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Photo of a silhouette behind prison bars
Mariateresa Fichele

Fifteen years ago, Francesco kept busy by scamming people. He was a regular visitor to the beaches of Terracina, south of Rome, where he was caught several times selling counterfeit Ray-Ban sunglasses. Then came the drugs, which fed a serious substance-induced psychosis and eventually he tested positive for HIV.


It’s around that time that I started treating him because his paranoid schizophrenia had gotten quite severe. Years of battles ensued to stabilize him, with the help of his wife and social services.

Sentenced to Poggioreale

F. also has two children. One is blind and the other one has serious behavioral problems.

Although he no longer left the house and was continually subjected to visits and therapy, he got to a better place a few years ago, and his family seemed to have acquired some measure of stability and serenity.

Then, one recent Saturday his wife called me: "Dottoré, he’s been arrested!”

For all the times he’d been stopped with counterfeit goods, even if it was a decade ago, he had accumulated a serious record; and instead of being granted house arrest, he was sentenced to prison straight away.

Soon I will visit him in the Poggioreale prison because it is my duty to find a way to get him out of there as soon as possible, so he can continue to be treated at home.

And I would love to tell him, "Francé, speak up. Tell the judge everything you know. Report the balloon sellers, those who sell socks in the subway, the carts that bring fresh coconut on the beach. The vendors in the middle of the street, white, black — Naples is full of fake Louis Vuitton handbags anyway. See if you can also become a 'collaborator of justice', a witness."

Dottoré's indignation

Last year, Sicilian Mafia boss Giovanni Brusca was released from prison after 25 years in prison after dissolving a 13-year-old boy in acid. If Brusca can get out, Francesco should at least be let out tomorrow with a formal apology.

But unfortunately this won’t happen. If all goes well, in a few months I should be able to get him assigned house arrest. In the meantime, I need to get in touch with the social services as soon as possible. Because if we don't take care of Francesco and his family, they will take away his pension.

His story is similar to many others.

This isn’t demagogy or populism. This is simply the indignation of a doctor who has the privilege of working with those at the very bottom of society’s ladder. And for them, I demand justice.



Learn more about Worldcrunch's exclusive Dottoré! series here.

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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.

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