Real Prison Reform: A Real Restaurant, In An Italian One



One of the most in-demand restaurants in or near Milan, Italy, these days is also the city’s most secure eatery: InGalera, Italian slang for “In Prison,” is housed inside the medium-security Bollate penitentiary a short drive from the center of Milan. It is booked solid through this month with future reservations expected to be equally hard to get.

This recently opened full-service restaurant, featuring cloth tablecloths in the evening and paper placemats at lunchtime, is part of an expanding program in Italy aimed at providing prisoners with skills they’ll be able to use upon their release. This prison, like a growing number of others in that country, also has programs where such skills as painting, carpentry, theater-related ones and horse-care and –maintenance. In addition, there are opportunities for a number of the inmates to leave the grounds daily for jobs of various sorts in the nearly community.

ingalera_diningroomAn inmate waiter serves customers at InGalera, a restaurant in Italy’s Bollate penitentiary near Milan. (Photo: Gianni Cipriano for the New York Times.)

At InGalera, prisoners serve as waiters and learn their way around the typical workstations of a high-end restaurant. They work in the front of the house under Massimo Sestito, a non-inmate maître d’, who greets customers and handles all the cash, and in the back of the house under Ivan Manzo, a professional chef.

Manzo told the New York Times that he has no concerns about working with men convicted of serious crimes, because, as he put it, “I’ve seen a lot of crazy people working in kitchens outside of here!”

Authorized by the prison’s director, or warden, Massimo Pariso, the InGalera project is overseen by Silvia Polleri. She chose the restaurant’s name, she told The Times, as a ‘wink-wink’ way of reassuring patrons that this is a serious place in a serious place, but they have no reason to fear for their safety: Inmate workers there are carefully screened, and they are motivated to do well in the program both for their futures and for their present: Prison life with nothing ‘interesting’ to do is boring! And not only are the workers in InGalera anything but bored – every meal sees every seat filled, sometimes with quite interesting people, such as a former Miss Italy – they also are well paid, up to around 1,200 euros a month!

Another recent visitor was the restaurant critic for Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s most important newspapers. She praised the menu (which included, she noted, “chestnut pappardelle with venison ragout and currants, and guinea fowl stuffed with Belgian [endive] and hazelnuts”) and the wine list that, she said, “well-represents all [Italian] regions.”

Her closing advice was, “Spread the word!”

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