Photography by
Stefano Triulzi
Gino De Blasio

Rodrigo is studying to become a lawyer, he like two hundred and fifty of his fellow inmates live here, Bollate, a jail located in the metropolitan area of Milan. On a daily basis, they can be found playing sport, working in the voluntary sector or, as many have found, working in catering. For some, it is their first incarnation of working in such a sector.

There is a newspaper that comes out every two months, “Carte Bollate”, a periodical that is written by the inmates with help from volunteers from the outside to talk about their experiences, thoughts, reflections and the problems they face by being locked away. They even had a recent photo exhibition called, “Riscatto” (Redemption in English) after the inmates had completed a course.

To “survive” the experience at Bollate thus is one of changing your mindset. Knowing that by condensing your time into something achievable, it is always better to do something, rather than nothing. This is how you learn a new career, how you can reintegrate into society and moreover, regaining a sense of dignity which other forms of detention are so capable of taking away. This is the key to building that bridge between those who are on the inside, and those who are on the outside.

With 60,000 incarcerated in Italy, 2000 are working and it is a growing trend. If you were to look at the Opera jail, still within the metropolitan area of Milan their social cooperative is promoting all sorts of work that range from groundskeeper to plant nurseries and vertical gardens as well as artisan tailor workshops. Gorgona jail is the only penitentiary in Italy where they have beehives and olive trees as well as the famous wine makers, Marchesi Frescobaldi using three inmates to make wine, cleverly called, Gorgona. What else?

In Venice, the female prison, Giudecca is transforming the famous surrounding eight islands into a biological plantation which in turn produces medicinal remedies like the ones found in the mercantile city by artisan producers. This was made achievable by the organisation Rio Terà dei Pensieri. The all male jail however they have become specialists of silk screen printing and leather makers, all created under the brand, Malefatte. They have been promoted by the American artist, Mark Bradford.

It’s like this across the peninsula, a total of thirteen socially constructed companies that operate in the penitentiary sector now under the Freedhome umbrella at a national level.

Those eyes….know it all

All of this has a name though, Article 21: it’s a law that allows a detainee the right to go out and work during the day. Every inmate has access to this law, defendants and convicts, as well as prisoners after the expiation of at least ten years of imprisonment. To qualify, it must first seek approval from the prison board and then passed by a legal tribunal.

It is precisely because of this law, Article 21, that we have the first restaurant in the world based in a prison. InGalera opened in October 2015 after a previous ten years of trading under a catering outfit. InGalera restaurant, run by Cooperative “ABC La Sapienza in Tavola” (knowledge at the table) started as a program to reintegrate prisoners into the working place and turned initially, into a bit of a media circus. The first month was completely overhauled by press interest, interviews with journalists and the New York Times even paid a visit; the novelty of a restaurant based in a penitentiary was overwhelming for some.

A glimpse of the restaurant

What is forgotten is that InGalera is neither a social fairytale or an experience to remember with a selfie; InGalera is created by those who bust a gut on a daily basis, like those who work in a ‘regular’ restaurant. There will be those that even suffer, like a ‘real kitchen’ but for chef Davide, “this isn’t a job, moreover it is a game, think of it this way, cooking and eating are two things that we need to do anyway.”

Davide used to cook even before entering prison; he was one of the first students at the Alma college, one of the most important cooking schools in Italy and subsequently worked across michelin star kitchens and even airline companies. Today, he is forthright in his beliefs at InGalera; everything that is produced in the kitchen is made by the chefs. The meat is minced, bread is baked, but most importantly, they all go and do the shopping. Till assistants don’t care who they are, they are clients like everyone else.

cook to be free

They have a variety of signature dishes which include, Cassoeula (a dish that is made from savoy cabbage, pork ribs, skin, trotters, head, etc) another is black garlic risotto and quail. They have been inspired by Gualtiero Marchesi, the illustrious teacher of Italian cuisine as well the founder of the Alma school throughout their whole menu. “Il Gambero Killer” is a crayfish speciality whilst, chicken kiev makes it to the pass like any of chef Marchesi’s famous interpretations.

Chef Davide has even written a book, “The Colours of My Life.” The idea is simple, “whoever has committed a crime still has a story to tell; regardless of their responsibility or not, these stories must be shared. They are stories that can move you emotionally as well taking you to other places mentally, this is a gift given to mankind, one that cannot be wasted.”