a community for living

In Italy’s San Patrignano drug rehab centre, former addicts are finding selflessness in the search for their true selves

photos by lisa calabrese

Francesca leads me through the fragrant, flowery greenhouses of San Patrignano. She shows me her personal bonsai tree and the papyrus, orchids and water lilies that fill a tiny outdoor pond, then we make our way to the roses. She and her co-workers recently won six silver medals for these roses at Euroflora 2006, a prestigious review of floriculture in Genoa, Italy. Francesca lightly tells me that they would have gotten gold medals, but due to a cold weather spell, the rosebuds had not yet bloomed.

“This is my last month here and I have two contrasting emotions inside myself,” Francesca tells me. “I have lots of desire to put into action all of these things, to succeed, because basically I’m missing that part of my life from adolescence. Now I’m twenty-five years old, I want to challenge myself to see how capable I am. I’m very optimistic but I also have a huge displeasure because I leave a family, friends and the people I’m currently helping. It’s an experience like nothing else. Then if I think that I entered as a drug addict…”

San Patrignano sits on the sweet undulating hills of Emilia Romagna in central Italy. Self-defined as a community against social marginalization, it is also the largest residential drug rehab community in Europe. Fourteen hundred guests work and live together on a 250-hectare property. Calling these former outcasts “guests” rather than “patients” or “drug addicts” is a small but decisive and intentional step to spur them to win back their dignity.

The community is nearly self-sufficient, with fifty-six different work sectors where guests can receive practical training in everything from agriculture to winemaking, horse breeding to carpentry, blacksmithing to printmaking. The very large work force of cooks in the kitchen, help in the laundry room, or hands in the field is composed of men and women in the rehabilitation phase, others who have completed their recovery and chosen to stay, and additional volunteers who commute or have decided to call the community their home…

A former managing editor of Adbusters magazine, Hilary Keever strives to lead a simple life in Fermo, Italy. She thanks Denis, Pamela and Francesca for their openness.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life