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Hear the voices of Naples's female prisoners

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Deirdre Della Pace

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This article was written for Cafébabel by Amalia De Simone, investigative video reporter and the director of Caine [Cain], an Italian documentary filmed entirely in the female prisons of Pozzuoli and Fuorni. These meetings with the inmates gave rise to a song, “Io sono te [I am you]", which was a collaborative work, spearheaded by the talented singer Assia Fiorillo. It offers an authentic account of a controversial and passionate city: Naples.

“I knew my father was ill, and that’s why I wanted to see him even with the guards or the army there. I didn’t care. I just wanted to see him. The parole officer refused. And he refused again, even when he died. I went to the cemetery for five minutes just to see his photo. I didn’t deserve this cruelty. I've made mistakes and I’m paying for them, but this pain is turning into anger.”

Jessica is the youngest of our inmates. She greets us with the sincere smile of someone who has been waiting for this meeting for many months. Then, with the same sincerity, she describes her frustrations to us. It has always been like this in the jail at Fuorni: there’s happiness and there's desperation. Laughter, and the echoing screams of an inmate in withdrawal. We experienced this for almost a year while working on a documentary for Rai 3, Caine, which was filmed entirely in the Women’s Penitentiaries of Pozzuoli and Fuorni and produced in collaboration with Simona Petricciuolo.

We told the stories of the female inmates after having spent a great deal of time with them.

The film set out to capture the inmates' experiences of everyday life in the jail. Ultimately, though, it also became a story about a certain place - Naples - and its particular beauty and specific problems.

Out of this experience came a song, “Io sono te”, written by many hands: ours (especially Assia’s) and those of the female inmates.

Image: still from the documentary, Caine

This is how "two worlds collided and levelled themselves against each other, in the knowledge that mistakes can happen to anyone"; because being born and raised in certain contexts or having lived a life of sorrow and rage is not something we should be indifferent to.

“Io sono te”, the first single on Assia Fiorillo's CD, is also a way of knocking down walls that sometimes make us believe that we are in the right, while seeing those who are behind bars as in the wrong. The reality is, of course, that sharing our life experiences helps us to better understand and grasp this collective story which we are all building together.

And so we returned behind bars to announce a concert. On Wednesday 30 June 2021 we held a live event with the female inmates. Assia and her band played “Io sono te” and other songs inspired by the experience of making the film. We also discussed imprisonment with Fuorni’s Warden, Rita Romano, the ex-Head of Culture of Naples, Eleonora de Majo, the current Head of Culture, Annamaria Palmieri, the constituent of the Anti-mafia Commission, Piera Ajello, the consultant of the Anti-mafia Commission, Rosario Scognamiglio, and a number of teachers. There were speeches from residents of East Naples - one of the suburbs that is richest in humanity but most abandoned by the State. Not only that: Anna Riccardi, the president of the Fondazione Famiglia di Maria, which is dedicated to helping and supporting minors, participated alongside other mothers involved in this group.

Questions, comments, words of hope and genuine communication arrived from the “outside” world to the “inside”

Caine is the fruit of the meeting of two realities that are, in many respects, separate. Its power stems from the recognition that Caine from the Bible, just like Saramago’s Caine, isn’t simply born that way: he becomes who he is. Caine is the product of his surroundings and a whole lifetime of experience.

Cover image: Caine directed by Amalia De Simone, with the collaboration of journalist Simona Petricciuolo and the participation of Assia Fiorillo.

The documentary can be seen in streaming on RaiPlay

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Translated from "Caine": storie di donne detenute