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.
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.