on BLOG, transformation 29 Nov, 2018



Dear readers,

after a long absence from the blog, I return with one of my articles, published last week on the website of the Fondazione Lavoroperlapersona. This is the story of an initiative I'm very proud of: the creation and development of a production department inside the Lanciano Penitentiary, in the province of Chieti. A story of willpower, of differences, of change, of work, of redemption ...

Why did I publish it on the blog of the Lavoroperlapersona Foundation? Because this non-profit Foundation organizes non-stop in the beautiful village of Offida (in the province of Ascoli Piceno) and in various Italian cities events, debates, conferences that focus on work, man and dignity. And since a year and a half I work with great enthusiasm with Generativa and with other realities of the ecosystem “Lavoro per la persona”.




“OUT! Produce in prison for free people”

March 2014, one of my first, shaky interactions with people detained, under the high security regime. I was selecting candidates for industrial pastry operator training and one of them told me "Do you know what attracts me most about this project? Produce food that will be eaten by free people. Out!"

More than four years have passed, now I feel at home in the District House of Lanciano, in the province of Chieti, I met and selected several dozen prisoners, the person who had spoken to me, in the meantime, has extinguished his sentence, is a a model worker - a free worker - and was even summoned by the Holy Father ... but that moment remained indelibly in my memory. Thanks to that observation, I understood that the project I had built with such dedication, that in the almost two years of gestation had given me joy and frustration, emotions and hopes, in reality didn't belong to me. It belonged to them, to the inmates, who, each in a different way, attributed to it a meaning not foreseen by me, considered it a bridge between dichotomies as in / out, absent father / father who feeds multitudes of children, person dependent on the family / resource for the family, shame / pride, inertia / physical activity ...

Let's take a step back: in May 2012, an entrepreneur with whom I had worked for a few months, Valerio D'Orsogna, summoned me to his office and, unexpectedly, told me "I have a dream: open a production line in prison". A PRODUCTION line. He spoke in Italian, but the sentence resounded in me immediately, making me wonder about why he was entrusting this task to me, without knowing my past, nor my at least ten years interest in prison issues.

The project, built together, quickly assumed the appearance of a lever of change, awareness and responsibility, made of sense of duty, of real work and commitment, certainly not built on welfare and piety. Even today, I believe that this is the main strength of the initiative, together with having treated and treating each prisoner in training, each operator under test, every expert operator always with the respect that is DEED to every man and that strengthens from a mutual assumption of responsibility. A partnership without ulterior motives, an ideal "work contract", but not utopian or idealized, that on allows to reach high quality levels and record productivity.

A bit of history: in the summer of 2012 I presented the project idea to the Regional Ministry of Justice, which immediately welcomed it. In the second half of 2012 I agreed with the parties involved (Hygiene Bureau, Direction of the District House, Ministry, Fire Department, company) the interventions to be carried out, to make an inhospitable and unhealthy warehouse in a food production atelier complying with the strictest standards of hygiene and safety. Then: twelve months of darkness. A year of bureaucratic paralysis, of documents turned back over and over again, until a meeting - in January 2014 - of the new Jail Director, Maria Lucia Avantaggiato, who ran to know me in the company, happy to be able to build with me a timing in pure corporate style. Another dichotomy. And precisely on the differences, on distant approaches, on immensely different responsibilities, but also and above all on the deep mutual respect, on the same, stubborn trust in the project and on the evidence of the results, the company and the Penitentiary gave life to a model production line, which, in 2016, obtained the prestigious and strict British Retail Consortium certification on food safety.

A bit of numbers and processes: in these years, we have trained over fifty operators, we have employed about thirty and another ten will be in 2019, we hosted in the factory several inmates who benefited from the authorization to work outside of the Prison, we have always made ourselves available to a factory recruitment of operators free again, we have provided more than once legal assistance and offered guarantees for housing ...

As for the "free" staff, the selection and training process envisages that each candidate inmate supports a group interview, then an individual motivational and cognitive interview in coaching mode, fills out a personal personality questionnaire and is trained for two weeks on hygiene, safety, behavioral norms, workers rights and duties, industrial process, forms. Finally, after a period of support to experienced operators of about a month and a half, suitable candidates are hired, in agreement with the National Contract of the Food Industry.

The shifts are four hours a day (to double the number of staff detained employed), from Monday to Friday; after six months of work, a level shot.

With regard to authorization to work in the main Plant, I cannot hide the initial difficulties in the inclusion of the first two inmates in the company, an Italian and a Chinese, almost three years ago. In the factory, many looked at them with suspicion, fear and curiosity, asking questions about why, instead of their unemployed children, this job opportunity was offered to two "offenders". This phase did not last long, thanks to the sensitivity and dedication of their line manager; after a few weeks, the "different" became "equal", the "strangers" became "known", the binomial we / they disappeared from the dictionary ... And, at that point, we could start to rotate the two prisoners on more production lines, to make them known in the company and, above all, to offer them opportunities for socializing: a virtuous circle had begun, a process of evolution of the ENTIRE corporate community.

I'm deeply convinced that we need another ten, hundred, thousand projects like these in Italy. "I have a dream too."






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