The next chapter in the latest tale of corruption. Also available as a pre-order from https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07YGPGCBG
Pippo Samuele followed Warden Giusto down the corridor. Far from wearing a suit, or a uniform, as Pippo’d expected, the warden was wearing chinos and a short-sleeved white shirt. Being a first timer, the youth was no expert, but he thought the casual dress boded well. For the first time since the judge had pronounced sentence, Pippo felt he might make it through.
Looking from the corners of his eyes, he could see his fellow inmates gazing through the barred windows of their cell doors. No one spoke, or jeered, or threw toilet rolls like in the American movies. They lay on their bunks and watched the procession in silence, hard, intense looks. The looks of boys who were lost in a system that was failing them. Few knew of the failure and fewer still cared. To have reached this place on the island of Nisida, meant the boys were already lost, and caring for their plight would do nothing to change that.
‘You will be free before you know it, so long as you behave,’ Giusto was saying, over his shoulder. ‘Behaviour, that’s the key to success in this institution.’
Pippo didn’t hear him.
The constant stream of chatter from the man was just background noise to the youth, who was lost in his own thoughts. He’d not expected the judge to keep his promise as soon as he breached the legal threshold, he would be sent down. Pippo’d thought the judge was bluffing, using big words to scare him into being a model citizen. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Two days after his sixteenth birthday, he was hauled in by the Black Cats for attempted armed robbery, and soon after, following Giusto down this dank and dismal corridor, all bars and silence and glares from his fellow delinquents, those in this college of knocks, on course for a life of crime and, probably, an early grave.
He looked around at the toy prison where he was destined to spend the next twelve months to two years, depending on behaviour. The dust balls and graffiti were illuminated by flickering neon, the walk punctuated by the warden’s metal shoe studs clicking the marble tiles. Despite Giusto’s cheery voice and disposition, Pippo felt the Juvie centre pressing in around him. It was as though the authorities were trying to dress it up into something it wasn’t, all lollipops and lace curtains, with an underlying scent of bleach, marijuana and pent up tension. Not tension, fear, he realised. What are they all afraid of? Surely, not this windbag.
‘You’ll be sharing a room with Silvio Sacrabibbia. He’s also new,’ caught Pippo’s attention. ‘I chose to bunk you boys together because you have much in common.’
‘What’s he like?’
A tranny, too, is he? Pippo couldn’t bring himself to ask. He was self-conscious, suspecting the warden put his criminality down to his dress sense. He knew the judge had, because he’d stated it in his address when passing sentence. ‘Perhaps a custodial sentence will teach you how to dress, as well as how to behave in civilized society,’ from the one in the middle with a strange looking black hat and a condescending frown, seat raised higher than the others so he could look down on everyone, including his colleagues. Pippo hadn’t even known what custodial meant, until the judge pronounced the sentence of two years in a Juvenile Detention Centre. He guessed what that meant, right enough. He’d heard of Nisida Juvie, like all young criminals around Naples.
‘You’ll see soon enough, Filippo. I’m bringing you to your room now, as I told you,’ dragging him back from thoughts of the bigoted judge and unfair judiciary. Three men thinking more about their lunch prospects than about his welfare.
But I wasn’t listening then, was I. ‘I forgot.’
Moments later the warden stopped outside one of the cells and gestured to the guard who’d been following in their wake, so quietly Pippo had forgotten she was there. The guard unhooked a bunch of keys and unlocked the door.
‘Filippo Samuele, I would like to introduce you to Silvio Sacrabibbia.’
Pippo looked over the warden’s shoulder and saw a boy lounging on the lower of a set of bunk beds. The boy didn’t look up from the gossip mag he was reading.
‘Silvio. Don’t be rude, boy. Say hello to your new roomie.’
‘Ciao, new roomie. Come stai?’
How am I? Pippo frowned. How do you think? Nervous. Tired. In need of a lie down. ‘I’m okay, thanks.’
‘Get up, boy, and shake his hand, before I have Ariana take her strap to you.’
Silvio jumped up from the bunk, threw his arms around Pippo, kissed him once on both cheeks and said, ‘I’m so pleased to make your acquaintance. Oh, how I’ve longed for a roomie. I’ve been so lonely in this cell.’
‘This is not a cell, it’s a room,’ the warden said with a frown.
‘And yet, I’m in here all day every day with the door locked and there are bars everywhere and no privacy when I want to take a dump. Bastard over the way can’t keep his eyes off me when I pull my trousers down.’
‘I’ve told you before, Silvio, your exaggeration will get you into trouble one of these days.’
The warden turned to Pippo with a half-baked smile and a tut. ‘I’m sure when we’ve gone, Silvio will explain the rules Filippo, but basically, you get an hour in the exercise yard morning and evening, mass is at ten, meals are eight, one and six. When you’ve settled in, we’ll find you a job. Something to earn you a little money and keep you out of trouble. You have an hour and a half before lunch, so I suggest you get to know each other better.’
The warden left and Pippo listened to the clicks of his feet recede far enough for him to feel comfortable, before throwing his small canvas bag of belongings into the corner and climbing into the top bunk, from where he leant out and looked down on the youth below.
‘Does he show all inmates to their cells?’
‘Yeah, but don’t let him hear you call us inmates. He hates it,’ Silvio answered from behind his gossip rag. ‘Doesn’t like us calling them cells, either. These are “rooms”, I’ll have you know.’
‘Looks like a cell to me. From what little I’ve seen of you, you look like an inmate too. Why all the pretend stuff?’
‘He’s done some of that off the wall shit from America. Thinks treating us nice will make us citizens. Trying to mould us into his own image.’
‘Ah. I see. What sort of work do we get?’
‘Slave labour, more like. Usually untangling electrical cables, or weaving lobster baskets, stuff like that. When he said, “a little money”, he meant it, too. Won’t even buy a loaf from the shop.’
‘There’s a shop?’
‘Yeah. More for the guards than us, though. Although officially, it’s the inmate’s shop. You got to have money.’
‘Who has money, in here?’
‘Some are looked after. Mafia kids, mostly.’
‘Oh.’ Pippo stared at the sink in the corner. He couldn’t remember when or why, but at some stage he’d decided not to have anything to do with The Syndicate. He guessed it might have had something to do with what his mother had done for a living, and how they had treated her, but wasn’t sure. He’d stuck by the vow, whatever the reason he’d initially made it.
‘What you in for then?’ Silvio asked putting the rag down, so he could see Pippo.
‘I thought that was never asked?’
‘In my experience, it’s always the first question. Need to know who you’re sharing a bed with. I do, anyways,’ said with a wink, which Pippo missed.
‘How long you been in?’
‘A bed?’ Pippo suddenly realised.
‘Yeah, figure of speech. Don’t worry. I won’t force you into anything you don’t want,’ with a wink Pippo saw and smiled at. He looked down on his new roomie and wondered how he could.
‘Fat bitch who was behind you in the corridor. One with the keys and the quadruple chins.’
‘Does she really take a strap to you?’
For answer, Silvio rolled onto his side and pulled down his jeans to reveal a red welt on his buttock. ‘Cheek her, this is what you get.’
‘What d’you say?’
‘Don’t remember exactly. Something about how fat she is,’ while looking down, pretending to read the rag, now in his lap.
‘The jeans are thick, gave some protection. A summer dress wouldn’t.’
Pippo looked down at his regulation garb, white t-shirt, denims, pumps. A dress? Why not shorts, or jeans? he wondered.
‘She do it often?’
‘I don’t think so. I’ve only been hit the once.’
‘You’ve only been here a while, though. So, you have no idea.’
‘True. Anyway, best try keep on her good side.’
‘I tried to hold up a tourist with a lighter.’
‘You know, made to look like a gun. Only it didn’t, not really.’
‘Man wasn’t a tourist. He was an American sailor, or marine. Something like that. He said something in American, laughed and grabbed me to wait for the sbirri. Just kept laughing.’
‘Yeah, that’s what I kept calling him all the time it took for the Black Cats to come take me.’
‘Why didn’t you run?’
‘Couldn’t get away. He was too strong. Bastard.’
‘How long d’you get?’
‘Two years. Lawyer says I should get out after twelve or fourteen months, so long as I behave.’
‘For a first offence?’
‘Wasn’t my first. Just the first time I’ve been old enough for an inside stretch. Judge told me as soon as I hit sixteen, I was in here.’
‘You only sixteen?’
‘Just a baby.’
‘Why? How old are you?’
‘I’ll be eighteen next month.’ Pippo nodded and smiled, realising his cellmate had only just managed to get in the toy prison. A few more weeks and he would’ve been trying to fend off the attentions of hardened criminals in La Casa.