Lou Ferrrante A Pheonix rising and reading for good.

The article below is based on a phone interview I conducted with Lou in March 2013, ahead of his TV series on the Discovery Channel. I had met Lou personally  several years earlier in 2009 at Waterstones book store in Manchester. He was giving a talk on his autobiographical book and his self proclaimed mission to get prisoners in jails reading as a method of enlightenment, hopefully leading them to reform. Reading, he claimed had been his way out of crime and a return trip to prison. I was a little cynical, was this just his Styick to help promote the book? or give himself a new identity in society- you know “The bad guy turned good Roadshow’? However Lou’s passion shone through and I was soon convinced by his story and his original way of telling it. Lou’s new found love of books and the art and joy of reading them was irrepressible. The TV series was  an international success, but did not achieve the impact I felt it deserved in the UK. It was such a breathe of fresh air to have the real deal investigating the subject of crime and criminality as opposed to the ersatz offerings of similar programmes on British TV. I hope Lou makes further programmes… have a read of the interview based on our telephone discussion. …

 

Nine years of prison hell, including solitary confinement, fights with Black, Hispanic and Aryan Nation gang members, numerous face offs with prison guards have more than equipped former Mafia fast tracker Lou Ferrante to delve into the world’s most deadliest and secretive Gangs . Ferrante interviews gang members both inside and outside prison including Neapolitan Camorristi and El Salvadorian street hoods for the Discovery Channel programme ‘Inside the Gangsters Code’. The ex mobster grills them in a way only a man who has shared the same experiences as they have can and the results are both startling and frightening. The mobsters reveal methods of killing and relate openly how they feel nothing for rivals they have killed or fellow gang members they have brutally punished for breaking the gang’s code of honour. Does his gangster background help I ask him: “ Absolutely it is crucial in gaining the access, it’s by far the biggest part of the show. “ There are invisible walls and rules that the ordinary journalist can neither see or climb, these guys know that I walked in their shoes that I am not judging them or setting them up in any way.” Ferrante is a diminutive fast talking wise guy from the Queens District of New York and was a rising star in the notorious Gambino Mafia clan, who pulled his first major truck hijacking aged 17. Well organized and efficient Ferrante came from nowhere to earn the grudging respect of older more experienced criminals and was soon running his own crew as part of the Gambino crew one of the five Mafia Families that dominates the New York underworld. After ten years of putting countless robberies together and moving millions of dollars of drugs around the US, Ferrante was due to be formally inducted into the Mafia as a ‘made man’, a status that would have rendered him untouchable amongst other gangsters. Being “made” into the Mob enables a member to order hits and run his own rackets. “That was everything I had worked towards when I got busted everything got put on hold. “ I was not so bothered about going to prison but more because I would have to wait before I became a fully fledged member of the Mafia.” “The cops that busted me could hardly believe that here was this young guy ordering tough guys around almost twice my age. “I was good I at what I did and I had an easy way with people, that meant I could get them to do what I wanted without friction and above all I was a good earner. “I loved the Life it came naturally because in my neighbourhood there not so many legit opportunities and everybody knew somebody who was connected. “My uncle would go in and out of jail and that seemed normal, people would say hey how is your Uncle Jimmy? We would say ‘oh he’s away at college’ it was part of the fabric of life.” “For a young man growing up in Queens entering into the lifestyle of a professional gangster seemed natural.” “Having money, respect and girls this was the life to aspire to, but more than that, it provided you with a sense of belonging.” Ferrante adds: “I also had a hot temper which in a normal job would get you into trouble, but in my line of work it was a plus, so I did not have to worry about it. “What you do not realise is that it is all fake – but you do not realize that until the wave comes that knocks down the sand castle.” Ferrante explains: “When I went to jail and I started to think about what we did and discuss the people that got whacked (many who were our friends) and I realized they didn’t get killed for honour or justice by our own code, but for money and greed.” Lou remembers vividly the moment he sought to change his life saying: “Soon after that a prison guard called me an ‘animal’ I thought about it and he was right as far as the prison system was concerned that was what I was.” From that moment Ferrante did everything he could to reclaim his human dignity. He started by reading, something he never paid attention to while a free man he devoured books so much so that the prison authorities asked him to start to teach classes in literature and history. Eventually he gained parole and continued to improve himself with classes and published a bestselling book of his own about his experience as a criminal and a prisoner before finding salvation through education. Before landing his current role as a TV presenter Ferrrante has travelled the world preaching his message of education to youngsters on the pathway to crime. He thinks that lack of education and an economic problems are the biggest contributors towards crime, he also feels passionately that prison systems should recognize and reward good behaviour. Lou says: “With the TV programme we have travelled far and wide and you see the differences and similarities in criminal societies but one of the common factors is ignorance and poverty. “Here in America we warehouse criminals it does not stop them wanting to be criminals when they get out of prison when cons are going before the parole board they never get credit for doing anything good the parole board does not reward them. “That is so wrong, criminals are hustlers right? you give them chocolate cake they will find away to get more. “So we should reward them for doing something positive like reading a book, taking a class, that may not make them better people but if they do reform then they also learnt something useful that they can put to good use.” Would he change his past if he could? Ferrante responds rapidly with the speed of a high velocity bullet: “Unequivocally, I would change everything, I would be an architectural engineer, but what am I gonna do now? kill myself or make the best of what I got? it’s all I can do. “ .

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