It is the autobiographical narration of the detention suffered by the author in the Roman prison of Rebibbia. Driven to steal jewels from a friend’s house, to cope with economic difficulties, the protagonist is arrested and sentenced in the early 1980s. Thus a parallel world opens up to her, in which she gradually identifies and which manifests itself as rich in a varied humanity and endowed with an unthinkable vitality. The initial impact with rules and deprivations of all kinds are described with lexical crudeness, from body searches to the impossibility of washing, from the dilapidation of the cell to the inflexibility of the guards, but all address her with the nickname of “Mrs. ”, with respect for a woman they perceive as highly placed. Furthermore, to her great surprise, Goliarda discovers that the cells remain open during the day and in fact the inmates live in a community, a community that can well be defined as “Rebibbia University”. Thus she becomes familiar with her cellmates, the toxic Marrò and the rude Annunciation, insinuating herself into their weaknesses and fragility, but she also gets to know the “political” prisoners, capable of surprising embellishments in the common spaces, to the point that their living room seems to have very little of the gloom that is usually associated with the prison condition. A live fresco of the prison situation of the time, although limited to female detention, notoriously less harsh than male, due to the quality of treatment and quantity of inmates, but outlined with rare skill and capable of inducing the reader to re-evaluate a world damned for definition. Goliarda also discovers what solidarity, warmth, friendship, spontaneity mean, impossible in the outside world where one is less free and safe. Free and nonconformist intellectual, Goliarda Sapienza offers us, with a lucid and penetrating gaze, a surprising cross-section that overturns all our stereotypes about an unknown reality and for this reason all the more revealing.
This book of the “scandalous” and misunderstood Goliarda Sapienza, is immediately striking. Not just for the title. We understand, from the very first pages, that the author is not hiding. It is she, Goliarda, the protagonist of these “filthy” memory pages inside the women’s prison of Rebibbia. Yes, dirty, smelly, disturbing pages.
But what is the writer, the actress, the poet doing inside a prison? It’s all true? Narrative fiction? No. Goliarda Sapienza was actually in prison, at the age of 55, on charges of aggravated receiving stolen goods, forgery of documents and impersonation. In summary, he had stolen some jewels from a friend. And in those years, poor Goliarda was not doing well, due to serious economic difficulties that often hit visionaries and alternative minds.
When Goliarda Sapienza was imprisoned in Rebibbia in October 1980, a broad debate developed around her story supported by numerous voices traceable in newspapers, magazines and in public presentations until 1983, the year of the diffusion of the University of Rebibbia for Rizzoli, which had considerable critical acclaim.
The University of Rebibbia has already been the subject of in-depth studies from a thematic point of view and above all of gender studies.At 56, a woman used to living not in comfort (because she has been in a serious economic crisis for years now) but in short in an environment of artists, intellectuals and the bourgeoisie is catapulted into the female wing of Rebibbia, where she comes into contact with a humanity sorrowful, humble, angry. Prison has its rules and rituals and Goliarda has to learn them right away: to help this ‘lady’ who has fallen into the abyss not to get lost Giovannella, a teenage mother who always gets herself arrested for insulting a public official when she has to have an abortion, because inside ‘they do it better’, Teresa Marrò, a young former actress destroyed by heroin and her mother’s indifference, Edda, a large woman who is a mother, a point of reference and sometimes even a lover for the inmates, Mamma Roma, a a slender old woman who claims to have paranormal gifts, and the enigmatic Chinese Suzìe Wong who prepares fragrant tea and involves her companions in long discussions…
The University of Rebibbia, a true neo-realist jewel that photographs with candor and ruthlessness one of the Italys that emerged from ’77 and embarked on the anesthetized interlude of the ’80s: not the Italy of barricades of movements, utopias, political struggle, but the one in margin, of the underclass in prison, of the derelict, of the forgotten. The one twice humiliated and offended because she is female. It is not the prison literature of American noir, with beatings, rapes, torture, but the story of a prison that is a closed and gloomy space in which women who are different from each other but united by their femininity confront each other, smell, comfort until cancel all social distancing in the name of a common, tender pain.