Doomed to Live

Si nasce tutti buoni Maurizio Prestieri, pentito.

The interview is available with English subtitles.

Maurizio Prestieri was born a scugnizzo in Naples. Scugnizzo is neapolitan slang for a young boy who hangs out with his friends, mainly among the streets of the city. Scugnizzi are generally clever and cunning, sometimes troublesome, always poor. Occasionally, as it happened with Prestieri, they resort to petty crime to help their families in need. The natural progression for many of them, unfortunately, is to join a Camorra clan and inextricably tie their fate with that of organised crime. Prestieri explains that leading a normal life in Naples is seen as a defeat, the prerogative of losers. If you abide by the rules, obey the law, pay your taxes, go to work, you are a good guy, bravo uaglione. But in neapolitan the expression doesn't alway have a positive connotation, and can be used as a synonym for fool or stupid. A more accurate rendition would be: being too good or obliging, to the point that people will exploit it, or not having the nerve to cheat the system and take advantage of other people yourself. It's a horrible notion.

The state is virtually absent in those areas, and the resulting power vacuum is filled by criminal organisations. The camorristi provide services that should be supplied by the state, and justify their existence (and indeed necessity) in the eyes of the general population in this twisted way. Being good at cheating the system becomes a badge of honour in Naples, because it's the attribute of the gangster. Hence camorristi are taken as examples to follow, and instead of being shunned by the civilised society, they are treated like celebrities. Everyone seeks their friendship, and approval.

"What is the best thing about being a camorrista?" Saviano asks him. Prestieri has no doubts: "Power". Comandare è meglio che fottere. Giving orders is the best drug, he says. Prestieri is strangely eloquent, and gives the impression of being smart, self-examining, and sometimes even profound. This is a man who did terrible things and caused unimaginable pain to a lot of people. And he knows it. And he apologises for it, but somehow doesn't want to repudiate its past. Pentirsi è spirituale; repenting is a spiritual condition, he says, and he isn't ready for it. Maybe he even thinks he doesn't deserve it, but he doesn't say it.

Who is Maurizio Prestieri? Is he a monster, as he describes himself? His actions would surely point in that direction. And yet he is also capable of self reflection, and to recognise the evil that he did. Maurizio Prestieri is an enigma, a representation of the even bigger mystery that is the human condition. We are all capable of the worst atrocities, as well as the most compassionate acts, as we all contain the unexpressed potential of both good and evil. Which one will be more prevalent in our lives is a matter of chance, I believe, mostly outside of our own control. Prestieri was dealt a bad hand and he ended up unleashing his darkest side. He now seems tired, exhausted, empty. Is any kind of redemption possible for him? I want to believe there is, but I'm not so sure.

Si nasce tutti buoni. Prestieri started his story with this almost poetic judgement. We are all born good. It's the circumstances in our life that often corrupt us, to different extents. I don't know if I agree. But I like to believe that another path was possible for him, one in which he wasn't forced to steal milk to feed his family, and then grow into one of the most feared camorra bosses in recent times.

I like to imagine him as a kid, carefree, playing football with his friends in the streets of Naples.