This Thing of Ours: How Faith Saved My Mafia Marriageby Cammy Franzese
A handsome Italian film producer and a beautiful Mexican dancer. A match made on a movie set and a lavish Beverly Hills wedding. The beginning of Camille Franzese’s story takes on the shade of an exotic fairy tale. But a closer look at her marriage to mafia capo Michael Franzese exposes more than a decade of anguish endured in the shadows of her husband&rsquo
A handsome Italian film producer and a beautiful Mexican dancer. A match made on a movie set and a lavish Beverly Hills wedding. The beginning of Camille Franzese’s story takes on the shade of an exotic fairy tale. But a closer look at her marriage to mafia capo Michael Franzese exposes more than a decade of anguish endured in the shadows of her husband’s crimes. The fear of arrest, the prison sentences, the house raids from federal agentsCamille lived through it all, not knowing whether her family could remain unbroken amid the turmoil and uncertainty that accompanied her husband’s life of crime.
Discover how Camille’s devotion to her marriage and her faith in God’s larger plan led to deliverance from devastation. Hers is a story of choices, consequences, and the prayers that hold us up when everything around us is falling down.
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This Thing of OursHow Faith Saved My Mafia Marriage
By Cammy Franzese
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Camille Franzese
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLocked Up
I shuffled down the gray corridor, my wrists tightly bound by steel handcuffs that dug into my skin. Silent tears streamed down my face, turning it into a makeup-smeared wetland, and my shoulders were shaking. But I knew I couldn't let my crying be audible. I had to fake some semblance of strength, so I looked straight ahead, making eye contact with no one. The individual jail cells that lined the hallway on each side were brimming with women in the same indistinguishable beige (and very itchy) uniform I was wearing. They didn't hesitate to stare me down and obnoxiously greet me. The mesh of high-pitched voices, giggles, and whistles rang loudly in my ears.
"Hey you, what are you doing here?"
"Lookit that beauty!"
"What are you? A drug dealer? You from Colombia?"
"Nah, she's the wife of a drug dealer."
The women continued their catcalls and sarcastic comments as I was shoved into a private cell. A million thoughts ran through my mind. What's going on? Does this have anything to do with Michael? And what about the kids? What is going to happen to them? What on earth am I doing here? What am I doing here?—now, that was the million-dollar question.
Only a few hours earlier I was getting my three children, Miquelle, Amanda, and Michael Jr., up and ready for the day. It was the beginning of 1992, and my husband, notorious mobster Michael Franzese, was in prison for the second time. A former caporegime (high-ranking member) in the Colombo crime family, Michael had served four years in jail beginning in 1985, the same year we got married. He had copped a plea to racketeering and conspiracy and was given a ten-year prison sentence. When he got out in 1989, after serving only a partial sentence, he landed himself back in jail thirteen months later on a parole violation. He would stay there another four years. That morning, as I shook my kids out of their nighttime haze, telling them for the umpteenth time to wake up, my husband was sitting in solitary confinement in a prison across town. It was true solitary confinement, mainly for his safety.
A knock interrupted the early-morning frenzy. The kids were still in their rooms, making feeble attempts to get up. When I opened the front door, I was disgusted to find Detective Prieto standing there. I knew him well because of my husband. This guy had been on Michael's tail from the very beginning. Matter of fact, he was the one who had arrested Michael the first time around. He was a very mean and vindictive man who didn't hide the fact that he had it in for our family.
"Camille Franzese, we have a warrant for your arrest," he said without the slightest bit of emotion.
My mouth dropped to the floor, and I started choking up. I heard little Michael call out from his bedroom, "Mommy, who is it? Who's at the door?" My hands shook as I told the detective, "Give me a minute. Let me get the kids taken care of." I left him standing impatiently at the front of my house as I panicked. I had no idea what was going on.
My saving grace was our housekeeper. Ofelia never spent the night at our house, but for some reason, she had stayed with us the night before. I believe it was divine intervention—God's way of preparing me and my family for what was to come. There's been a lot of that in our lives. It's been impossible not to see the hand of Providence sweeping in every which way throughout my journey as Michael's wife and my children's mother.
I had to act fast. I ran up the stairs and found Ofelia opening the curtains in one of the kids' rooms, inviting in the warm sunlight. I asked her to get the kids dressed, drive them to school, and call my mother; Mom would handle everything else. I couldn't say much more and told her I had to leave, that it was an emergency. Ofelia didn't speak English very well, but she could read the panic in my eyes. She nodded and set off to the tasks at hand.
It broke my heart that I couldn't say good-bye to my kids. If they saw me leave with the police, they would no doubt ask a million questions and worry their little hearts out. The last thing I wanted to do was give them one more thing to be upset about.
I ran back down the stairs, grabbed a jacket and my boots, and left the house with the officers, who escorted me to a waiting police car. Sitting in the backseat, I finally broke down and started to cry. Detective Prieto ignored me and started talking loudly to no one in particular, though it was obvious he knew I couldn't help but hear him.
He droned on and on about my husband. "You know, Michael is never going to get out of prison. We've got some information on him. He'll be locked up for good this time." Finally he turned to me, poked his head through the opening in the plastic shield that separates criminal from law enforcer, and said, "You know, you can talk to me, Camille. You can tell me anything you'd like to share." I remember thinking, Is he that dumb to think I'm going to start rambling on about my husband? Besides, I didn't have anything to say.
It was a nightmare. I still didn't know why I was arrested. I vaguely recall Detective Prieto mentioning something about a deed with a faulty notary seal and signature. It didn't make any sense. I figured, however, that the legal drama had something to do with Michael. It always did.
In a blur of tears, I was handcuffed and taken into custody at the Sybil Brand Institute, a woman's jail in Los Angeles County. Here's a twist of irony: I happened to be good friends with Sybil Brand. She attended the church Michael and I first attended together. Sybil had converted from Judaism to Christianity and was a well-known philanthropist in town. She had raised a lot of money to build the women's jail because prior to that time, men and women were housed in the same facility. You can imagine the problems that can erupt in a coed prison.
I was placed in a holding cell with an old, skinny woman who constantly talked to herself. My crying interrupted her gibberish. She turned toward me, flashed a grin that displayed just two teeth, and said, "Sweetie, don't cry. Let's talk. So what are you here for, anyway? Drugs?" I burst into another round of tears, still clasping the bologna sandwich one of the officers had given me.
She tried to soothe me again, but my plight was no match for my sandwich. "Hey, you gonna eat that? I'm starvin'!" Between heaving sobs, I handed her the plastic bag. She snatched it and chomped her two teeth with ecstasy right into the bologna. As she chewed, she continued to mumble at me not to worry. Easy for her to say.
An hour or so later, I was reassigned to another cell, a private one. It was freezing, and I didn't have any socks on; I had run out of the house in bare feet, holding my boots. I spent the first few minutes in jail shivering and sobbing.
The girl next to my six-by-eight cell had caught a glimpse of my face when I was thrown in. "Hi, honey," she said. "You look familiar. I think I've seen you someplace before." Her voice was sweet and surprisingly articulate.
I hesitated to respond, but it was nice to hear what sounded like a genuinely friendly person. I was grateful for the conversation. "No, I don't think so."
She wouldn't drop the topic. "No, wait. I have. Weren't you featured in Vanity Fair or Life magazine or something with your husband? Yeah, I remember now. You're the one married to the mafioso, right?"
Bingo. She did know who I was. What a small world. The young woman's name was Nicole. She lived in La Jolla and was the daughter of a prominent, wealthy family. College educated and cultured, she began associating with the wrong kind of people, then messing with drugs. To fuel her habit, she started stealing from her parents and family friends and writing bad checks. But for the entire length of my stay in jail, Nicole was my guardian angel, calming me down and talking me through the ordeal. She somehow even managed to get me a pair of socks and a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup that day.
Nicole told me that the area where our cells were located was a high-profile place. "Believe me: it's much better to be back here than with the others," she reassured me. When she gave me the rundown of the other women who had been sentenced to Sybil, I couldn't believe my ears. The woman in the cell next to mine was there for murdering her husband. Another had killed her children by gassing them with oven fumes. Still another had strangled her boyfriend for drugs. The list went on.
I'm thankful for Nicole. I was an emotional wreck sitting in a jail cell, wondering what I was doing there, when I was going to get out, and worrying about my children. This sweet woman made my stay bearable, offering kind words and telling me about herself. I also felt compassion for her. Criminal or not, she seemed like a lost little girl who'd once had big dreams for herself that crumbled to bits because of a drug addiction. I was so touched by her story that, after I got out, I wrote her a few letters to encourage her.
After twenty-four hours I was released on bail. My mom had taken care of the kids, who were now waiting for me at home. When they asked, "Where's Mom?" she told them I had taken a mini-trip to see Nana in San Diego.
Seeing my babies again brought me such comfort and peace. Hugging them was like embracing a piece of heaven. They were happy to have me home and (thankfully) didn't ask too many questions. I, however, was overwhelmed. It still wasn't clear why charges had been pressed against me, though our lawyer was doing some footwork to find out the details.
Something happened after I was arrested and spent a day in jail—I changed. I was depressed at first and then very angry. I didn't talk to Michael until a day or two after. He was beside himself and kept repeating, "Honey, I'm sorry" over the prison telephone. I was peeved and took my frustration out on him. "I don't know what's going on, but this is unacceptable. This is not just about me, Michael! We have three kids! Do you understand how all this is affecting them?"
The experience changed me in many ways. For years I had kept myself in the dark about Michael's background and his dealings with organized crime. I maintained a level of naive that, in my mind, I needed in order to be a good wife and mother. But now my eyes were slowly becoming accustomed to a different life: A life of doubt and questions. A life of paranoia and worry, of not knowing if I would be whisked away again out of my own home.
Since we'd married, I'd dealt with multiple ongoing federal investigations, FBI agents pounding on our door at odd hours of the day, Michael taking frequent trips to New York for God-knows-what, and, of course, almost eight years of him being behind bars and me visiting several times a week. Whether he was locked up in New York, Arizona, Colorado, or Chicago—you name the place—I made the trek to see him.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I chose to marry Michael even though he had a colorful background (the full extent of which I still don't know). But as a result of my jail experience, the bubble of confidence I once had in him and in our relationship burst. See, I was used to certain things. I was used to Michael fixing things that went wrong. I was used to his reassurances that everything would be okay (because nine times out of ten, it would). Michael, in his inimitable way, was always able to work out any problem that came our way.
My being thrown in jail without any known cause, however, was something he couldn't fix. He couldn't talk his way out of the mess I was in. He couldn't tell me not to worry. He couldn't give me a reason why this was happening and tell me it was ridiculous and a big mistake and that he'd get me out within the hour. The insecurity shook me, and I found myself pushing him off the pedestal where I had positioned him for the longest time.
Depressed, I started to evaluate my life. During this time, my mother, a strong Christian woman who was a faithful prayer warrior, kept telling me to have faith. "God will use this experience," she said. Sure, I had faith, but I also had a lot of questions.
What am I doing, living this kind of life?
What does the future hold?
What am I sacrificing for my family?
Did I sign up for this?
If God was in the middle of orchestrating a brilliant plan, I couldn't see it. But my mother could, and she continued to encourage me to pray. To believe. To trust God. And in more small ways than big, I started allowing Him to move in me and change me in ways only He could. One step at a time.
Chapter TwoKnights of the City
Far from the world of that gray prison, and years earlier, I was a young woman with stars in my eyes. My childhood dream of being a dancer was coming true, and it would lead me right into the arms of my future husband. A friend of mine tipped me off to a local dance company that was holding auditions. Jeff Kutash, a former Golden Gloves boxer who was doing choreography for TV shows, movies, and Vegas performances, had a local dancing company called Dancin' Machine. They were known for bringing street dancing to the public in the early '70s and '80s.
I auditioned for the troupe in 1983. I was doubtful I'd get in. About thirty men and women flitted around the dance studio, sporting gaudy 1980s garb—neon leg warmers, colorful headbands, shiny leggings. Some were stretching their long, lean limbs, and others were coolly mingling with one another, oozing unmistakable confidence.
The competition was fierce. Quickly doing a once-over across the room, I saw seasoned dancers. Experienced dancers. Dancers who had studied hard, rehearsed long, and knew what they were doing. They could gracefully transition from a break-dancing move to a triple pirouette and then tap their hearts out. I was impressed and, I'll admit, intimidated.
I filled out the audition form and got my number. After an hour or so, we were taught the choreography for several songs, including "Stayin' Alive" and "Far from Over." We practiced the entire afternoon until we were ready to give our final performance in front of the dancing company's judges. Needless to say, it was a nerve-racking moment, but I didn't let my anxiety get the best of me. I gave it my all.
At the end of the day, we all lined up near the back of the studio and waited in hopeful anticipation for our numbers to be called. Mine was the last one Jeff barked out. I was shocked. Sure, I was confident I had natural talent, but I lacked the technique and extensive professional training the other dancers had.
Jeff approached me as I was ready to leave. He was always so encouraging. "Listen, Camille," he said. "I know you're not as trained as the other girls, but you're special. I see something different in you. People notice you when you dance. Just work real hard, take extra classes when you can, and come to all the rehearsals." He smiled and mussed my hair in an affectionate, fatherly gesture. "You'll do fine. I know you will."
I was so excited I could barely stand it.
That night I went to bed and I imagined my future. There would be dancing. Lots of dancing. Dancing around the world. Dancing on Broadway. I'd dance across the stage in front of thousands of people who came just to see me. Whenever I daydreamed, I never thought about falling in love.
I was only in the troupe a couple of months when Jeff was hired by movie producer Michael Franzese to choreograph a film for him in Florida. Knights of the City, originally named Cry of the City during the shooting, was a dance musical about a street gang trying to get a record deal. It was released in 1986 and starred Leon Isaac Kennedy, who also wrote the script, and Janine Turner, who would later become a household name for her role on Northern Exposure. Sammy Davis Jr. had a cameo appearance, and the Fat Boys performed a dance/rap number.
Jeff had already hired twelve dancers from the company to work in the picture. I was not on his list. I was friends with a couple of the dancers, though, and rumor had it that there were plenty of dancing opportunities in that part of Florida at various nightclubs. One of my girlfriends suggested, "Just come down to Miami and I'll hook you up with this guy named Mohammed. He's got a smokin' nightclub, and he's always hiring dancers. It's the real deal, and they put on great shows." Mohammed's club was a Miami hot spot. Three times the size of the Pachuco—a twenty-one-and-under club in the City of Industry—with multiple floors and a dazzling light show, it was the place to be on the weekends.
Sometime in February 1984, I dipped into my savings and bought a one-way plane ticket for a hundred bucks. I shared the news with my parents—I was leaving California. As expected, my mom warned me to be careful, and though I knew she didn't approve of my plans wholeheartedly, she was never one to forbid me to do anything. She never discouraged me from pursuing my dancing career, but I always got a lecture on the dangers of being tempted by the pressures of the entertainment industry. My dad's script was the same. "Go for it. I'm proud of you. Explore the world and experience new things. Work hard—and be good."
Excerpted from This Thing of Ours by Cammy Franzese Copyright © 2012 by Camille Franzese. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Cammy Franzese is a devout Christian who played a major role in her infamous husband’s decision to walk away from his former life as a capo in the mob. Against nearly insurmountable odds, she and Michael sustained a healthy marriage and raised four beautiful children.
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This book is a touching testimony of a woman who unknowingly married a high ranking member of the Mafia. Michael Franzese and Camille Garcia met while she was a dancer in a movie he was producing. Raised by a very devoted Christian mother, Cammy¿s faith in God was made real to her through the trials she went through as her husband was imprisoned twice. The book, ¿This Thing of Ours¿ gives details of how she raised four children while remaining a loving wife to Michael. Her prayers and influence brought her husband to change and quit his life of crime. She is very honest and candid in talking about her own failings, as well as the troubles with their children that resulted from Michael¿s past. She gives very good marriage advice and her emphasis on prayer is very inspirational. It would probably make more sense to read Cammy¿s husband¿s testimony first, ¿Blood Covenant¿, to know the background. Without an understanding of Michael¿s true mafia involvement, you cannot appreciate what Cammy went through because this book does not give much information about the mafia involvement. Her story seems very tame, but of course, this is her story, not his, and she was spared from the any mafia activity. Disclosure: Thomas Nelson provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for this review. Opinions are entirely my own.
I just finished reading This Thing of Ours, How Faith Saved my Mafia Marriage, by Cammy Franzes wherein she shares the details in a fascinating memoir about her marriage to a former mobster, Michael Franzese whom she met while dancing professionally in a movie he was producing, fell in love and married. When she married him, she was young and naive and not really aware of the fact that he was involved in a Mafia family. She writes of the struggles and triumphs of enduring over eight years of Michael's incarceration and his parting of ways with the Mafia while raising their four children. What Cammy Franzes has faced and lived to narrate would definitely have broken many a person. It shows her strength of character and the intensity of her faith. She is an inspiration for all. I enjoyed the book greatly and it at times brought tears to my eyes.
This Thing of Ours kept my rapt attention. Fascinating to see how her denial and his secrets come together to transform into a redeeming bond. Amazing truth of God's ability to change people's lives for His purposes.
In “This thing of ours,” Cammy Franseze, the wife of Michael Franseze, a once-prominent mobster who, in the mid-eighties, walked away from his mafia life only to serve two terms in jail—details her mafia marriage and the impact it had on her faith. Even though this book had a lot of religious overtones, as Michael struggles to move past his criminal world background and Cammy feels that they’re being put to a test, I picked up this book largely because I was interested in the mafia angle. While Cammy meets Michael as a young twenty-year-old dancer, by dancing in a movie he’s executive producing in the mid-eighties, at the time she has no idea of his true background. What she does see is women throwing themselves at him, and Michael’s deep pockets. Neither of which lead her to him. Cammy sees herself as coming from a poor family, and having little in common with this spoiled player. Michael, on the other hand, enjoys the challenge he sees in her and pursues their relationship. They have a quick and passionate relationship, get married, Cammy gives birth, and then the trouble starts. Apparently Michael’s money have come about unlawfully. And police is pursuing Michael, with the FBI knocking at their house. And thus starts the real test of their marriage. If you like reading about relationships and faith, this book might interest you. But if, like me, you were reading it purely to get the mafia angle, then you might be disappointed. Even Cammy admits that she still doesn’t know the entire story behind Micahel’s former life, and thus focuses the book on telling her side of the story—a wife forced to see the results of her mobster husband’s criminal lifestyle, without seeing the criminal lifestyle itself.