Hate Crime Mahogany Knowledge Tree

Mafia and Organized Crime

Teeth Whitening 4 You
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Why did Al Capone and John Gotti get treated so poorly by other inmates in prison despite being powerful mafia bosses?

I think we have to separate the two bosses out very carefully as their experiences were very different.

Before I begin though, it is probably worth noting that life in Prison operates to a very different code to life on the streets. How you carry yourself as a prisoner and how you navigate the prison politics (often racial, rather than territorial) often matter more than your role and profile on the street. If you are a Mafia boss on the street, you may command thousands of men (tens/low hundreds of made men, thousands of associates), but, in a US prison, where race politics rule, white people are the minority, with only the Aryan Brotherhood being a real ‘white powerhouse’. If you do not understand that, or assume your street position means you can ‘rise above it’, you may find yourself on the wrong end of a shank.

Al Capone

In the case of Al Capone, its arguable he was ever treated badly or poorly by other inmates. At Chicago’s County Cook Jail and in Atlanta, Capone seemingly had the run of the prison and was afforded an array of special privileges, including larger cells, better food, and regular visits from the likes of Lucky Luciano et al.

Where the story turns is when Al Capone was shipped off to Alcatraz in August 1934 (Attorney General Homer Cummings got sick of Capone manipulating the system). On arrival, Capone was quickly put in his place by Warden Johnston and the reign of Capone as a ‘special case’ ended.

Once Capone accepted his fate – he is alleged to have infamously said ‘it looks like Alcatraz has got me licked’ – he seemingly acted like a model prisoner; spending his time reading and creating a music ensemble with other inmates like Machine Gun Kelly.

There is little evidence he was treated poorly by other inmates. Where that narrative emerges is that early on in his 4.5 year stay on the Rock, an argument broke out between Capone and James ‘Tex’ Lucas. Lucas’s response was to try and stab Capone repeatedly in the shower block. Capone ended up with a chest wound and minor cuts/slashes to his hands. Once he recovered from the attack, things went back to normal.

The other contributory factor was that the psychological effects of Capone’s early contraction of Syphillis – and his refusal to get it treated when he was diagnosed in his early 20s – rapidly surfaced in his latter days at the Rock. When his symptoms flared, Capone was reported to go from model prisoner to crazed monster in a heartbeat. This level of ‘unpredictability’ meant other inmates would naturally avoid Capone as he became a genuine danger, and, to some degree, meant other inmates started looking down on him as his mental condition deteriorated.

In 1938 he was transferred to Terminal Island in California to see out his sentence (where nothing happened). Released in 1939, he died in 1947.

John Gotti

John Gotti was a brash, personable yet cocky character, both in the streets and in prison. He was also alleged – by Sammy Gravano, at least – to be very racist; making various disparaging and denigrating comments about black people, even in Prison environments. Given my preamble, that is not particularly smart.

Although known as the Teflon Don, Gotti had gone to jail twice prior to his rise to Caporegime and ultimately Boss – three years for a hijacking, four for attempted manslaughter – and, to be fair, there is little evidence that other inmates despised him or treated him poorly. To all intents and purposes, he just did his time.

The reputation of being treated poorly emerged during his final stint in Prison, following his 1992 conviction for Racketeering. When Gotti arrived in Prison – even leading up to the trial – he expected to be treated as the Gambino crime boss, with other inmates offering deference and respect. In any major prison, there will be a few made men and a decent handful of associates, but they are still a minority. No Blood or Crip member, no Mexican Mafia leader, or Aryan Brotherhood shot caller is going to ‘bow down’ to you because of your Mafia title. In Prison, Gotti and other Mafia leaders simply did not have the muscle to back up their position. All they had was their money.

The fact Gotti did not carry himself as other prisoners expected him too – arrogant, mouthy etc – meant a lot of resentment and ill treatment came his way. This came to a head in 1996 when Gotti made a racial slur in front of fellow black inmate Walter Johnson. Johnson turned around and viciously beat up Gotti; leaving him bloody and bruised. With no significant muscle of his own, Gotti could not even respond to this attack. Instead, he paid an undisclosed amount of money (so many different figures get quoted as to be unreliable) to the Aryan Brotherhood (AB) to 1) have himself protected going forward, and 2) murder Johnson. When prison authorities caught wind of this, they quickly whisked Johnson away to another prison before the ABs could carry out their mission.

John Gotti, July 1996. Photo taken after Gotti’s infamous beatdown by fellow inmate Walter Johnson.


To conclude, I think the question overstates how both bosses were treated in Prison. Capone clearly wasn’t treated poorly – bar one stabbing incident – and Gotti did manage to spend a number of years in Prison quietly, without incident, or disrespect. It is only in his latter years where his ego and cockiness ran riot that he found out that, in prison, he was arguably just another prisoner in a place full of violent men and killers, and, if he didn’t conduct himself in line with other prisoners expectations, he would be beaten up or treated badly.

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