria, at the Pavillion Unicredit. Each performance of the choir is the clear proof of how a group, forged through a daily commitment, can express joy and beauty. Moroccan, Albanian or South American inmates sing in Milanese dialect Enzo Jannacci’s songs, Bob Marley’s Redemption Song or Italian classic Ma-mi, Mameli’s italian anthem and the famous Italian partisan’s Bella Ciao. The choir is a lot of work: long trials in the fourth-floor corridor, corrections and hours spent studying the lyrics.

In a prison there is not only suffering the deprivation of freedom, but also a lot of beauty. Many patients draw, paint, or fresco the walls of their cells to partly cure this feeling of deprivation. Music is a great medicine for tormented and confined men; it touches their hearts and resounds like a tormenting memory of freedom. The choir holds together many themes of the ship's therapy: there are no soloists, only a single voice that requires everyone's effort to be in tune. At the concerts outside the prison the inmates’ chants have as spectators, among others, their family members: wives, children, parents and siblings. Something that really adds an extra value to this beloved activity because it gives them the chance to say “here we are,this is us, and we are together no matter what”.
All texts © Fabrizio Ravelli

"I still think about my life
which I lived in a sea that I can't tell
unable to swim
unable to get out of it

Can't say where the exit of this sea is
but I know one day I'll find it
What I found
now is a ship
The Ship that found me"

Yassine S.