by Bluto Ray
Christmas is a sad time of year in Palma, a dusty little crossroads near the salt fields of Sicily’s northwest coast. On December 23, 1995, prison guard Giuseppe Montalto was murdered at the age of thirty. But it didn’t happen in the stone labyrinth of Ucciardone, Palermo’s prison as old as the Mafia itself. Montalto was cut down in faraway Palma, mere inches from his wife and baby daughter.
Montalto worked the cellblock that held the Cosa Nostra’s most dangerous bosses. Sentenced under Article 41-bis, Italy’s tough antimafia measure enacted in 1992, the men were furious. 41-bis restricts nearly all contact with the outside world, ending the old tradition of running illicit businesses from behind bars. In Ucciardone, communication was limited to pizzini.
The use of pizzini--tiny notes folded to fit between the fingers--is the Mafia’s underground postal system of passing notes from hand to hand. These primitive “tweets” are more reliable than conversations that can be overheard or recorded. But not reliable enough to get past guard Montalto, who intercepted the pizzini of three bosses intended for Nitto Santapaola, eastern Sicily’s most powerful capomafia.