Close your eyes and visualize yourself surrounded by four walls, no windows, cameras all around you and no access to the outside world. Keep your eyes closed, as your world is just a black as what you are seeing at this moment. Imagine your family at home wondering if you were alive, what was happening to you and when they might see you again. The world of mob boss Sammy Gravano was now exactly what I have described but ten times worse. No access to his family, one 15-minute phone call a month, behind a plexa glass window when his wife visited him and his words and movements monitored. Think about the fact that he was shackled and could not even attempt to reach out for her even though he could not because of the gravity of his crimes and his designation as a dangerous criminal.
These are the thoughts and descriptions as Karen, her mother, daughter and her nephew take a long car ride to finally see Sammy under the strict guidelines and rules set out by the prison. Open your eyes and look real hard as for the first time Sammy sees his family in a long time, is no longer in solitary confinement but is in a prison in an undisclosed location. Here is my review and my thoughts of Mob Daughter by Karen Gravano.
As Sammy comes into view what they see and the image is not the one they remember. Gaunt, pale and quite thin his physical appearance would remind anyone of a starved person whose body needed more than just nourishment. His grandchildren looking straight at him one wanting to know more about him the other quiet and subdued as Nicholas asked some very pointed questions of Karen on the ride back to the hotel. Honesty and truths you might not use those words when it comes to Sammy but when Nicholas asked him the hard and fast questions about his life, whether he killed and the definition of Mafia he remained calm and explained. He also explained to him why he never wanted him to wind up where he is and made him promise to follow the rules and stay in school. Family has many definitions and when many immigrants came to our shores they needed jobs and would do anything to protect and care for their families regardless of the consequences or end result. Now, let’s take a look back at the beginning when at age 9 Karen realized that her father was part of the Mafia a much different and larger family than most belong to.
Nine years old and enlightened to the realities of her father’s life. As Karen’s family moves to a different neighborhood in Staten Island she learns the truths about their neighbors, her father and his friends. Glad to attend P.S. 60 she is not thrilled to be transferred to a private a more prestigious school. As she was driving around with her father she learned the identity of his mob boss, Paul Castellano, although that is what he told her. Instead, he explained he was in the same business as this man, which was construction. However, there is much more that this curious and smart young child learned. As her new friend referred to him as a gangster she began thinking this term might apply to her father. Slowly and deliberately, she did learn that on her own and never once faltered, questioned her father’s motives or turned away from him, nor did her mother. Allowing Karen into his world did not prevent her from realizing that things were not always the same when visiting his friends, visiting his clubs and learning the protocol involved when greeting people. At age 12 she realized the truth, as one night would bring it all into focus. Asking for a simple sleepover would ordinarily have been no big deal but the events of that night changed everything as one man wound up dead, the end result would put her father in harms way. Learning the definition of Mafia and seeing it in full swing is not the same. Hearing her father’s private conversations, witnessing certain events would bring it all into focus for Karen. Families came to visit but rarely did his father’s friends come alone as one night her father sent her along with her mother and brother back to Staten Island after realizing that a murder was committed and that her father was at the center of what would happen next. Framed for two murders that he did not commit, having to make ends meet for his family did not stop him from taking matters into his own hands, committing crimes and doing as he said after Frank Fiala was found dead, what he had to do.
Sharing the story of how her parents met, their courtship, family reactions and grandparents allows the reader to relive along with Karen the family’s history. Called the Cosa Nostra, many of the families in her neighborhood were part of the Mafia even though her grandparents were not. Cosa Nostra as Sammy defines is Italian for “Our Thing.”
An article about her father in the paper would spell it out. In 1985 he was arrested for tax evasion and money laundering with her uncle in connection with the murder of Fiala. Next her father’s closest friend Stymie was gunned down and at the funeral Karen would learn her father’s new status. Paul Castellano was the next hit and he was the Cap di tuttucapi or the boss of all bosses but when someone wanted you dead it did not matter who you are or where. Learning more about her grandparents, her father’s youth and what led him to become a gangster enlightens the reader and helps you understand the respect he received and the frustration she felt and the family too every time they had to move. Now, as Underboss under John Gotti her father’s position changed and his responsibilities too. Before he was killed he took out someone who wanted him dead. Going from the Colombo family to the Gambino was a step up. Learning who ordered the hit on his friend Frankie angered him. Moving from their huge house in Todt Hill upsetting to Karen but no choice to her father. When the landscape architect of his new house tried to cheat him you can only guess the end result.
But, the story has much more as Karen and her brother learned some very hard lessons and when things were out of control and John Gotti betrayed him instead of going along he decided to testify against him. Going against Gotti should have been a death sentence. Both men placed in the same jail cell and one man not going to back down no matter what. When Sammy decided to become as they say a Rat Karen was enraged and his wife Debra did not support his decision. The end result was not what you would expect and the outcomes became tragic. More lives were lost, many more went to jail and Karen at the age of 19 rebelled. Deciding his fate and his decision would change the lives of many in his family as Karen went into selling weed and other drugs. Along with some of her friends she made it into a lucrative business after closing her flower shop. Her father bought her a flower shop, which was watched by the FBI and caused his arrest and much more. The events you need to read by yourself and the end result you will need to decide whether you agree or not for yourself. One family ripped apart because of one man’s decision to be who he wants to be. One man who took the rap for others and is now serving more time than he should as documents were withheld and information still needs to come to light. As Karen meets Dave, have her daughter Karina and winds up in jail herself, the fear was a wakeup call and her mother fell prey to it too accused of supplying the money for the operation for the Ecstasy drug ring. The final realities will definitely shock the reader as Karen does her own 360 and what she is doing well you need to learn that when you watch Mob Wives and find out about her other enterprises when you read this honest account of her life as a Mob Daughter. Straightforward, from the heart told in her own voice as you hear her inner most thoughts, feel the anger and understand that when you are part of the Mafia you protect your family and never tell on anyone. So, where are they and what about Sammy: his blood family comes first and she hopes he survives and gets out when all is said and done. Open your eyes and see the world clearly and realize that you don’t want to wind up in a cell with no window and walls. Lessons learned, betrayals, lies and deceits a part of her life and one woman that stands on her own.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer