The Jail’s chaplain asked me once if I would be willing to lecture the inmates as part of an activity organised by the education committee. I had to talk about the Balkans war, then in full actuality. I had worked as a correspondent from Croatia and Bosnia during the war and knew the situation very well.
I said: of course, anything to help.
So I got ready with my notes and maps and went to the Jail, an ancient and dilapidated building in the city’s outskirts. The chaplain and the professor were waiting for me and escorted me inside. When the first heavy iron door closed behind me with a loud clang, I felt uneasy. I have never been inside a Jail before, only in the visitors’ longe, but not closed with the inmates. It was clear that once inside, I would no go out if the guard wouldn’t open that ominous door for me.
-Here -the chaplain told me- nobody asks about who is who. We didn’t tell them that you are the trial’s reporter of the local newspaper because they read your pieces, and some are no very happy with them. We didn’t want to jeopardize your security here. Then he scared me.
I looked around and saw a convict working hard with a shovel in the yard, trying to redeem years of imprisonment with work. He was a murderer I had written about, and I was sure he must be angry with me. We recognised each other immediately.
I followed my two friends, and we crossed another door. Another clang behind us. A cloud of convicts with awful appearance surrounded me and began to ask me for money. They needed real money to buy drugs. The chaplain and the professor took them away from me like a bunch of flies.
-Leave her alone, you guys!
Finally, my guides leaded me to the first floor, where there was a room that they used as a library. I met my public:
-A very well informed guy who had prepared and hanged on the wall a big map;
-a dozen regular inmates, more very interested in the subject;
-a very young one,
-and four men in dirty suits self-isolated in one table.
The youngest was close to rehabilitation, and the men in suits were con artists, who had problems of adaptation to life in prison and were often mistreated by other criminals.
The well-informed guy was a member of a terrorist group. He had studied at the University before he got caught.
I talked for an hour and a half because there were many questions. I think it was an enriching experience for all.
But for me, it was a relief when the doors opened to let me out of there, and I was able to breathe the fresh afternoon air.
Then I thought what incredible gift the freedom is.