My childhood was tumultuous to say the least. My father was a violent alcoholic who beat and mentally abused my mother. As a result, my mother’s mind broke. She became mentally ill and had to be institutionalized. When I was 5, my sister and I moved in with my grandparents. This would have a profound effect. For starters, my grandparents were too old to be surrogate parents. And our family was associated with the mafia. Worse still, my grandparent’s youngest son, Peter Jr., who still lived with us, was a young hustler would ultimately be a very bad influence on me.
I grew up in a strange world, almost exclusively Sicilians, some of whom were mobsters. The mafia became my normal. My uncle quickly taught me that bending the rules was encouraged and bad behavior was rewarded with acceptance. I was constantly in trouble and getting expelled, usually for fighting, as I hated bullies. By the time was 12, I caught my first felony for malicious destruction of property. I failed 8th grade the first time around and was expelled during my 2nd attempt. The following year, at only age 14, I was expelled permanently from school and took straight to the streets as a drug dealer, hustler, and young criminal. By age 16, I had racked up 6 felonies, from possession of pipe bombs and weapons, to possession of stolen property and assaults. At age 17, I was busted for selling steroids to an undercover cop. I fought the case until my grandfather bribed a judge to keep me out of prison.
When I got out of jail, everything changed after my grandfather asked a well know mobster, Tony “Tony Jack” Giacolone, to find me some work. Tony was nationally notorious for being the number #1 suspect in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. Even though I did know this about him, I didn’t know much else about him. Only that he had been introduced to me as an uncle when I was a kid. I had never paid much attention to all the old “uncles” who were constantly coming and going from the house. But Tony Jack was different. He had an air of danger and power. Years later, I would learn that he was suspected of over two dozen murders. After I got out of jail, at age 20, Tony got me a job bouncing at a popular high-end night club that was frequented by dozens of young mafiosi. Then he put me to work working security at poker games and casino nights. Eventually, some of his assignments involved intimidation and violence. It was a natural fit for me, as I was a big intimidating kid, always fighting and brawling. My loose association with Tony helped me make a lot of “friends” in that world. And for the next 10 years, I was involved in every imaginable criminal racket. My primary income came from being a mid-level weed and steroid dealer, but I had a crew of young hustlers who were involved in everything form of criminal activity. Most of them had no association with them mafia, barring a few cousins my age. We were just street guys. Hustlers. We played dice, sold drugs, and worked any scam or hustle that could make us a buck. For some stupid reason, the notion of working never occurred to us. In fact, such a notion seemed absurd.
So, while most of my high school friends went off to college, started families, opened businesses, or began their careers, I was hanging around a bunch of hoodlums, hustling and playing dice in The Eastern Market. On the surface, I appeared to be living a good life. I had nice homes, cars, toys, and always a few grand in my pocket. I even had a fiancé. But I was a mess. A couple times, I got strung out on pain pills and drugs. I was broke more often than not. I lied to everyone about what I did every day and where I made money. I think my grandparents and girlfriend knew the truth, which meant they knew I was looking them dead in the eye and lying. That was tough. I hated lying to them. I just didn’t have the balls to tell the truth. My life was a charade, an act on multiple levels. Even my bad guy image was an act. I hated it. I hated who I was. I hated the people I was around. Nothing but scumbags, cons and criminals. I trusted no one. Aside from maybe one or two friends, I was alone on my own little island of loneliness and despair.
That last year before prison, my life really spun out of control. Drugs, gambling, scams, robberies, and arrests. Miraculously, I was able to hide it from everyone. I still lifted weights and was a 230-pound bodybuilder. My girlfriend and I had gotten engaged and we had just bought our second home, a beautiful tow-story colonial in St. Clair Shores. I drove nice cars. I had a garage full of toys. I still went salmon fishing, hunting, and camping. Nobody knew my life was spinning out control. At one point, my house was raided by a local narcotics task force. They found some drugs and a gun. I ended up beating the case for lack of evidence, but after the bust nobody would trust me. My crew thought I might be cooperating. Nobody would work with me. Nobody would front me drugs. They wouldn’t even answer my calls. I was left to fend for myself, alone, with a $4,000-a-week drug and gambling habit, with no ways to make money. My cash reserves went quick. I saw no way out. My pride never even considered admitting I had a problem and going to rehab. And a normal job could never make me enough money to cover my habits and lifestyle. So, sadly, I did what gangsters do. I picked up a gun and started robbing. I started with drug dealers and ended with banks. Eventually, after a bank robbery, I got in a high-speed chase that ended with me crashing and running on foot. When the cops finally caught me, they cuffed me and beat me half to death. I was charged with extortion, bank robbery, armed robberies, and a total of 17 capital crimes, all carrying up to life in prison. The D. A. wanted to give me 30-to-life!
I fought my cases from the county jail, on a $5.75 million dollar bond, for 19 months. I spent 17 of those months in the hole (solitary confinement). There, I was faced with these three choices. One, kill myself, which I seriously considered. I wasn’t going to spend 30 years in prison, and then someday get out as an old man with a broken mind and no family. What would be the point? Option two, I could just approach prison like I did the streets. Be a monster. Be violent. Force people to respect and fear me. I wasn’t scared to die. I knew how to handle myself. I could just become institutionalized and let the manic free. Or option three, change and become the man I always wanted to be. A good man. An honest man. A man of honor, integrity, and morals. I hated my old life. I hated the old me. I hated the people I had hung around. So it wasn’t a tough choice.
Maybe prison could be where I changed?
Lying there on my bunk, contemplating suicide—I was already planning it out—I had a both a spiritual awakening and an epiphany. I won’t get into details. I’ll save that for another day. But what happened would forever change the course of my life. I started writing. Or rather, creating. In the hole, I didn’t have access to pens and paper, so over about a 14-month period I wrote my first three novels. In my head! When I finally got out of the hole and was sent to a level #4 prison, where I was locked down 22 hours a day, I began writing like I was obsessed. I wrote book after book, each one taking roughly a year to complete, writing full time, about 12-14 hours a day. I didn’t even have money for a TV, so writing became my life, my great escape. Guys in prison loved my books. They were lining up for them! Some of my manuscripts had long waiting lists to read them. And almost everyone who read them was blown away. Over and over, guys would tell me that my books were the best books they had ever read! Some of these men had been in prison for decades. All the did was read. Their encouraging words made me confident I was onto something.
Six years into my prison sentence, a friend of mine started a Facebook page for me, which would forever change my life. On my Facebook profile, he listed my hobbies, that I was a Christian, and mentioned that I was in prison writing books. This caught the attention of a random woman who worked for a publisher in New York City. Curious, she wrote me a letter and expressed interest in hearing about my books. I wrote her back a very eloquent, articulate letter. She was so impressed that she wrote me back. We became pen-pals and were surprised by how much we had in common. We both loved books, the outdoors, food, camping, hiking, fishing, trivia, history, heath, science, and of course writing. She was the author of a Christian blog and asked to exchange a bible study with me. I was happy to do so. My faith had gotten me though all the years in prison.
It was nice to have a new friend, but things changed when she read my book. My books always change how people perceive me. She read “TO BE A KING,” which I had just finished, and she could not believe how good the story was, or how well it was written. She referred to me as a “unicorn,” and declared my book the single best book that she had ever read. This was a woman who had been an obsessed reader since age 4, and estimated that she had read thousands of books in her life. She was so impressed that she vowed to help me publish my books. I was over the moon with excitement, but the book ended up taking a back burner to our new friendship. We wrote each other constantly, day and night, for months. I even set aside the novel I was halfway finished writing, just to focus on writing her. We averaged maybe 10 pages a day, each. It was a lot of fun getting to know someone through only written words. Mail call was my favorite time of the day. I felt such a rush of excitement when one of those fat letters slid under my cell door. She told me it was the same for her when she heard the mailman. She would “squeal” with excitement at the sight of one of my letters.
Nine months after she first wrote me, she admitted what I already knew. She was in love. As was I. But what now? She was a professional, a businesswoman with a normal life. I was an ex-con with 6.5 years left in prison. But love is love. It cannot be contained. So, in my next letter, I asked her to marry me. She said yes and waited faithfully 6.5 years for me to come home. I married her the day after my release, in July, 2016. We had a blast during a several month honeymoon period, camping, adventuring, fishing, snowmobiling, riding our quads, generally just enjoying life. We also prepared my TO BE A KING novels for publishing. When I finally released them, they shot to the top 50 of the mafia genre, peaking at #28, and hundreds of people began calling the books “the next Godfather.” They all wanted to know why it wasn’t being made into a movie. Not long after that, I launched “OUR THING” Apparel, a line of clothing and merchandise, inspired by the mafia theme and customized to every city/state..
The next 5 years were a burr of fun and excitement and lots of love. I have no complaints today. Life is such an adventure. Freedom is such a blessing. I have an amazing wife who adores me. I have a beautiful homestead on 20 acres, located in my version of paradise. I have 4 adorable cats. My bills are paid. Cops aren’t looking for me and nobody wants to kill me. LOL My career is constantly moving forward. I work as a full-time novelist, an inspirational speaker, content creator on YouTube, writing coach, book marketing manager, mainstream radio host, and I’m even the lead writer on a new TV series starring Emmy Award and Golden Globe winning actor, Armand Assante. I try to embrace life and always see the glass half full. Things can always be much worse. Trust me, I know.
I always try to positive and inspire, so I will leave you with some sage advice. Embrace life. Prison instilled in me a profound appreciation for the little things. Never take them for granted. Personally, I’m a simple man. I don’t need much. Give me a tin or worms, a fishing pole, and a trout stream… I’m in nirvana. Keep your circle small, and make sure they have honor and integrity. Never sacrifice your morals to be accepted. I did that the first half of my life, and we see how that worked out. Never give up on your dreams. You’ll never know what you are capable of until you try. We all have special gifts and talents. Use them to enrich your life, the people around you, and the world at large. If anyone tells you it can’t be done, prove them wrong. Nineteen years ago, I was in a prison cell, alone and contemplating suicide. But I knew I had a very special talent. So, I used it to create a future. And not just any future, but the future of my dreams. Here I sit, in my cozy home, my cat Moggie snuggled against me, surrounded by peace and love. I am literally living out my dreams from prison. In fact, even my high-powered imagination could never have dreamed I would be living the life I live today. So, I implore anyone who reads this to never give up. Always press forward. Chase your dreams. If a two-bit loser like me can turn it around, you can too. I’m not that special. Unless you ask my wife. LOL