Wise Guy Wisdom
Ex-mobster Louis Ferrante: “People think the mob code, ‘omerta,’ is basically about keeping your mouth shut. It’s actually a much bigger concept—it has to do with being a man.” Tweet
“People think the mob code, ‘omerta,’ is basically about keeping your mouth shut. It’s actually a much bigger concept—it has to do with being a man.”
“Not blaming others for your decisions is the manly thing to do. Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano, who ratted out John Gotti...[Sammy] can never be a man...”
“These days, even a woman married to a Wise Guy will open her mouth and say, ‘Go cook your own sauce, then go buy me a BMW and shut up about it!’”
“It’s different with the Camorra—the Neapolitan version of the mafia. ... Not only are women involved; but at times, they’re actually in charge.”
Editor’s Note: wherein Louis Ferrante, onetime-Gambino Family member—veteran of eight-and-a-half years behind bars—turned best-selling author and host/lead correspondent of the Discovery Channel’s “Inside the Gangsters’ Code,” answers our most pressing questions.
Query: Why are there no women in the Mafia?
“From the movies, most people think the mob code, omerta, is basically about keeping your mouth shut. It’s actually a much bigger concept—it has to do with being a man. The very word comes from the Latin homo, man. It means acting with manliness in everything you do. Not the kind of phony manliness that comes with a hairy chest and a pack of Marlboros, but the kind that demands complete responsibility to friends, family and self.
For me, it was this that was uppermost in my mind back when I refused to snitch on my friends when facing a life sentence.
Not blaming others for your decisions is the manly thing to do. Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano, who ratted out John Gotti, no matter how many YouTube videos and podcasts he makes to show how tough he is, can never be a man in our eyes.
Simply put, that’s why there are no women in the mob—because it’s all about manliness.
Sure, in some ways things have changed from the old days. Even Italian women are so Americanized now; it’s not so easy anymore to tell your wife, ‘Go home; cook a sauce.’ These days, even a woman married to a Wise Guy will open her mouth and say, ‘Go cook your own sauce, then go buy me a BMW and shut up about it!’
But as much as some things may change, they’ll never change to where [women] get involved in the rackets. Nothing can change that much.
Sure, you hear about things from time to time. I have a friend; I heard his grandmother was one of the biggest, loan sharks in Manhattan. Supposedly, she had muscle behind her and knew who to kick a piece to and didn’t take shit from nobody.
“Not blaming others for your decisions is the manly thing to do. Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano can never be a man in our eyes.”
Then, in jail, I knew a guy doing time for garroting someone in a basement, and I was shocked when he told me his co-defendant was a woman. Not only was she a conspirator to the murder, she stood up and never ratted—it was her boyfriend who turned rat.
But those are anomalies—exceptions to a very strong rule.
Of course, we’re talking the Sicilian mob, which is the branch that took root in America. It’s different with the Camorra—the Neapolitan version of the mafia. I did a documentary over there and saw it firsthand. Not only are women involved; but at times, they’re actually in charge. There was one woman who avenged her husband just like a man would, went out and shot his killer then took over their clan. When another woman’s husband went to jail, she took over his clan. (It’s all there in the Italian TV series, The Camorra—Italian title: Gomorrah—and I can’t recommend it enough. [sic])
But close as Sicily and Naples are in distance, there’s a vast gulf in mindset. Historically, Sicilians don’t trust Neapolitans, and vice versa. Sicilians are more reserved and clannish. My grandfather was Neapolitan, and my grandmother was Sicilian; and she used to call him ‘The Duke,’ ’cause he always had to be a big shot. He’d walk into a restaurant, pull out a big wad, throw down a $20 in the maître d’s hand and say, ‘I want a window seat.’ He’d do it even if 10 window tables were open.
John Gotti was like that; he was Neapolitan—real showy. If you saw him hanging out on the avenue, even before he learned how to dress, he’d be in big, bright colors—you saw him coming from a mile away, and had to put on sunglasses.
Since he was the boss of my family, he set the precedent for the rest of us. If I pulled up in front of our social club in a brand-new Mercedes, everyone came out and congratulated me and threw money on the floor boards. But if you were in a family run by a Sicilian and pulled up in a Mercedes, you’d get one question: “did you get a really good job this week?” And if you had no answer, you were going in the trunk. ’Cause you were bringing heat to everybody.
With my Sicilian grandmother, you’d never even know if she had a dollar. One time, she got sick and told my mother if anything happened to her, she should look in her freezer—she had her money in there, wrapped up in tinfoil. Who knew? But that’s Sicilians.”