By David Amoruso, Gangsters Inc.
John Gotti Junior’s life has been a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. As son of the most famous mob boss since Al Capone, he followed his father into the Mafia and into prison. It was there, after finding out that his father - who was his cause - was terminally ill, that he decided to break with his old life and quit the mob. Now, after surviving four trials that ended in a mistrial as well as a proceeding where he was charged with parole violations and tax offenses, he is a free man. A changed man.
We at Gangsters Inc. are thankful John Gotti Junior took the time to sit down with us to discuss a variety of topics including his father, time in prison, his view on “the life,” what life is like as a regular citizen, the upcoming Hollywood movie Shadow of My Father starring John Travolta as the Teflon Don, and possible future projects which include working on a book called WitSec Mafia and Creating a TV series called "Bloodlines" with a Canadian Production company called Don Carmody Produtions and SONY.
The movie Shadow of My Father is based on the book of the same title, which was released last year. In it, Gotti Jr. – currently 51 years old - looks back on his own life and gives readers insight into what it was like growing up with a father who was involved in organized crime and eventually became boss of the Gambino family, one of New York’s five crime families.
For John Gotti Senior being a mobster was everything. “He was poor and lived in environments where the life was looked up to,” Gotti Jr. explains. “He loved the camaraderie, the memories, and in a way its similarity to the soldier’s life. If my father were born in ancient Roman times, he probably would have been the type of general that led from the front, like Hannibal.”
But his love for the life also caused Gotti Senior to make mistakes. “He was too devoted to the [crime] Family and not enough to his family,” Junior says. “With some of the individuals he surrounded himself with, he should have used his head instead of his heart, and made better selections.”
One such individual is Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, Gotti’s underboss, who decided to become a government witness and take the stand against his former boss. Gravano’s testimony was damning and paved the way for a guilty verdict in Gotti’s 1992 racketeering trial. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison.
Six years later, Gotti Junior found himself behind bars as well. He had plead guilty to reduced charges of loansharking, bookmaking, and extortion related to the Scores strip club in Manhattan, and was sentenced to 77 months in prison.
Many tough guys break when their freedom gets taken away from them. And if the small confinement of their cell isn’t enough to crack a dent in their armor then sadist inmates and guards will try as well. How does one hold up under such formidable pressure?
“Prison was a fact of life in the life I was born into, and surrounded by,” Gotti Jr. explains. “One can choose to remain sane, or give in to the wishes of others, who create an environment that can all too often break a man’s spirit.”
This is especially true of solitary confinement, known as the hole. “How one reacts in the hole, is largely dependent upon what one brings into the hole with him,” Gotti Jr. reflects. “The more inner resources a man has, the less difficult it is to be in solitary, although it is certainly difficult. Many inmates have had mental health problems after being in solitary, however, and I believe certain legislation is being considered to reduce instances of solitary confinement within prison systems. I would do a lot of reading in solitary, and also maintained a rigid physical exercise regimen. My father who did more time in solitary than the vast majority of inmates in modern penal history, used to do a thousand pushups a day, and to keep his mind in shape worked several crossword puzzles daily, and wrote letters. Contrast that with inmates who in solitary eat their own feces, and self-mutilate.”
Keeping busy is the best solution. While in prison Gotti Junior worked out, became a certified paralegal, and, he says, “maintained my integrity as I would never give that up.”
But being locked up is just one factor of life in prison. Gotti Jr: “After I got out, the issues that I dealt with was to reconnect with friends and family, and adjust to once again being free, and a full time father.”
“Obviously when the father figure is not available for long periods of time, it has a definite impact on the children,” Gotti Jr. says. “When I returned, it was both necessary and difficult to establish myself as both disciplinarian and loving mentor to my children. However it is a position that I embrace openly as a work in progress with my family. You deal with the issues of what was, what is and what might be by communicating.”
Growing up, Gotti Jr. and his siblings had experienced what it was like having a father in prison. Now, his own children were going through the same emotions. It helped to understand what they were going through, he says, “but I often carried the guilt of not being there for them and found myself trying to make up for lost time. In a lot of respects I would ‘overfather.’”
While he was locked up he decided to make a change: He quit the mob. “When your blood family is more important than the [crime] Family, it was not difficult to walk away,” he says resolutely. “Obviously, there are some things in the life I miss, there were frequent good times with friends, but I am quite happy being out. The FBI acted as if I never left, but they were obviously wrong.”
But then there was an incident on November 10, 2013, in which Gotti Jr. was stabbed while trying to break up a fight between two strangers in a CVS parking lot in Long Island. New York tabloids were quick to voice their suspicions and many questioned whether the former mobster had gotten into new trouble.
“First of all they were not strangers,” Gotti Jr. emphasizes. “Secondly, I am glad that it worked out the way it did, because the alternatives might have been a lot more serious. One might have wound up dead, the other incarcerated. I feel I saved at least one misguided troubled fella.”
THE FUTURE IS NOW
With his days in a cell behind him, Gotti Jr. can now look to the future. Already he has received some interesting job offers. “I was offered an enormous amount of money to play a television judge. I was also approached to do a one man stage show. But my projects, the book and the movie were more important, and those other opportunities were passed on. I believed that the other projects were not for me, or my personality.”
Filming for Shadow of My Father begins in March, and if need be Gotti Jr. will serve as an on set consultant to director Kevin Connolly, actor John Travolta, and the rest of the cast.
He hopes the movie “will give a better understanding of who my father was, where he came from, what he desired as well as our relationship.” Adding, “it would be an opportunity to show the public the accurate portrait of my father, which means by Hollywood standards they get it 70% right.”
The Gotti family has done its utmost best to make sure the portrayal is accurate. They’ve given Connolly and Travolta access to their homes and took them on a tour through the old neighborhood where the Teflon Don’s old headquarters used to be.
“John Travolta and I had met, along with others, one night in Los Angeles for dinner,” Gotti Jr. reminisces. “When dinner was over, he and I had the opportunity to have a one on one discussion. We had spoken of the loss of his son Jett, and the struggle that he and his wife Kelly had to endure. I had felt his emotion and I had related his pain to the pain of the Gotti’s with our loss of my brother Frankie. Later Travolta assured me that he could play this part and do my father proud. And I believed him.”
As he is nearing completion of his favorite projects, Gotti Jr. has more time for other causes. Since quitting the mob he has been quite vocal about the realities of a life of crime. Something he reiterates to Gangsters Inc. “Even though today the government assets targeting organized crime are one tenth of what they were in the days of my father, I would tell [youngsters] not to confuse media images with the reality of the life. It leads to jail, an untimely death, forfeiture of property, and other things not to be desired. You run the risk of sacrificing your family for the Family. The camaraderie today is only surface, the money is temporary. In short, don’t do it. I have already had some involvement with local family counseling organizations, and would take time to assist any worthy legitimate efforts to keep kids out of trouble.”
Another cause he feels very strongly about is one he has not been approached for yet. “There is a growing movement to correct many of the ills of imprisonment in this country which has the highest per capita rate of imprisonment in the world. As an example of an individual involved with this issue, Bernie Kerik a former corrections head, policeman and inmate, now works for prison reform. When a prison system targets an individual, as they did my father in neglecting his medical condition and other intentional improper punishment, this is always wrong. There are some things in the prison system that are properly handled, but it’s time for much needed reform.”
ROAR OF THE LION
Gotti Senior passed away on June 10, 2002 at age 61. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998. Despite his deteriorating condition, Gotti Senior remained strong. In his book Shadow of My Father, Gotti Jr. recounts the following conversation with his father. “The fucking trifecta. Jaw, throat, and neck cancer. But despite the cut and paste job they’ve done on my face, I’m still standing. Still standing. Still motherfuckering them every turn. […] Cancer has made my body betray me, but not my mind. Not my heart either. Never happen.”
It was part of Gotti Senior’s parenting. “He taught me by example to always comport myself with the dignity proper to a man, no matter what the circumstances or consequences,” Junior explains.
“I miss his charm, wisdom, his strength, and his wit,” Gotti Jr. says. “I miss the roar of that lion.”