She Hid From the Mafia for Decades. Now She Helps People Fight Back.

After five years living under a different name and a different identity, with no job to speak of and living on a government stipend, she asked to be allowed to work, and took a job picking tomatoes and olives out in the fields.

Then she opened a business, eager to work and not live on government handouts.

Finally, in 2015, she got a job in the civil service — having lobbied for, and helped secure, legislation permitting the Italian government’s recruitment of witnesses living under state protection. Three years later, she was approached, via a mutual acquaintance, by the Five-Star Movement to see if she would consider running for office on their ticket. She consulted her family, and with their approval, decided to run — under her real name.

Today, from inside parliament, she campaigns actively on behalf of the fewer than 100 people living under the Italian witness protection program (a community of 400 people if you count their families).

That local Sicilians elected her to represent them in parliament in Rome was “probably because they saw that I was a decent person: that if I denounced Mafiosi, I was clean, at least,” she explained. “They saw hope for truth and justice.”

Her parliamentary term runs out in 2023. Ms. Aiello is not sure that she wants to run again. “This environment is not really made for me: Politics is not clean, not transparent,” she said. “There are deals and murky compromises, which I don’t like.”

Ms. Aiello acknowledged that, compared to 30 years ago — when she was a teenage girl meeting her future husband — circumstances in Sicily were very different for young and old.

“There are more laws, and the Mafia is more talked about,” she said. “There are classes on the subject in schools, and important anti-Mafia associations speak to schoolchildren, guarding future generations against organized crime.”

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