Giulia, Venice


Your story in a few lines – you’re young given you were born in 1990


I am Venetian and after ending the scientific high school (Liceo Morin, Mestre) I attended the university of philosophy from 2009.


I soon got that those studies would be not enough for me and start to volunteer for a social enterprise (Rio Terà dei Pensieri) working in the local female prison at Giudecca (and in the male one at Santa Maria Maggiore) from 2012.

It has been a transitory phase because I was still graduating but further to that I gave my total availability to Rio Terà.

This experience started because I already knew the jail director and also because, during the high school, I was volunteering in a charity (El Fontego) where a colleague was volunteering in the male jail as librarian. Since I was 15, so, I was hearing a lot about jails.


When I further enrolled to the second degree in philosophy I ended to stage for Preface, a social French enterprise dealing with learning and training in 24 French jails. I was lucky to join a photography workshop in the Arles one which was inserted in a professional course whose attendees were obtaining a real diploma. I was there together with a professional photographer from Italy, Marco Ambrosi and another one, Giorgio Bombieri, who also cooperated with Rio Terà dei Pensieri.

We ended up on the idea to organize a show in Venice in 2015, taking place thanks to Giorgio at Palazzetto Tito (Fondazione Bevilacqua la Masa). It has been a very different exhibition, showing what can be produced in a jail and not the jail itself. There were collections of photos by different authors working with inmates in several jails through more than one workshop (in Arles, with Giudecca female inmates, in Verona with photographer Giovanna Magri, and in other places).


This experience – and the concept of work as a vector for social inclusion and for empowerment – led me to know the role of culture and of learning to boost the inner creativity everyone holds, in different sizes.


I moved on the idea to write my final dissertation on this topic – between theoretical philosophy and social sciences. I was reflecting on time and on how the society lives it in a constant acceleration. If you come to the relation between it and the punishment, the inmate is not only ‘crystallised’ in a secluded place but is also stopped in the evolution of ‘time’.

So, in which way should we synchronize the inmates to the ‘time’ of the society beyond the prison in order to truly re-integrate them? For me culture is crucial for this synchronicity, not only the fact of working or studying while in jail, because work is synchronising only on a social level and not on a personal one.


Since I graduated, I work for a social enterprise close to Padua dealing with reorientation.

My dream, however, is another: to be able to make a living with the activities I initiated with Closer, the charity I founded with my colleagues and friends of the high school (all the same age, born between 1990 and 1992: Leonardo Nadali, Nicolò Porcelluzzi, Luca Ruffato, Federico Tanozzi, Leonardo Azzolini).


Closer is founded in Venice on 2016 to promote cultural activities and events wherever the state shows its limitations, especially in jails. We deal to include who is always excluded and therefore we design social projects devoted to a larger audience, not only to inmates: also to the general citizenship that is the less aware to be excluded.


We are very interested in arts for those always wished to be in contact with, or technology for those have been always tear apart from: we think that learning is the sole – and real – power we have.

We’ve just born since one year, we must be patient.



Why literature – and less maybe at this stage the arts and the music or technology if I look to your very first two events – is the first ‘media’ you have chosen for Closer projects?


To be honest, it has not been a choice, as you see our claim is just to bring culture where it often does not enter.

For us, literature has been the first of the things to do: some of us, during the high school, were part of a collective, called Spritz Letterario (Spritz is the typical aperitivo in Venice and surroundings) where we learned how to design a literary event and readings. We also had the fortune to be volunteering to Festival Letteratura in Mantua.

We were good in making that – it was easier for us. Federico and Leonardo are still working for the festival and we felt safe and enabled to do so.

Further, the book with which we started our literary activity in the jail was very appreciated there, especially from the jail director: I speak of the winner of Italian most famous literary award, Premio Campiello, Giorgio Fontana (Slow Words interviewed Giorgio Fontana the day after he won the prize, on 2014, with Morte di un uomo felice published by Sellerio). We’re also lucky because Giorgio told us that he was ready with a further novel to be introduced either!


The main focus for the workshop with the female prisoners has been the first book where there are crucial issues on justice: they liked it a lot!



Giorgio is an extremely social writer and this is uncommon. It must be easy to design an event consisting in reading his book live and in commenting it (mixing inmates and audience coming from the society of ‘outside’)


I was thinking it would be not easy because his pages are really very hard. I would have been happy to bring in the jail a kind of writer like Violetta Bellocchio because she is a woman and because she is a woman suffering a lot, those pains can be intercepting the pains of the inmates.

Giorgio communicates on a different level, he is sensitive and keen of the reality surrounding him, so he has been deeply appreciated. His sensitivity is very linked to the wide culture he holds.


We worked with the women for four months to get them ready to the event: beside the novels, we brought them to read also Giorgio’s articles (in them the author expresses another layer of his personality too). For instance, one of his articles was about feminism and has been very appreciated by them!



So you can tell me that inmates at Giudecca jail read and do not have serious problems of illiteracy or the refuse to read…


When you come with an idea in a jail, you already know that its reception is never exceeding your expectation, maybe it’s the contrary! We have been lucky because we’re the youngest working there and so we made a kind of ‘friendship’ with them and they felt lower barriers toward us – even if there are lots of incredibly outstanding charities volunteering there.


I know also that many of the women reading with Giorgio were not reading the entire book before. Liliana, who was the event chairwoman (each of them has been assigned a role) surprised us because she was able also to summary the book and to analise it quite well.


The questions to ask the writer during the event have been freely organized by the inmates, we of course made a rehearsal before but we did not impose any role or any configuration. We just told them that to design a cultural event you may need many roles, included the one to assist the audience and the invited ones (for instance we told them that my work in Mantua was consisting in checking the tickets, also that is needed).


For us is also important who is ‘out’ of the jail: the Giorgio’s reading – the first event of this kind, open to the public but also consisting in a workshop – put aside free and inmates together.


You may know about so many writers going for a presentation in a jail, you just require a contact with a charity inviting you. We worked on a different level.


The relation in/out is cultivated also in other jails for instance in Milan where they have theatrical workshops and other activities but not literary workshops (Slow Words recently interviewed Silvia Polleri, the designer of the first restaurant in a jail, In Galera in Bollate prison)



Which are the books and the music with you now?


I have to tell you that I do not read as I would. Lately, let’s say, I have no time to read and I am ashamed of this! I love McEwan a lot, for instance.


On my bedside table there is a book of poems by Elisa Biagini entitled Da una crepa, then there is Carver with Vuol star zitta, per favore? I bought it last week but I still have to start it – I am so lucky to have friends reading more than me and who tell me about books, so I can get inspiration.

I just ended Annie Ernaux, Gli anni, and I still have in my hands Alice Munro, In fuga, because here and there some nights I read a short story.


I follow a lot the Italian website ‘Abbiamo le prove’ founded by Violetta Bellocchio and every time I can I read something. For me, also that one is literature.


I love the Smiths. I am preparing myself for the upcoming Radiohead concert, even if I am always in my car where the stereo is out of order.



Which are your favourite food and drink?


I love water and mint. When I was in Marseille for my stage, I was drinking lots of mint tea, Moroccan style.

I love Venetian small pizza and the boiled meatballs.



A talent you have, the one you miss


I feel I am able to express lots of involvement in what we are doing.

I believe a lot in Closer and I had the evidence that if you have enthusiasm, you can really ‘sell’ well your activity. I hope you’re not misunderstanding me now: I just want to say that wherever there is no truth or no passion, it’s impossible to start a new venture!


I am maybe good in communicating just because I’m very convinced on what we do.


As a dearth, I know I get soon agitated and sometimes I have lack of self-assurance.

This is common among many of my friends and also among the ones founding Closer with me. We have such a good level of passion that we would always perform higher and higher. So, once a first weakness arrives, you feel it much more than what you should.

Days ago I was reading FB and reading precisely about somebody doing a lot of things – a show, a new publication – and I was telling to myself: you’ve already 26 years and you must push harder! I also know that what I see on FB is not always the reality but…



The difference between who is 44 today and who is 26 is that the first was not having FB and spend more time close with the real persons and their real stories. Our life so ended very differently from yours – I do not know if for the better or for the worse – but I really hope your will be not so much on the virtual and more on the real life when it comes to size results!

I want to speak of something else: I am interested in your relation with Venice and its province. Beside your role as social worker, what do you give to the city as a citizen and what do you feel to get back?


What I give to Venice? To fact to remain here. To try to do something nice here, in the most beautiful city of the world and so to pay homage to this beauty with the small and few tools I have.

I always say that (and my friends tease me for that) that my grandmother was bringing us to stroll in Venice and always dressed us smartly before. Venice is beautiful, she said, and we must be au pair, also with a nice pleated skirt.



I am totally agreeing with your grandmother…


I am not a fashion-addicted or a very elegant person if we come to dresses and outfits but f to pay respect to a city giving us so much in aesthetical terms is important.

What has to be said too is that Venice is not giving much else. I do not know how to describe this ‘much else’, because it is too much. There is no offer, of any kind! There is no offer also on the rents, even if a rent here is not so expensive as the ones in Milan but there you have everything (jobs included) while here you do not find anything. How I can pay so much to live here, where there is just beauty and nothing else?



I agree also on this. But let’s speak of something nice happening to you recently, maybe more on a personal level….


Mhh, I am thinking to it, I do not know…Maybe I could tell you a silly thing: a friend of Closer, who is Leonardo Nadali, came back today from his six months Erasmus period and this is the coolest happening since a while. Then, I could quote a few professional nice things with Closer. One of the things I am mostly proud of is that we will record a song inside the jail with Universal Music. With the Milan based musician Jack Jaselli who wrote the lyric with the inmates.

It’s also fantastic that their relatives and friend will be able to listen the world of their beloved wherever they will be in the world.



What have you learned from life so far, even if you’re quite young?


I learned that is fantastic to see the other people happy and you could be happy with them. This is what amuses me and also what pays me back.

Also the fact to do not have prejudices is important. I learned this all along these years and also while working.

I know, in my inner self, that is always very hard and quite often I feel that I still have some prejudices especially when I return home and speak badly with my mum or with whom is close to me, but I already know that I am freer than before.

I am still working on the slavery of prejudices and will continue so forth.




This interview has been suggested to us by a dear friend – the Venetian writer and journalist Vera Mantengoli – we really hope to interview soon to tell you her litearary-psychological projects with the inmates.

2 Responses to “Giulia, Venice”

  1. Alec Scott

    Hello: I am writing a story for the New York Times on the Vatican Pavilion at the women’s prison in the Giudecca hoping to get in touch with Giulia, and Closer, for the story, since you also have worked on project there.


    Alec Scott


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