Until November 20th Extrema Ratio at Bicocca makes visitors, crammed into 8 square meters, reflect on how to redesign the prison system

“Before entering you must leave all objects considered useless, dangerous or valuable”, they tell us when they accompany us to visit Extrema Ratio, the installation in the spaces of BiM, Bicocca meets Milan, until November 20.

Once you have placed shoelaces, jewellery, watches, wallets and documents in a plastic bag, you enter a cell built in the image and likeness of those of San >Vittore, the district prison of Milan. It is the facility that welcomes prisoners awaiting trial or with sentences of less than five years in prison.

Eight square meters in the most crowded prison in Europe

Five years is a huge amount of time if you have to live in eight square meters with four/six other people. They are even more so if you don't have a door to lock yourself in the bathroom and if you have to eat, cook, wash yourself and your clothes in a sink.

An extension of time that immediately makes sense during the visit of Extrema Ratio. The door closes and you have five minutes to assimilate the sensation of a space that is not only cramped and unlivable, but also punishing.

Let's leave aside the folklore: the writings on the walls, the abandoned cheap magazines, the plastic bottle to plug the toilet hole and prevent odors and cockroaches from rising up. Let's talk instead about the concepts of punishment, re-education and reintegration because neglect and disinterest in the living space are to all intents and purposes the result of a punitive idea tout court, on which there seems to be a lack of first and foremost political and then planning reflection.

How do you design a path of help for those who have made mistakes?

Extrema Ratio was organised, among other events and meetings, to celebrate the ten years of the University Penitentiary Center of Bicocca University. The idea comes from Caritas, the production of the inmates of the Opera prison.

It comes naturally to think that in inhumane living conditions, everything could be more important than the work of student volunteers and project coordinators.

But no: Maria Elena Magrin, who coordinates the University Penitentiary Center and teaches judicial psychology in Bicocca, explains that there are 82 inmates enrolled in the various faculties strong> of the university today, helped by 35 tutors.

And there are numerous testimonies from prisoners who say that studying has to do with self-knowledge, with personal dignity, with the creation of an alternative biographical narrative.

The Bicocca University Penitentiary Center and Extrema Ratio

Maria Elena Magrin also explains why, to celebrate the anniversary of the Polo, it was decided to offer the Extrema Ratio experience, together with the exhibition of photographic shots taken by inmates of the Bollate prison and selected by magazine C-41.

“We want to open windows of communication between prison and free citizens, it is a mutual need. Prison is a social institution, which must be included in collective thinking and cannot be the exclusive prerogative of the third sector and voluntary work.

We tend to think of prison sentences as a fair consequence, which it certainly is, but we do not actively engage with the idea of rehabilitation."

Justice to repair

That of restorative justice (and not merely punitive) is a system of thought that instead of alienating citizens and prisoners and, above all, perpetrators and victims, attempts to support a relationship of mutual exchange.

Because, as the inmates of the Opera prison say in an open letter to the citizens: "We would like to build with you a new idea of imprisonment: educational, functional, aimed at preparing us to return to the community.

At the moment we are anxiously experiencing the frenzy of our relationship with you and we have understood that there are constraints that hold us back. We would like to fight together for the right to stop and look at ourselves, to see ourselves, to know ourselves, to see our complexity and work on it, without considering it an obstacle".