Roberto Assagioli intended that his “prison diary” might become an autobiographical account of the time he spent in Regina Coeli prison under the fascist regime in 1940. However, he never completed the manuscript. Now published for the first time by the Istituto di Psicosintesi, Freedom in Jail offers a vivid picture of Assagioli’s experience through multiple lenses – from the raw concreteness of everyday events to his interior world. Throughout his testimony, Assagioli offers a personal example of how to use difficult life events as an opportunity to develop one's personal and spiritual psychosynthesis.
Freedom in Jail also provides - for the first time - an intimate look at Assagioli's own trials and profound insights as he uses his psychosynthesis concepts and techniques towards personal transformation and self-realization.
As the editor of this book, I discovered many things while preparing the manuscript, not only about Assagioli, but also about the prison conditions at the time. Here are 5 of the most impressive – and sometimes surprising – facts from Freedom in Jail.
1. Assagioli did not really spend time in solitary confinement as we might understand it today. At that time, more affluent prisoners, like Assagioli, could pay for private and more comfortable cells as well as better food. Assagioli actually writes about his personal struggle when his money nearly ran out and he faced the possibility of having to share a cell with other prisoners and the idea that he might lose his “‘freedom’ … of solitude and of privacy!”
2. Before starting on this project, I found numerous accounts of when and for how long Assagioli had been in prison. With the help of Laura Ferrea and my husband, we were able to finally obtain his prison records from the Department of Petitionary Administration – Criminology Museum of Rome. We now know that he entered the prison on 23 August 1940 and was released 27 days later on 19 September.
3. I always knew Assagioli was a great scholar, but I didn’t realize to what extent until I started to annotate his references in Freedom in Jail. Here is a list of just some of the people he refers to: Count Herman von Keyserling, Ferdinando Cazzamalli, Alfred Adler, Alice Bailey, Augustinus, Richard Maurice Bucke, Carl Gustav Jung, William Bradford Cannon, Dante Alighieri, Jean Pierre de Caussade, Dwight Goddard, Bhikshu Wai-Tao, Evelynn Underhill, G. Stanley Hall, George Washington Crile, Francesco de Sarlo, Epictetus, William McDougall, P. D. Ouspensky, Han Ryner, Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli, Gabriel Anton, Otto Gross, Martha and Mary (from the Gospel of Luke), William James, and Willy Hellbach.
4. Freedom in Jail is testimony of Assagioli’s personal experience, but many of his ideas about freedom he attributed to Count Herman von Keyserling, who was a good friend and colleague. They met in 1939, and Assagioli once said that Keyserling was “the greatest psychologist without being a professional psychologist, whose books I strongly recommend.” In Freedom in Jail, Assagioli extensively refers to Keyserling’s book From Suffering to Fulfillment.
5. You might be familiar with Assagioli’s article “Smiling Wisdom,” but you really gain insight into his sense of humor when reading his “Letter to Friends, September 1944,” translated into English for the first time in its entirety. In this letter he talks about the time after his release from prison when he had to “play hide-and-seek” from the fascist political police for several months in the Catenaia Alps. He writes humourously of spending time at the “Grand Hotel of Cowsheds’ that included a “rich assortment of local insects, exceptionally lively and resourceful; wonderful ricotta; and cornfields, the ideal hideout recommended by Italian and English experts.”
Freedom in Jail by Roberto Assagioli, introduced and edited by Catherine Ann Lombard is now available for purchase from the Psychosynthesis Trust.
Catherine Ann Lombard
Catherine Ann Lombard, MA, is a psychosynthesis psychologist, practitioner, and researcher. She has had numerous articles published on psychosynthesis and specializes in multiculturalism as described in her book From Culture Shock to Personal Transformation: Studying Abroad and the Search for Meaning. Most recently, she co-authored the article “Opening the door to creativity: A psychosynthesis approach” published by the Journal of Humanistic Psychology. You can follow her bimonthly blog at LoveAndWill.com.
1) Caldroni, B. (2004). L’uomo a tre dimensioni, colloqui con Roberto Assagioli (1967-1971) [The man in three dimensions, conversations with Roberto Assagioli (1967-1971).] Edited by Laura Oretti. Ravenna, Italy: Girasole. (p. 72).