Last Sunday I went to the Theatre (Piccolo Teatro Grassi), in Milan, to see ‘Fine pena: ora’, a play based on the exchange of letters between a lifer, Salvatore, and Elvio Fassone, the judge who condemned him at the end of a maxi trial against the Catania mafia held in Turin in the mid-eighties.
The day after the trial Fassone starts writing letters to the prisoner, a bit older than a boy, who has been sentenced to life, as a gesture of humanity. Those letters go on for twenty-six years, during which the judge tries to help the prisoner through a path of cultural emancipation and to give him some hope, while he is subject to restricted prison regime.
The play reflects upon the sense of punishment, the forces at work inside a prison and whether they can improve or worsen a convict’s condition. It was moving, sad and, at times, also funny, and thought provoking. It made me think of the lives of the inmates, of their possibility / impossibility to grow and change, and at the same time of the duty of justice to make people respect the law.
I felt empathy for both characters, so different from each other: the judge who follows a career as magistrate and politician, always questioning the sense of prison as a punishment and the prisoner, an under proletarian, coming from an area at risk, who has joined of the mafia, as a natural outcome. Once he said to the judge: «Se suo figlio nasceva dove sono nato io, adesso era lui nella gabbia». (“If your son had been born where I was born, now he would be in prison”)
The title “Fine pena: ora “ means: “Expiration of the sentence: now” and refers to Salvatore’s attempted suicide: the only way to put an end to life imprisonment