Italy

Life of a Repentant

The story of Michele Vitagliano, a former member of the Neapolitan Camorra

It might seem strange for young guy from another city or even just from another neighbourhood, but where I grew up most people think like this, and I just assimilated the subculture of that place. […] I promised myself to write down all of that crude reality, even if it may seem bad, arrogant and destructive. But it’s my life and even though I turned state’s evidence and today I’m a different person, that was how I used to live.”

Scampia is a run-down area in the north of Naples. Here, at the end of the 1990s Michele began to work for the camorra clans selling drugs and carrying out robberies. It was the easiest way to make money and to pay for a lot of vices: women, gambling, cocaine and designer clothes. Then in 2009 Michele was arrested. By turning state’s evidence he earned a reduced sentence and the possibility to begin a new life. In 2014 he was released and the state gave him a new life in Milan where he lived with his mother and two sisters, under the witness protection programme. His return to society, however, was hard and complicated. Michele began to work as a pot washer, then he was hired as a cook but he never told anyone who he really was, keeping all relationships on a superficial level and having amorous adventures only with girls he met online.

According to a report by the state police department in 2016 (the most recent information available), the Italian “population of those under police protection” numbers 6192 people: 1277 are state witnesses or police informers and almost 5000 are family members that have accompanied them. The criminal organisation responsible for the highest number of informers is the camorra, with more than 600 “pentiti”. In spite of the assistance offered in exchange for their collaboration, a genuine integration programme does not exist: faced with the difficulties of reintegration, many pentiti return to their old habits and end up back in prison.

Today Michele is a chef in a restaurant in Milan. He still isn’t completely over his obsession for luxury brands and the need to display wealth. Sometimes the ghosts of the past return and the solitude afflicts him. The protection programme concluded at the end of 2019 and soon after Michele was no longer guaranteed a home by the state. Many like him cannot manage to achieve economic stability. They can’t settle into a regular job or progress in a career and quickly burn through the money they earn, pursuing lifestyles beyond their means.

Photographer Giulia Mozzini met Michele at the end of 2018. “He trusted me,” she explains, “and I was able to document his life for a whole year. Together we transcribed the diaries he wrote in prison on square papered notepads, the covers of which are long disappeared. Diaries that describe his slow awakening and ultimate redemption.” The images of this photo report are the fruit of that encounter and that collaboration. But there was an unexpected twist in this story: today Giulia and Michele are a couple and are planning a future together.

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