Life is full of little surprises.

And a gentleman I met at a recent convention in Lake Tahoe certainly fits into that category.

His name is Michael Franzese. He was a former mobster with the Colombo crime family of New York. He was a high ranking member – a Captain or caporegime as they call it with La Cosa Nostra. In short, he was a made man.  As a matter-of-fact, he is the only made man to leave the Mob, and as Michael himself says, not end up in either the Witness Protection Program or in a body bag.

So how did I come to meet this man? He was the keynote speaker at a Bail Bondsman Convention I attended! No, I’m not kidding. I was also an invited speaker.

They showed a clip about his life, and I thought to myself, I can’t sit through this … at least that’s what I thought for the first two minutes. But then that changed, it’s weird – it started resonating with me. And when he spoke, everything he said started resonating with me. And I was impressed by the fact that he did not use notes! His message was straight from the heart and he spoke with such passion and sincerity … it was truly inspiring.

It was his wife, Camille who turned his life around. She gave him his faith back and he became a man of God. I was also impressed by the way in which he spoke of his wife in such glowing terms; it was full of respect and admiration for her and his family.

Michael Franzese had known a life of crime and became one of the highest earners in Mob history raking in 8 – 9 million a week from skimming the gasoline taxes off of every gallon of gas within a certain area of New York. But he now had turned his life over to his faith and God. Now he talks about bringing God into your life. He says the only obstacle to doing so is YOU. He says that God never intrudes but only enters your life by invitation.

He’s a motivational speaker who speaks at some 400 colleges and their young student/athletes and steers them away from the evils of gambling. He speaks at Christian conferences and church services. He is a new man … a man on a mission … with a very definitive message. His message is stay in school, don’t be swayed by gambling or lured in by the gangster lifestyle; it’s really not that glamorous. There’s one of two places you will most probably end up: the county morgue or at the Graybar Hotel. Neither one is very glamorous.

Afterwards, I decided to go up and meet Michael  … I noticed he was wearing a cross around his neck. Then I overheard part of a conversation he had with a small group that had assembled around him as he was talking about children being raised without fathers. Another WOW moment for me! When I finally got my chance …he was very approachable and we chatted for a bit, we swapped business cards and I took a photo with him.

One story I relayed to Michael was that as a child my Nani told me that her father & grandfather sometimes didn’t come home and then a big black car would come down an alley and drop off bags of food, clothing and money. They never had to do without. They lived just 45 minutes outside Chicago … and Michael said yea, entirely possible … that’s how things were done. My father wasn’t a gangster but was a bookie and a gambler, and I’ll leave it at that.

I’m inspired by Michael’s wife for the important role she’s played in his transformation … and by Michael for the work he’s doing. Talk about doing a complete one-eighty! Michael delivers his message eloquently and passionately and he’s the perfect messenger since he’s walked the walk and talked the talk of the very lifestyle he’s advocating against. Michael’s been a consultant on several history-of-the-Mafia documentaries for TV programming. Some where he’s the main narrator.

I have often said that we are all flawed individuals. I am the first to queue up in that line. And while Michael Franzese is certainly no saint due to his past life with organized crime, I have a lot of respect for him trying to redeem his life. His message is so much more impactful because of who he is and the fact that he most likely broke all ten commandments on any given day.

His words carry more weight because of his street creds and that gives him a unique perspective in which to lecture, console, preach, inspire and minister to our young athletes and other groups in society. This made man gave up a life of criminality to do good … and God knows, we need it.

Personally, I would like to thank Michael for inspiring and energizing me again. I needed that. He reminds me that regardless of our backgrounds, individual journeys, family upbringing, hands dealt, education, etc, – in the end, it is choice, not chance – that determines our lives.

With Faith, there is Hope… PW