Theater Behind Bars: Italian Prisons use Art as Rehabilitation

Theater Behind Bars: Italian Prisons use Art as Rehabilitation
May 29, 2013/in Blog/by admin

All the World's a Stage, even behind bars...


Italy is using theater, fine dining and fashion to rehabilitate their inmates.

Italians have always been known for their drama, and now two maximum-security prisons are using theater as an aid to rehabilitating their prisoners. The Rebibbia prison outside of Rome was the scene of a recent movie, “Caesar Must Die,” which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival last year. The other is in Volterra, located in an imposing Medici fortress, and just had a write-up and photo-spread in The New York Times magazine.  Here is more information about these interesting programs.


“Et tu, Brute?” Rebibbia Prison was designed to be a "livable" prison, offering continuing education, special work programs, professional training, creative workshops, more recreation time and innovative treatment for sex offenders and detainees with psychological problems. There is even a special unit for women with children under five.  

They had been doing theater for years and eventually attracted the attention of two of Italy’s most prominent film-makers, the brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.  


They chose Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” and had the play staged within the prison walls. The film recounts the casting, staging and performance in documentary format, and highlights the personalities (and accents!) of the prisoners. The play is basically a study of power, corruption and violence, which has obvious echoes to contemporary Italy (and to the lives of the men behind bars...). The original title is “Cesare deve morire” and it is available with English subtitles.  




 Made in Jail logo

The prison also runs various small businesses, like the “Made in Jail” T-shirt company. The clothing is made by the prisoners and sold outside by ex-convicts as a cooperative.  It now has workshops in prisons around the country, and last year they made about €250,000! See more at their website:  http://www.madeinjail.com/



Volterra is one of the most beautiful hilltop towns in Tuscany, and is appreciated for its Etruscan museum, Roman ruins, Renaissance buildings and alabaster. Few tourists know that the sturdy 16th century Medici fortress in the center of town is actually a high-security prison! Since 1988, the inmates have been putting on plays under acclaimed director Armando Punzo. Many are dangerous felons, in prison for life, so it is a rare opportunity for them to participate in the creative process and work with others


. alice_14mercuzio_07        


The show tours throughout Italy, and the prisoners are free to walk around freely during the day.  A reporter asked one of the inmates why no one ever tried to escape and he responded, “Why should I run? Where would I go? Twenty years I’ve lived in prison. Now I have something to live for. Life has meaning.” See the New York Times article at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/opinion/sunday/prisoners-onstage.html


The Volterra prison is also famous for its collaboration with celebrated Italian chefs, who offer a monthly feast served up in the prison called the “Cene Galeotte.” The prisoners help prepare the meals and then serve in elegant waiter dress. You need to book in advance through the website: www.cenegaleotte.it. See more info here:  http://www.volterratur.it/en/eventi/cene-galeotte-dinner-in-prison-2/ 

Of course, you can also see Volterra with us on our Tuscany Walking tour

Flowers iris at Bibb



Many countries are now using theater in prison to help improve the lives of their inmates.  For for information, see:  http://prisonartsinthenews.blogspot.it/  

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