Petty Theft To 41 Years In Jail: Meet Italy’s Longest-Serving Convict

While mobsters and terrorists have walked on probation, Antonio Marano – first jailed for theft of a motorcycle – has spent virtually every hour behind bars since 1971. Indeed, the man who has served more time than anyone in post-War Italy became a true c

Leo about to drop
A cell in Ucciardone prison of Palermo in 1983 (Flaminio Sergio)
Laura Anello

PALERMO - Antonino Marano was 20 years old when he was arrested for the first time. The charge was theft of some peppers, a bicycle and of a now-obsolete Motom 48 model motor bike. "I stole them so I could go to work, as a laborer," he says now.

Marano was born in Mascali, near the Sicilian city of Catania. Like in a 19th century novel, his father was a farmer, his mother a housewife, and he started to work in the fields as a child. Today, 41 years later, Marano is still in jail.

Since October 1971, when he turned himself in to the local police, he has never been released. "I had to serve a 16-month sentence. I thought, I'll do it and then I'll come back to my wife and my children. But I never got out."

It was in jail that he became a true criminal -- and convicted murderer -- and was sentenced to life. By all accounts, he is thought to be the longest-serving detainee in the history of the Italian Republic. A new bill that will grant amnesty for many Italian detainees is now close to be approved.

But this is a country where even people who are convicted for mass murders and acts of terrorism, at some point, get out on work release programs and probation. Marano never did.

Giovanna Gioia, a volunteer at a prisoner support association in Palermo, says that today he is "totally rehabilitated." Two years ago, she was able to help him obtain a furlough that allowed him to spend his first and only night out of prison. For 48 hours Marano left the Ucciardone prison of Palermo. "Forgive me, forgive me," he said, lying at his wife's feet, before hugging his four children. When he had understood that he would have lived and died in prison, he had begged his wife to go on with her own life.

"Prison guidebook"

Giovanna Gioia points out the letters that Marano wrote her through the years, the painting of the Virgin Mary and the Saints he painted, and the paper flowers he gave her. "A man who has spent almost half a century in jail is the symbol of the failure of the legal and prison systems," she says.

Marano has spent decades in prisons across Italy. He has obtained only three days of leave. After the first one from Ucciardone, he was allowed two nine-hour passes from Biella prison north of Turin, where he is currently detained, and spoke to La Stampa by telephone.

"The best ‘normal" prison is Favignana, the worst is Sassari. Among the high security prisons, the worst was Asinara, the best Voghera," Marano says, after a lifetime experience that might consent him to write an accurate Italian prisons' guide.

"The death penalty would be better than a life sentence," he says. "But they'd have to shoot me, because I'm a true Sicilian, and I think that suicide is an act of cowardice."

When Giovanna Gioia met him for the first time, he was already known as the "killer of the prisons' with a life lived behind bars that weaves through the last half-century of Italian criminal history. He crossed paths with members of the left-wing terrorism group Brigate Rosse, mafia kingpins, perpetrators of infamous kidnappings.

He himself was convicted for two murders and two attempted murders, all committed in jail. In the 1960s and the 1970s, riots, stabbings, and break-outs happened every day in Italian prisons. Marano killed a man for the first time in Catania. "I did it to save my brother who was threatened by Carlo Castro."

The second time he killed a mobster of the Casalesi organized crime clan from the Naples area. Marano claims the man had raped two detainees. "I took revenge for them," he says. "Today, if I could go back in time, I would erase everything. But in jail I've lived among animals, and in the end, I became an animal too." He pauses, before concluding: "All this, even if I've always hated violence. I know that it's hard to believe, but it's true."

Read more from La Stampa in Italian

Photo - Flaminio Sergio

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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