Alleged slaves at a circus
Francesco Pischetola  /  AFP/Getty Images
An policeman stands guard at a circus in Petina, Italy. Police arrested three Italians accused of forcing a Bulgarian girl to swim in a tank of freezing water filled with piranhas as part of a "circus of horrors". 
By Brian Tracey Associate editor
msnbc.com
updated 3/28/2008 2:02:35 PM ET 2008-03-28T18:02:35
COMMENTARY

This is one bizarre big-top: Two teenage Bulgarian sisters were rescued from a circus in southern Italy this week after one of them was forced to swim with flesh-eating piranhas for the amusement of guests, policesaid.

While the 19-year-old sister swam in a transparent tank with the ferocious fish, the younger, 16-year-old was forced into a container where the circus staff tossed snakes and tarantulas at her.

Three men running what has been called in Italian media "The Circus of Horrors" were arrested and charged with people-trafficking and keeping the two Bulgarian sisters and their parents in virtual slavery, according to Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The women were paid $155 per week and lived in a trailer that had previously been used to transport animals, police said.

The men, named as Enrico Ingrassia, 57, his son, William Ingrassia, 33, and his son-in-law, Gaetano Belfiore, 25, ran the Marino circus, consisting of a ratty tent and about 200 plastic chairs which toured the Campania region south of Naples.

The younger sister had suffered from a snake bite during the act as well as severe bruising from where a snake had coiled itself around her, the Guardian said. The temperature of the water in the piranha tank was near freezing to daze the fish, leaving the 19-year-old shivering from fear and cold after her "performance."

One apparently disgusted spectator reported Ingrassia to the police. Plainclothes officers attended subsequent shows with their families, secretly filming the acts before making arrests.

The Italian Circus Authority said the deregulation of Italian circuses had allowed "cowboys" to operate.

"We criticized liberalization, saying it would worsen and in some cases degrade the quality and management of shows. We have been proved right," said the head of the authority, Egidio Palmiri.

Maybe they need to enforce a rule that requires all circuses to be "fun for the whole family."

Urn goal!
Vienna's leading funeral company, steeped in tradition, is moving with the times: The bereaved can have their dearly departed housed in a cremation urn in the shape of a soccer ball.

The black-and-white urn joins more conservative containers in somber and art-deco designs in the range offered by Bestattung Wien just as Austria prepares to co-host the Euro 2008 soccer championships.

"We are doing this as it is European Championship year," said Wittigo Keller, curator of the funeral company's museum.

No one has yet ordered the $570 urn, which has been available for two weeks.

Maybe people are afraid the urn will encourage someone to kick a dead man when he's down.

Prison greetings
Finding it hard to express just the right sentiment to your incarcerated loved one? A Los Angeles company may have the answer. Attorney Terrye L. Cheathem (no kidding, that's her name) noticed a market Hallmark wasn't serving and founded Three Squares Greetings, which provides cards for prison inmates.

"With more than 2.5 million people incarcerated in the Unites States today, I saw that there was a tremendous need," she said.

Some express simple good wishes: "We are all praying for you while you do your time."

But most show a tougher sort of love.

A Christmas greeting partly reads: "You had the choice to be 'naughty or nice.' And you chose ... Oh well, now you have to do your time."

Cheathem said she came up with the cards when her brother-in-law served 11 months in prison. She said she went searching for the appropriate greeting card, but couldn't find what she was looking for.

"There weren't any cards on the shelf that said anything like, 'Hey, you must make better choices,'" she said.

Cheathem designs and writes the cards and sells them online and at a handful of stores across the nation.

We checked out her Web site, but were disappointed to find there were no get-out-of-jail-free cards.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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