Italian island jail hosts high-end vineyard

Fri Jun 14, 2013 4:04pm EDT
 
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By Barry Moody

GORGONA ISLAND, Italy (Reuters) - High on a hillside overlooking the azure sea on a small Mediterranean island, two brawny men toil under the sun in a vineyard that has just released a 50-euro ($66) wine destined for the tables of top restaurants.

This is not an exclusive wine estate or secluded retreat for the rich, despite the tranquil beauty. It is, rather, the residence of men serving long sentences for some of Italy's most notorious and brutal crimes, on an island named after monstrous sisters in Greek mythology with snakes for hair.

Gorgona, the smallest of the Tuscan archipelago that also includes Elba, where Napoleon was incarcerated, is home to a project to rehabilitate hardened criminals through agriculture.

The island, an isolated refuge for monks for 1,500 years and a penal colony since 1869, has just produced 2,700 bottles of a crisp white wine called Gorgona with the help of a 700-year-old Italian wine dynasty. Among the buyers is a Michelin three-star restaurant in Florence.

Gorgona's 40 inmates, many of them convicted of murder, including a notorious contract killing, also produce high quality pork, vegetables, chickens, olive oil and cheese.

The two men on the hillside are serving long terms for murder and won transfer to Gorgona after years in other jails.

There is a long waiting list for entry to the island, a highly desirable location compared with most of Italy's chronically overcrowded jails.

"When I come up here in the morning I am struck by the peace. The time does not weigh on you. It is a different mentality here," said one of them, Brian Baldissin, a tattooed and muscular 30-year-old from the northern Veneto region, whose older brother is also in the jail.   Continued...

 
The penal colony where more than 40 prisoners work on agriculture is pictured on Gorgona island June 11, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi