For decades Palermo’s Ucciardone prison has been known to its inmates as “The Grand Hotel” — a place where not even a custodial sentence could prevent well-connected mafiosi from enjoying the pleasures of a fine meal and a well-cut suit.
One mobster, Michele Catalano, was even able to hold a champagne and lobster birthday banquet in the gym, while another arranged a formal wedding for his daughter in the prison chapel.
However, the new governor, Rita Barbera, is calling an end to the good times, starting with a ban on several designer labels such as Prada, Gucci, Valentino, Versace, Louis Vuitton and Armani.
“The popular image of this jail is linked to the silk suits of godfathers and we need to cancel that image,” he was quoted as saying to La Stampa newspaper.
“We need to cancel class differences and the showing off of status, power and wealth,” added Barbera, who has also banned Nike and Adidas sportswear.
Prisoners’ wives, who were refused permission to deliver designer clothes after the introduction of the new rules, said they were furious with the governor.
“My husband will be left naked,” one said. “He only has designer clothes and that’s not because he’s flashy, but because they last much longer and are better quality. Why humiliate him? Why force us to buy clothes at street markets?”
Other wives accused guards of making up the rules as they went along.
The jail, designed to accommodate 500 prisoners, is now home to 700, including poor Italians and immigrants whose secondhand clothes are donated by charities.