When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Enjoy unlimited access to quality journalism.

Limited time offer

Get your 30-day free trial!
LA STAMPA

Meet The Homeless Man Living Under House Arrest, On A Sidewalk

Every night, Domenico Codispoti arranges his sleeping bag on a fixed patch of sidewalk in central Milan -- and is not allowed to move until the next morning.

Like this man in Milan, Domenico Codispoti also calls the sidewalk home. Just he can't leave...
Like this man in Milan, Domenico Codispoti also calls the sidewalk home. Just he can't leave...
Andrea Sceresini

MILAN - Homeless person under house arrest. It sounds like a paradoxical pun, but it is real indeed.

The central character of this twisted tale is 48-year-old Domenico Codispoti, with a spotty police record that includes attempted robbery, petty theft and drug dealing on the streets of Milan. And in 2006, came the remarkable sentence: two years under special surveillance and house arrest, to be served along the sidewalks of via Pisani, a few steps from the Central Station.

Every evening, at 9 p.m. sharp, Codispoti arranges his blankets and his sleeping bag in front of the door of the number 22 via Pisani, under deserted arches. He is not allowed to move until 7 a.m. the next morning. After sunset, like clockwork, a patrol comes to check he is at "home."

“I have always done my stealing at night," he notes, lighting a cigarette. "That’s why the court gave me this sentence. Since I don’t have a house, there was no other solution left: during the night I can’t move, I have to stay here, stuck on this sidewalk.”

He will remain here until April 13, 2014. Over the past seven years, in fact, Codispoti has been arrested several other times. He served time in jail, after which he was sent back to serve his “sidewalk time.”

It is a sentence with a Kafakaesque aftertaste: sleepless nights, pitiless glances of passers-by, days spent lining up in front of the canteen of the charity Caritas, or among the rubbish bins looking for some dried-up pieces of pizza.

“I am a special person under surveillance,” he says with a sad smile. How could you blame him? The rules of the game leave no margin: if he moves away from his slice of pavement, he might end up in handcuffs again. It's happened before.

"One evening, a couple of years ago, I went to the other side of the road to pee," he recalls. The patrolling officers busted him, saying he was trying to escape. After a plea bargain they sentenced him to two additional years.

A normal past

Lying next to him, under the illuminated windows of bars and restaurants, are two other homeless people, a man and a woman. She is his girlfriend, and is two months pregnant. Long hair, bare feet, swollen legs. The night – the say – you always have to be careful. People of any sort come by: drug dealers, thieves, drunkards.

"As soon as you turn around, something disappears," whispers Codispoti. "If my girlfriend needs to go to the bathroom I cannot go with her. You get scared - you never know who you may come across."

He says he's asked the police many times to send him to prison to serve out his sentence? "At least there is a bed, a hot meal, water to wash yourself. But they say, "No, this is an alternative sentence, you should serve it this way."

Years ago Codispoti did have a job, a normal life: he lived in Tolmezzo, in the province of Udine, in northeastern Italy. He ran a bar, had a daughter. Then in 1994, the first troubles with drugs: the place was closed down, he ended up on the streets and moved to Milan. He's been here ever since. “It’s an original story to say the least," notes the lawyer who has been assisting Codispoto for seven years. "We will try to get the measure revoked, my client should stay in a house or a community: at least he would go through the next months with a roof over his head."

It's getting late now on via Pisani. The last customers come out of the pubs, tourists go back to their hotels. Codispoti curls up in his corner. He pulls up the zip of his sleeping bag and turns over to look up at the stars.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest