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Growing up in Sicily

Retired Intelligence Detective Gary Jenkins brings you the best in mob history with his unique perception of the mafia. In this episode, we have a captivating interview with Jack Amato, the author of “A Father’s Belief,” a book about his life in Sicily and his journey to the United States. Jack shares his experiences growing up in the fishing town of Carini and the matchmaking that led his family to immigrate to the US. He discusses his father’s work as a fisherman and the challenges they faced in their hometown. Moving on to his life in the United States, Jack talks about his early years in school and the language barriers he had to overcome as an immigrant. He also touches upon the presence of the Mafia in Sicily and the admiration for the Mafia folk hero Salvatore Giuliano. The episode concludes with a preview of the upcoming second part of the interview, where Jack will delve deeper into his experiences in the US, including his interactions with influential figures from the Bonanno family. Listeners are reminded to pay attention to motorcycles on the streets and provided with resources for PTSD and addiction support.
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[0:00] Welcome, all you wiretappers out there. Good to be back here in the studio.
Gangland Wire, you know, retired Kansas City Police Intelligence Detective Gary Jenkins here.
And I have a really interesting, different sort of an interview.
We’ve got a man from Sicily. I started noticing this man on our podcast page.
Gangland Wire podcast was posting and he has a book that he’s written and it tells about his life, you know, both in Sicily and when he came over And when he came over, his family ended up, you know, getting jobs and being around some of the Bonanno families.
So he has a lot of experiences with this from, shall we say, from the, not really from the associate side, not even associate, more like from just somebody that lived in the neighborhood and people that had to do business with mob guys and with his roots in Sicily.
So his name is Jack Amato. So welcome, Jack.

[0:57] Thank you for getting me to your show. All right.
You invited me to your show. Well, I’m really anxious to have you.
Now, A Father’s Belief, part one, that’s the name of your book, correct? Yes, yes.
All right, and you can get that on Amazon, I believe, can’t you? Yes.
All right, good. We’ll have links to how you click on to get that book, and in the YouTube version, I’ll have a picture of it whenever we talk about it.
Every once in a while, we’ll have a picture of it So people will know what it looks like.
And then going to gangland, why our Facebook group and Jack post quite a little bit.
And he’ll post a little bit about his book every once in a while and have a link to it and tell some stories from from his childhood and growing up in New York City.

[1:41] But first of all, Jack, we just talked a little bit.
And you have a really fascinating back story in Sicily before you got to the United States. So tell me a little bit about it.
Tell the guys here a little bit about, you know, where you came from, What area was that in Sicily and what was life like over there?
I was born in Carini, Sicily, province of Palermo.
Life in Carini, Sicily and the Fishing Trade

[2:03] The location of the town, it was on the hill.
And then there was the mountains surrounded and the sea.
My family were fishers by trade.
It was a town with aquaculture, meaning, you know, fruits, vegetables, everything. Cows, sheeps.
So there was a different type of people there, different group.
We called them, if you were connected, we called them mafios.

[2:33] Okay, that’s like a May guy, who translated in English, you know, over here.
So things were not good. I come from a big family, 10 kids. I was the ninth.
So we had to bring the family over to USA, America.

[2:54] So there was a matchmaking with my older brother with another Italian girl, Sicilian, and he was the first one to come to America.
He went to work for a local showman and Brooklyn Red Hook, section of Brooklyn.
And then my father came along, came by himself. He was 54 years old when he came.
So now, let me ask a question here. Your brother came first because of a matchmaking, somebody’s couple of families got together and who were already, somebody was already over here?
Is that how that worked? Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Matchmaking and Coming to America

[3:32] How did that work then? I mean, just… Okay, there was somebody from Carini.
There was a cousin of my mother, cousin, first cousin, that was coming to America.
So my mother said to him, I wish I could put one of my boys in your suitcase to take him to America, you know?
So with that, he never, you know, he never forgot that.
But when he came and lived in Brooklyn, there was this Italian family that they wanted to marry somebody from Sicily.

[4:11] So they knew each other because he worked in the longshoremen too, the husband did.
So that’s how the matchmaking came about, you know.
So they show pictures of each other, you know, that’s what I mean matchmaking.
They send a picture, they liked each other and, you know, My brother would just finish the Navy.
He was like 22 years old, you know, when he got out and started going fishing again. But things weren’t working out for the future.
So really, that was the idea. They were going to come to America.
So I’m very impressed by my father that he did that at 54 years old. Really?
But for me, he was like a man’s man.
You know, he was he was a tough man to come. Fifty four years old.
Most people at 54, they want to retire.
You know what I’m saying? So now your father, he was a fisherman in your village?
Daily Life as a Fisherman in Sicily

[5:10] For a roof from the beginning. How did he, I mean, did he have his own boat, went out and caught fish and then brought them in and sold them, gutted them and cleaned them and then sold them at a market that anybody could come by or did he sell them to a company that processed them out?
What was his day-to-day life like? Well, people will come by the boat to buy the fish, either for restaurants, regular people, want to fish fish.
And then whatever’s left, we will sell it to the public.
They will go out, pulling out, you know, what they have, what kind of fish, octopus was very popular, and all different fish.
So you go block by block and sell it in the street. whatever was left over, then you would sell it to the fishmonger for whatever reasonable price.
But first, they would sell it to the people, the public.
Yeah. So that’s what they did. So then whatever’s left over after all that, that you guys ate, I assume.
Oh, yeah. We ate a lot of fish.

[6:19] And what we used to do to have we used to sometimes give it to the butcher, the fish, and we would get the meat.
You know, like instead of money, they would change it between meat, whatever, vegetable, and we’d get fish because there was not too much money. Yeah, I see.
So you were 10 of you guys, 10 kids, 10. So I guess all the boys worked on the fishing boat at one time or another.
Jack’s Childhood and Family Involvement in Fishing

[6:48] The older brother. But I used to go to be, how do you say?

[6:53] A young boy, you don’t want to go fishing with the brothers and more I used to be in their way than actually fish.
I never fish, I go swimming, you know, that was the thing, you know, watching my brother fish.
Yes, we have more than one boat, you know, we have more than one boat.
There was a bigger boat with all the fishermen, like I said, it’s a group, there was association that they would go fishing for tuna, big fishes, you know?
And what do you call it? The town hall, they would get some kind of benefits, because they would help feed the people.
So they would get some kind of money given to make sure the operator good, I mean, have enough sources to go out fishing.
You know, the gasoline, everything, all the tools, than that.
So, you know, the government, I mean, the politicians were involved there. Interesting.

[7:58] Not unlike in the United States. You probably don’t want to much about this.
I grew up on a farm and. OK.
And in the United States, the government, we have the USDA, United States Department of Agriculture, and farmers can then apply for low cost loans.
They can get different things through the government to make sure because the government wants to make sure there’s enough food that’s always provided.
It’s the same thing. Interesting. Same thing. Yes.
Financial Struggles and the Decision to Move to the USA

[8:26] Yes. Same thing. Yes. So there were that but there was no money, you know, I mean, people had no money. They were strapped for money.
So there was not too much money going around.
And he just decided my mother, my father decide that we’ve got to make a move. We can’t stay here.
These kids are going to go nowhere, you know?
And like I said, I was four when I got there. How many were left at home when you they made the move to the United States?
Well, we were actually eight, eight.
My older sister was married and the brother got married and then the other one got married.
So we were seven months in there. Yeah. All right.
So this little village that you lived in, how big was it?
Oh, 25 to 30,000 people. Oh, I say little village a little bit. Yeah, a little.

[9:21] No, no, that’s what I said. There was a lot of business there with cattle, sheeps, and the sea.
So there was a lot of product, but not too much work for the people.
Okay. What else to do? There was no factory.
But if you go today, it’s all changed. Yeah.
All the industry there now, it’s a different thing. I mean, the business world is there now. They don’t need to come to America.
Interesting. So, was there much tourist trade in your city, your town?
Tourism in Carini in the Present Day

[9:59] Yeah, right now it’s big, yes. It’s big now? Yes.
They redid the castle, they do shows in there, you know, it’s called a Baronessa di Carini.
It’s just horrible. OK. They rebuilt the castle. So a lot of people do go there.
There’s a lot of house now by the water.
It don’t change. You know, a lot of villas. People will retire. They go back there.

[10:27] So nothing for me. I like USA. It’s it’s on the water, then it.
Well, we’re in the hill. So it’s like 20 minutes from the water.
Above the hill, you could go and look at the ocean.
OK. All right. Now, that’s important. Yes, I have a beautiful view.
You could go in the mountains, see all the valley. Yeah.
Oh, everything. But like I said, now it’s got more populated with house because people go back to Sicily for the summer and that they work here.
They got business, but then they will go back and live in that villa for the summer.
People are very successful.
How far are you from Palermo?
30 minutes. Oh, we are real close to Palermo. Yes, yes.

[11:14] Probably a lot of wealthy people in Palermo have the summer house in a town like your… Yes, they come down, yes, for the summer.
Like a vacation, yes. Yeah, yeah. So then on back inland, did you travel much around in Sicily?
Congested Towns and Spacious Streets Outside the Towns

[11:30] What’s that like? What are the roads like, for example, around there?
Are they just pretty small?
Everything’s paved, I think, but… Yeah, the town itself is, yeah, the cars are very congested.
I mean, now they got a lot of cars. You can’t even park the car. There’s no room.
So it’s like very, very congested, you know? So, but when you go out of the town, the streets are big.
Okay. They’ve been building, you got the highways now from the airport, go through right straight to Palermo, but then you go past all the town.
See that, that the towns are located all on the hill.
Beautiful. It’s like being an island. You ever been an island?
Yeah. The Irish, the Ireland. Yeah, Ireland, Ireland. It’s like Ireland.
Interesting. Yeah, very, very.
We all got the similar flag, too. That’s why we keep on fighting each other. I don’t know. Yeah.

[12:32] We’re a copycat, they say. Because I grew up with a lot of Irish family.
Huh? Now we’re going through that later.
Yeah. So you mentioned the mafioso. You know, some people were the working people, the fishermen and the mafioso.
So I was just talking with a guy who an Irish guy, as a matter of fact, Ireland, Irish people seem to have an affinity for Sicily, an Irish guy who has bought a house over there and he’s getting it fixed up.
And he said for him to do this, he had to go to a local fixer that he didn’t know if he was mafia or mafioso.
And so kind of how does that work? This local fixer, is that, I mean, what we think of as a mafia here in the United States.

[13:18] It’s different, I think, than in Sicily. Can you compare that?
Well, you know, like a real estate guy that is financier like.
Yeah. You know, it goes out and find a property for you or the seller or the buyer.
That’s what it was to be the way that I was there. OK. I don’t know the change now.
I don’t know. It was the only time I went back there to visit my sisters.
My dad eventually retired there.
He had the house by the beach, you know, built a home there.
So, but I don’t know much about the law is there.
The only thing I know, American law.
Childhood in a town with only Catholic schools

[14:07] So as a child growing up, I guess, in this town, to say in town, then what was, were the schools, were they all Catholic schools?
Part of the church, Catholic schools, or were they public schools and Catholic schools? Only Catholic schools.
For the town, I mean, for city school, public school, or what would you call it, public school. Okay.
There was no Catholic school.
You went to Kidney Garden.
And that was like a big process before you do your communion, you go there for two years, you know, then when you do your confirmation, another two years.
So that if you call that a Catholic school, it was given from the church.
OK, a lot of churches in my 20 church.
But then you went on to public school on the next several years.
You went on to public school. No, when I came to, yeah, well, I only did there fifth grade.
I didn’t finish it because I came here on December 23rd in 1965.

[15:17] So I was in the fifth grade. So I had to leave school.
So I had already fourth grade at the school over there, one and a half.
So when I came here, they put me in the sixth grade with a lot of kids.
I mean, you know, public school.
Now I’m the guy that is illiterate. I looked down because I was an immigrant.

[15:44] So I took my punches, you know, and then I went to the seventh grade, which was junior high school.
Did you speak any English at all? No, no, no. When you first got there? Wow.
Learning English at church and school, facing cultural clashes

[15:59] Did the school have any way for you to have extra classes in speaking English? Or the church?
Sometimes the church here in Kansas City, Don Bosco Center, for new immigrants will have special classes for people to learn English, newly arrived people.
Well, they put us in the class that where they teach you the vowel.
A, B, C, D, F, G, you know how to pronounce it. And we were a mixture of Puerto Ricans and the Thai.
Them. The blacks were already English. Yeah.
But that’s when we came here and read, oh, there was three different people, Italian, Puerto Ricans and black, the project.
And the school was right in the center of the tree area.

[16:50] So when we went to school, you know, we mingled.
The girls were black, you know, Spanish. And so there was a lot of fighting.
I bet we were in the middle. I was me and other guys.
There was one in the middle, you know, that we get picked on all the time.
And all your boat grew not by the tines, but the other blue.
So you had to get into a rumble. Yeah, it was like a West Side Story.
You know, the movie. Yeah, I do. Interesting. And the short story.
Yeah, the Sharks and the Jets. Yeah.
Move to Glendale, Queens and starting a new life

[17:31] Then we had a we had the dances every Friday night from the church, the Catholic church.
Yeah, that’s I was bigger like to get the kids, you know, involved with the church.
We had the music, the band.
And it was like, like I said, it was like West Side Story that’s fighting, fighting, stabbing. Yeah.
You know, so my father got us out of there and went to Glendale, Queens, with old Germans.
All German and Irish. That’s it. And he bought a luncheonette that belonged to a German family.

[18:14] Immigrant family. There was a lot of German immigrants there.
We bought that place with the building.
I mean at that time it wasn’t a lot of money, you know, actually we had no heat in that building, you know, the water pipes that brings in heat.
So he got a good price and there was a pizzeria like two blocks away that was a mafioso.
That’s how the story starts. That’s how you get started in interest. That’s how that.
Let me ask one one last question or two about life in Sicily.
And then let’s move on in to the United States. Yeah.
In Sicily, you mentioned mafioso. So so now how did you see evidence of that?
Did you hear your father and your uncles or older men talking about, you know, he’s a mafioso or, you know, that guy’s connected?
Did did you see any evidence of that? What do you remember about that?
How ingrained in the society was it?
OK, my father left for America. I was nine years old.
OK, when he left and he pulled me with one of his friends, a barber shop with the cut hair, shave.

[19:29] So because I was wild going on the mountain, I wanted to see, I was very adventurous, but he was very protective and nobody could control me.
So he put me to work, to sweep in the barber shop, I mean, with his friend.
This way after school, I go there and the guy took me in like like an older brother you know he’s not an old guy.
People who come there, they were like I said, cattle people, sheep herders, farmers, you know, their own land.
And that’s how I question the type of people that were there.
The residents, normal people, and there was a people, mafiosos, sometimes they came in with a shotgun too, you know, because they used to watch the land.
But what the most that I admire was the band to read the Julian, the Sicilian never heard of him.

[20:38] He was like a Robin Hood. Ah, OK. Robin Hood, like his actor. He was a time magazine.
Look it up. OK, say that say that name again a little slower. Say that name again.
Salvatore Giuliano, you just put it on from Sicily. Okay.
And the band Salvatore Giuliano from Montelebre.
Okay. Okay? I’m looking at it. The whole story.
And there’s a lot of real mafia there, you know, I mean, the mafia, the government.
That’s what I grew up with. Okay. All right. Then it turned out to be I mean, I don’t want to talk about his story. I want to talk about my story. Right. I understand.
But is that they you only live to 40 years old.
The Sicilian: A Movie Based on a Fascinating Story

[21:30] It’s a story. Very interesting. They made a movie. Mario Puzo made a movie.
You never heard. No, but it was cool. It was it was called the Sicilian.
Oh, I have heard of that. I don’t know if I’ve seen it’s been a long time. The Sicilian.
OK, let’s look that up. OK, interesting. Mario Puzo wrote it.
So he was from and that that man was from I can’t pronounce his name. Of course, Salvatore.
Salvatore Giuliano. Giuliano, Salvatore Giuliano was from your area down in there from the mountains around Montelagro. Right.
To me, he was a Fox hero, you know, because he came from a poor family, too.
The Carabinieri, it means the police, you know, they always abuse them.
But if he had grains, they took it away from him.
You know, so he was like my fuck zero.
But at the end, they set him up. They kill a lot of people and they blame him for it.

[22:35] So that’s the that’s the story. What happened to him?
He was very famous, but they want to get him out of the picture because he will side with the police all the time.
Oh, I see. And so he was kind of a folk hero for most of the people in your town. Yeah. Yeah.
Yeah. Not for the police. Yeah. For the police. They hate him.
They hated him. And the mafia hated them, too. Oh, really?
The Distinction Between Mafia and Local Mafiosi in Sicily

[23:03] Yes. Because he didn’t want to be one of these old men. Like my story in America.
I want to be my own man. Yeah. OK.
That’s really interesting. So in Sicily, the mafia probably is more like in Palermo and more like a national criminal organization. Yes.
Sicily. But then you had somebody like Salvatore Giuliano up in the mountains who was a mafioso himself with his own crew. Yeah.
And they are. That That is an interesting distinction between the two.
Yes, very, yes. So it’s my family. My uncle, they had, like I said, they had to protect the fishermen.
You know, they’re doing business with people.

[23:52] You know, they would get shaked down too. They would try to take away the good, because that’s what they did.
Like with the cattle or the sheep, They used to rob from the normal farmer, and they’d go in the black market and sell it.

[24:09] And that’s how the mafia operates.
They steal, they thieve, and they hurt people.

[24:19] So many people in your town would then look to Salvatore to help provide some protection in these more lower rent, more or more like street clubs that were stealing from them, is that?
Not that he protected the people, he protect his town, is the town of Montelevere, not my town.
Not your town, but another town. Yeah, his town where he was born.
Okay, interesting. His family, all the people that joined them, they were from Montelevere.
So he got it like a group of 40 bandits, maybe more, but they all from his town.
Every town has this thing.
Okay. Sicily.
There’s the mafiosi in every town. I see, interesting.
I’d heard something along those lines. I didn’t quite understand it.
Now I’m beginning to understand it because most of those villages and towns are pretty remote from Palermo, the major city. Right.
Can’t take what’s a major city on the other side.

[25:26] Tropony. Yeah. Tropony. Tropony, yeah, from those major cities.
We get out in the mountains in the middle, then you’re pretty isolated from everybody else around. Yes, yes, yes.
So the toughest guy, you know, stands out.
I see. he help his people, you know, whatever it is, protect the land, protect the cattle, protect the sheep.
That was mafioso, you know, that guy, you know, you got to deal with this guy from town.
He’s got the shotgun and he’s ready to use it to protect somebody else’s property.
Cool. There was no drugs. No drugs, yeah.
No heroin, no heroin. The only thing we would get in the town was the smuggled cigarettes, American cigarettes, you know, and the big thing was gasoline, you know, block market, the gas for the boat, you know, that was a big thing.
A lot of those, the heroin trade started out of those cigarette smugglers.
There was a lot of cigarette smuggling after World War II. Yes.

[26:37] And that’s where all those heroin traffickers came out of that little subculture of cigarette smugglers, they realized there was a lot more money in heroin in their wallet.
Ah, yes, yes, yes. You got it, you got that, yeah.
I wonder, was your father ever tempted to, since he had a boat, I wonder if he was ever tempted to make a little extra money smuggling cigarettes.
Actually, I seen my father go back to Sicily once he was here in America, that they were starting to bring in heroin from boats.
And he had to go back and make a point that they’re not allowed to come to the town with that.
With the fishermen and, you know, there was a little bit of challenges.
I don’t know if somebody got killed or something, but it never happened.
They never brought the drug.
Well, that’s quite a story from Sicily. You’ve got a heck of a story before you even got here.

[27:38] Really interesting story. I know these guys out here and myself included, we all are kind of fascinated by that life in Sicily and it’s even today, I want to get there myself one of these days.
It just seems so romantic and got these little villages around and you kind of get away from this crazy ass life we live in the cities here in the United States.
Sicily is beautiful as far as beauty. I mean, the sea, the Mediterranean, beautiful.
It’s like we think about in America, go to the Bahamas, Bermuda, you know what I’m saying? Yeah, I know.
I look at I look at the videos on YouTube all the time of people that have gone there, shoot videos of Sicily and get you get a villa where you can see Mount Etna, you know, from your window, your balcony and the ocean.

[28:32] And the Mediterranean Sea seems so blue there. It just seems so green, green, black.
Crystalline is just pure. I mean, it just looks so good. Yes.
All right, let’s move along in this next segment, let’s move along to your life in the United States and as your father.

[28:54] You know, he had a restaurant and there were mafia around and they had the lunch wagon business and so as you grew up and grew into that and those people were in your life, let’s talk about that.
In the next episode, guys, be sure and watch the second part of this two-part interview with Giacomo Giacomo, a man who started his life in Sicily and saw Real Deal Mafioso carrying shotguns around in his small town, his village, told us all about what that life was like over there, and now, in the next episode, he’s going to tell us what life was like for an immigrant coming from the United States who then ends up working with some of the top Bonanno people like Rusty Rastelli.
So thanks a lot guys. Don’t forget I like to ride motorcycles so watch out for motorcycles when you’re out there on the streets and if you have a problem with PTSD and you’ve been in the service the VA website has a good hotline for that and you know alcohol and drug addiction goes right along with PTSD and whether you’ve been in the service or not you can get hold of former Gambino man, Anthony Ruggiano.
He is a drug and alcohol counselor down there in Florida and on his website and his YouTube page, he has a hotline.
So give him a shot if you have a problem with drugs or alcohol.

[30:12] And don’t forget to like, and subscribe and tell your friends about the podcast and share it on your social media and do all those kinds of things and rest assured that I really like putting these out.
And I really like getting these great mob stories. like we had today some really previously unknown mob stories and he’s got his books out there a father’s belief and I’ll have links to the Amazon page for those books so look for his books. Thanks a lot guys.

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