REPORTER. Fabiana Formica



This boat only leaves port twice a week and there are never many passengers. It's the ferry from Livorno to the beautiful Tuscan island of Gorgona. Marquis Lamberto Frescobaldi is one of the island's resident but rare visitors.




And that's because Gorgona is a state prison. This is the unlikely story of Italy's last prison island and an experimental project turning hardened criminals into the most improbable wine makers.


20 nautical miles off the Tuscan Coast, Gorgon has always been prized for its remoteness. For thousands of years the tiny island was a refuge for hermits and monks but over a century ago, the tide turned and convicts were exiled here. Gorgona became Italy's Alcatraz.


MARQUIS LAMBERTO FRESCOBALDI (Translation):  in the 18th century, all the islands were in fact used as prisons.


Frescobaldi is not a prison warden. He's a wine maker. In fact, his family is wine royalty. They've been making wine in Tuscany since the middle ages. Remarkably, their customers have included the likes of Michelangelo and Henry VIII.


MARQUIS LAMBERTO FRESCOBALDI (Translation):  This project started from an email sent by the island’s prison administration asking wine producers to help. I came to the island, I became passionate about what I saw, it’s potential.


Gorgona is home to convicted drug traffickers, rapists and murderers, including the infamous hitman who gunned down the son of fashion designer Gucci in 1995. Frescobaldi is teaching them how to turn this hectare of land into wine his family would be proud of.


MARQUIS LAMBERTO FRESCOBALDI (Translation):  The prisoners who work with us firstly relearn how to work…the hours, productivity. They also learn you have to take work seriously – work is strict. And the truth is they also learn to take pride in their work.


REPORTER (Translation):   How are the grapes?


BASTIANO SECCI, PRISONER (Translation):  They’re good. Sweet. Do you want to taste them?


REPORTER (Translation):   Yes.


There are only 25 prisoners on the island. Bastiano Secci is one of them.


REPORTER (Translation):   Is this your first harvest?


BASTIANO SECCI (Translation):  Yes, it is. I haven’t been here long – just five months, it’s my first.


I'm not allowed to tell you what he's done, but he served six years of his sentence in another prison and still has seven years to go.


REPORTER (Translation):   Did you ever think you would be working in a vineyard in prison?


BASTIANO SECCI (Translation):  No, never. I came here from a closed prison and since I arrived here, it’s like being reborn. We’re in the open, out in the fields.


Italian authorities have been criticised for their overcrowded and understaffed prisons. The European Court of Human Rights formally condemned Italy's treatment of prisoners in 2013.


SIMONA LOMBARDI, PRISON VISITOR (Translation):  They are treated like animals, they squash five or six people into cells for two or three, so even the hygiene is pretty poor.


For Simona Lombardi the crisis is personal. Her dad is imprisoned in Regina Coeli, Rome's largest and most notorious prison. Here punishment seems to take priority over reform.


SIMONA LOMBARDI (Translation):  Unfortunately, they can’t make the punishment fit the crime. If you are guilty you pay, but in terms of decency…they should be treated as individuals, human beings. That is not the case here, definitely not.


SANTO, PRISONER (Translation):  In other prisons you just sit like this and wait for it to get dark, whereas here you get up and say “I have work to do. Today there is this and that, today I have got some ploughing.”


Every convict here has done time in Italy's closed prisons, for them living on Gorgona has had a profound effect.


BENEDETTO, PRISONER (Translation):  I think that a place like this improves a prisoner’s life and maybe, I don’t know, helps him change his mind in the sense that it gives him that input he needs to live a calm, peaceful life, in freedom.


The cellar master, Benedetto, is serving a life sentence.


BENEDETTO (Translation):  Tastes good, it’s sweet, it’s fruity, good aroma…


MARQUIS LAMBERTO FRESCOBALDI (Translation):  Tasting a new vintage is the highlight of the new year.


BENEDETTO (Translation):  If this project was extended to all Italian establishments, it would be a good thing.


The Council of Europe recommends that jails be as similar to life outside as possible to increase the chances that prisoners will successfully resettle after being released.


MARQUIS LAMBERTO FRESCOBALDI (Translation):  The recidivism rate of prisoners is 18% in a normal prison, but 20% in a prison where there’s a job, where the prisoners are given an opportunity to work.


Frescobaldi pays his wine-making prisoners a small wage and says he just breaks even on the wine. The vintage they are harvesting today will be released in June. Frescobaldi's convict wine makers have produced a wine so good that three Michelin-star restaurants sell it for $130 a bottle.


WAITER (Translation):  So, this wine is called Gorgona and the prison governor, in collaboration with Frescobaldi has started a project which sees the prisoners making this wine


Head chef Annie Feolde is one of the Gorgona program's biggest supporters.


ANNIE FEOLDE, HEAD CHEF (Translation):  We put it on our menu and it has been very successful, people are interested, and after all, it wasn’t just the taste of the wine that was important to promote, but also the necessity of helping these people who are in real need.


SANTO (Translation):  Amidst misfortune, I had the good fortune of coming here to Gorgona, because you can pick yourself up and make a fresh start. You can think about your future and learn a profession.


Frescobaldi has committed to another 15 years partnering with the prison and working on Gorgona's vineyards. So every few months for the next decade-and-a-half Frescobaldi will keep making this journey.


MARQUIS LAMBERTO FRESCOBALDI (Translation):  There is this feeling which really grips at the stomach, when you are back on the boat which brought you over. It’s not so much arriving, but being free to leave. After all, that’s something unique – freedom.





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21st April 2015
















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