Growing up in New Jersey or New York, you learn a lot about Italian American culture, even if you’re not Italian. Combine that with the amount of classic mafia movies made in the last 40 years and you definitely feel how organized crime, or at least the legend of organized criminals starts to expand. I think we’re all aware of stories and myths of who’s a “made guy” and the things they did. Definitely adds some color to living here and I have written about the strange intersections of cultures between surfing/the beach lifestyle and the Italian culture including this sketchy side.
This is one of the most interesting pieces I have ever written. I had a chance to sit down (well not exactly, but I had to use that term) with a former made guy from the Lucchesse crime family that originated in East Harlem and the Bronx in an interview for Men’s Journal. John Pennisi does a podcast with host, Tom La Vecchia of North Jersey. La Vecchia gave me some great perspective and Pennisi, now reformed and out of organized crime, gave me some straight up gold.
Really the main thing we need to know here is, John, how you’re able to speak so freely about the things you know the things you’ve witnessed. One thing we all know is that secrecy is the key to that life. How are you able to talk about it?
JOHN PENNISI: Well, I’m no longer in the life.
Right, but how were you able to leave the life without repercussions from the mob or the law?
PENNISI: What had happened was, I was falsely accused of becoming a rat, or an informant, or whatever way you want to phrase it. And the mob will do their homework. And when they did their homework and realized it was a mistake, it was too late. I couldn’t trust anyone anymore. I walked away on my own. Usually there is no walking away. As far as legally, I don’t think I have said anything that probably hasn’t been said already or that the government doesn’t know about. As far as repercussions, I don’t know what’s on their mind. We’re living in a different world today. The mob is not what it once was.
Help us to understand this… You were a made guy. From the pop culture standpoint, we assume that you’re basically upper management in an organized crime family. It’s elite and no one can give you a hard time without consequences.
PENNISI: Yeah. That’s pretty accurate. You have the boss of the family, one underboss and then the captains, made guys, who are the head of different crews. The family, as it’s known, is made up of smaller crews of “associates.” There’s a big gap between an associate and a made man.