Maltese Heroin Queen Ran Jail

By Jason Gotlieb 12/13/11

One female prisoner became so powerful that she lived in luxury and treated fellow inmates "as slaves."

Cell-cleaning was just one of the chores
allegedly assigned to Bickle's "slaves."

A "heroin queen" allegedly reigned over a frightened women's jail in Malta. Josette Bickle, 42, is on trial for dealing heroin in the women's section of Corradino prison between 2006 and 2008; the court heard that she "treated other inmates as slaves." Bickle apparently traded some of her dope for electronics: she collected four televisions, two DVD players, a surround-sound system and a small collection of mobile phones. She also took cash, charging many times the street price—up to about $300 for just one gram. Drug-using prisoners would work off their debts by cooking meals for her, and by cleaning her cell, her clothing and even her body. One indebted inmate, Pauline Pisani, was forced to brush Bickle's hair and shave her private parts. She says Bickle once burned her arm with a light bulb. Meanwhile other prisoners worked at assembling Playmobil toys for pay, but had to give Bickle half their earnings. Even then-prison director Sandro Gatt allegedly fell into line, allowing her extra visits and exemption from cell-cleaning duties. Fellow prisoner Maria Concetta Borg tells the court, "She was the queen, because she had heroin, which she supplied to me and other inmates. I would like these things to end, because you’re meant to go to prison to recover."

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Jason Gotlieb is a programmer, software developer, and writer living in New York. You can find him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.