The prison island of Gorgona, where inmates produce wine

There is no noise on the island, except for the distant voices of inmates working in the fields, or a tractor driving up the hill. Everything is engulfed by the wind. It is a gentle Mediterranean breeze that cools the earth and brings salt from the sea. Salt comes everywhere.

This is Gorgona, a small and dusty tributary rising from the sparkling sea of ​​the Tuscan archipelago, about 40 km from the coast of Livorno. When you approach by boat, you are greeted by a dilapidated but picturesque fishing village, with houses and buildings freshly painted in bright colors. It could be a typical Mediterranean island, except that this one has a different history. It is a prison lake, and for the inmates who live here, there is no way around it.

Gorgona seems like an idyllic place to serve a sentence, and you might be wondering what kind of criminal is lucky enough to serve a sentence in a place like this. But this island has the function of a kind of “nursing home”, a place of refuge where prisoners can only be admitted towards the end of long sentences. Here they can find peace and even glimpses of freedom. But above all, Gorgona is a place where they can find work and dignity, and eventually they can find themselves before returning to the world outside the bars.

The facility on the island runs a rehabilitation program for inmates in collaboration with the renowned Tuscan winery Frescobaldi. Prisoners can thus learn grape growing and winemaking techniques while serving their sentences, and their work contributes to the production of a very limited number of bottles of wine. Gorgona by Frescobaldi from Vermentino and Ansonica grapes, about nine thousand a year. They are formally employed by the Frescobaldi home and receive a salary that is set aside and which will allow them to rebuild their lives when they return to the community.

Gorgona Prison Island Frescobaldi wine

Lamberto Frescobaldi, President of Frescobaldi Vini and the driving force behind the rehabilitation program on the island of Gorgona

“Here we hire the prisoners, they get on their payroll Frescobaldihe claims Lamberto Frescobaldi, chairman of the company of the same name and the engine of the program. “This allows them to have twenty, thirty, even forty thousand euros in their bank accounts. This is very important, because when they come out of prison, some of them are afraid to get back into society, but by having the money in their bank accounts, they are able to say no to crime. “

The reality is that when people are released after serving long prison sentences, they usually have criminal gangs outside waiting for them, looking for people with certain skills and ultimately desperate because they often have nothing, and above all they have no option. make money.

Frescobaldi, on the other hand, claims that if the average recidivism rate in Italy is 85%, it is 0% for people passing through Gorgona.

Gorgona Prison Island Frescobaldi wine

This year is the 10th year that the family Frescobaldi is engaged in prison in Gorgona. During this decade, many inmates left high-security facilities throughout Italy. As a reward for good behavior, prisoners can serve the last two or three years of their sentence on the island. And here they can learn to return to working life.

“It’s not about training people to produce a good berry, a good bunch or a good glass of wine,” Frescobaldi says. “You have to learn to do what you have to do. Out there, people do what they have to do because they have families to support, they have bills to pay … only a small percentage do what they want. Most people do what they have to do … and there’s nothing wrong with that. “

“Many years ago, an inmate said to me, ‘I want to thank you. This is the first paycheck I’ve ever received in my life. I sent him home, and with that money, they were able to buy shoes for my children.”

Gorgona Prison Island Frescobaldi wine

It was Frescobaldi who was contacted by the director of Gorgona Prison in August. The vineyards already existed on the island, and the prison manager was looking for a winery where the prisoners could work. More out of curiosity than anything else, Frescobaldi took to Gorgona, but when he arrived, he immediately understood the potential for rehabilitation of people, but also of a wine as a unique expression of terroir law. And something immediately moved in him.

He began to imagine a project that could transform vines and lives. “This project means a lot to me. It gives me the opportunity to give back,” he says. “I have been very lucky in my life and I want to share this luck with other people. It is something that also gives me “opportunity to be patriotic, to do something for Italy. Everyone deserves a second chance, it does not matter what you have done in life. I really believe in it.”

“An inmate I met told me he was jailed because he had a fight at a nightclub and struck a blow. The other boy fell to the ground and died. So the one miserable moment he lost control cost him 20 years of his life.It can happen to anyone.Some people are here only to be born in the wrong place or at the wrong time.It could be me or you so we have to give people a chance in life.”

When the project was launched, prison director Frescobaldi confided that he had sent hundreds of requests to wineries across Tuscany and beyond: he was the only one who responded.

For inmates, the experience at Gorgona is truly transformative. There is an unusual dichotomy in that they work between the rows. Prisoners serving a long sentence for a serious crime show acceptance of men who have lost all autonomy in their lives and have spent every day for years reflecting on their bad choices. Yet there is also a hint of danger, as a spiral source: They are vulnerable people, which is why a project like this can make a difference.

Gorgona Prison Island Frescobaldi wine

An inmate works on the vines on the island of Gorgona

“It’s much better here,” says inmate Muhammad (real name, red). Here one is allowed to be a human being. “” There is trust between the guards and the inmates, “he continues, waving a pair of scissors.” These tools can also be weapons in the wrong hands, but we are allowed to use them to make ours work. I can sleep at night here. “Before in other prisons, I did not sleep for years.”

The relationship with the guards is different, but Gorgona is still a prison. Prisoners can leave their cells when they have to perform tasks, but the rest of the time they are locked up. Harvest, however, is a crucial moment, and the cell doors open wide open so that the inmates can work long hours picking the grapes by hand as soon as they are fully ripe.

Everything is done by hand. The vines grow on terraces cut into the island’s steep slopes. The wine is produced on the island in the cellar called “garage”, where the Frescobaldi wine farmers make wine in a simple and traditional way. The whole life of the prisoners is dedicated to the cultivation of grapes and the production of wine, it is the center of their world while in the penitentiary on the island.

“It’s an exciting time when they roll the barrels down the hill and the crane lifts them up on the boat,” says a winemaker from Frescobaldi. And you wonder if it’s the same for the inmates when they get on the boat and greet Gorgona as they watch the colorful fishing village that has been their home for years disappear into the distance and the boat is heading towards the mainland and a new life.

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