Unlocked: A Journey from Prison to Proust
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Unlocked: A Journey from Prison to Proust

4.7 8
by Louis Ferrante

From the freewheeling rush of hijacking trucks to the brutal race wars that marked his decade-long stint in jail, former Mafia insider Louis Ferrante describes his remarkable journey from rising mobster to federal prison inmate to full-time writer.

As Louis Ferrante tells it, the bottom line was money—and his word was good.


From the freewheeling rush of hijacking trucks to the brutal race wars that marked his decade-long stint in jail, former Mafia insider Louis Ferrante describes his remarkable journey from rising mobster to federal prison inmate to full-time writer.

As Louis Ferrante tells it, the bottom line was money—and his word was good. During his teenage years, Ferrante and his crew members hijacked delivery trucks and drove them to drop-offs all over New York, reselling the merchandise and pocketing thousands of dollars per load. For a seventeen-year-old who liked fist fighting and fast cars, it was the quickest money on the street, and it soon earned Ferrante the attention of the infamous Gambino crime family, led by late Mob boss John Gotti. In the early nineties, Ferrante's growing Mafia connections enabled him to pull off some of the most lucrative heists in American history—all by the age of twenty-one.

But the same handshakes that once sealed deals soon could no longer be trusted, and the betrayal by several of his close friends brought the feds banging down Ferrante's door. Symptomatic of the nation's larger crackdown on organized crime, indictments came from the Secret Service, the Nassau County Organized Crime Force, and the FBI. By 1994, Ferrante faced a life sentence in prison. He pleaded guilty and would serve nearly a decade in some of the most notorious penitentiaries in America. With raucous violence teeming around him, Ferrante relied on his Mob connections and street smarts to keep him alive—until an unexpected exchange with a guard propelled him to a painful self-reckoning: Who am I? What is it that makes me this way? Do I have a purpose?

Desperate to escape from his bleak surroundings, Ferrante immersed himself in the study of history and literature. Over the term of his incarceration, each book became a much-needed sanctuary from the brutal chaos of his everyday existence, each page a challenge to his rapidly expanding knowledge of the world. Ferrante read voraciously—a journey of the mind that took him from philosophy and ancient classics to nineteenth-century fiction. He also learned the art of writing and studied the major world religions, eventually deciding to become an Orthodox Jew. And with only limited access to legal texts, Ferrante taught himself enough about the American justice system to successfully appeal his own conviction, in a case that is now cited in courtrooms across the country.

Gritty and hard-hitting, Ferrante's memoir recounts his rapid rise to the upper echelons of the Mafia hierarchy, his time in prison, and his struggle to turn his life around. Unlocked is an astonishing journey—a true story of personal transformation that is both shocking and unforgettable.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A former New York Mafia soldier, Ferrante was known for being a "solid" guy, a thug with a specialty in safecracking, truck heists and loan-sharking collections. With this book of his personal transformation, he writes accurately and sometimes comically of his rapid rise from petty crook to reliable criminal with a bungling and colorful crew: Tony the Twitch, Botz, Fuzzy, Rizzo, Slim, Vinnie Bo Peep, Augie, Tony Pork Chop and Artie the Hair Do. Sometimes his mob account reads like a Puzo novel on steroids, but the author takes his licks when he is busted on a federal credit card rap and sentenced to a maximum security prison even though famed attorney William Kunstler represents him. In the federal pen with all its mayhem, Ferrante confronts his personal demons, elevates himself through reading books and embraces a new faith as an Orthodox Jew. Ferrante produces a raw, brutal memoir with glimmers of hope and redemption, and in so doing, this true crime account does not resemble any of the cardboard wise guys of the tube or the silver screen. It definitely grabs the reader's attention. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

A former member of the Gambino crime family, Ferrante here relates his remarkable transformation from mobster to scholar. Ferrante made good money as a mobster and had a supportive network looking after him, but he was eventually caught by the FBI and sentenced to prison. Disgusted by the feral quality of prison life, Ferrante began to question what kind of person he was becoming. So he asked a friend on the outside to send him some books, thus beginning an exploration into such subjects as literature, history, law, and religion. Successfully appealing his conviction, Ferrante earned his parole after eight and a half years. Here, he tells his story with immediacy and candor, employing a prose style that underscores his authenticity; in straightforward language, he spares us none of his life's unflattering details. But while Ferrante's example is inspiring, we may have reached Mafia-story saturation (after The Godfatherseries and The Sopranos), especially considering tight library budgets. Recommended with some reservation for large public libraries.
—Nancy R. Ives Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews
According to mobster-turned-Orthodox-Jew Ferrante, the book is mightier than the gun. Like a surprising number of Mafiosi, the author wasn't born into "the Life"-he earned and solidified his place in the family hierarchy primarily by becoming an ace truck hijacker. And it didn't hurt that he was friendly with the son of Gambino crime family head John Gotti, arguably the most powerful, most visible mob figure of the late 20th century. If you were part of Gotti's extended crew, you were expected to deliver, and for several years, Ferrante did just that. But the law finally caught up with the Queens-born thief; in 1994 he was busted, and he eventually wound up in a maximum-security prison in Pennsylvania. "My cell had dried shit and urine on the walls," he writes. "At night, roaches covered the floor, crunching under my feet as I paced . . . They crawled over my head, and across my chest." To escape these horrible conditions, Ferrante remade himself, first as an obsessive reader-everything from Winston Churchill's biography to Moll Flanders, Robinson Crusoe and the Torah-then as a determined writer. A religious conversion followed, and next thing you know, he was back on the street, this time scaring teenagers straight. Ferrante's solid storytelling skills bolster this semi-interesting addition to the crowded shelves of Mafia memoirs. His dialogue is hackneyed: attempting to reproduce New York/Italian accents by printing wit' for with, and checka you mirra for check your mirror, is a gimmick that quickly becomes tiresome and gives the book a cartoonish quality. A readable but not particularly resonant tale of redemption.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.16(w) x 7.92(h) x 1.15(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Journey from Prison to Proust

Chapter One

I Like Burgers and Fries

I leaned down, dropped a knee into his chest, and pressed my gun into his forehead right between the eyes.

"Don't kill me, I have a wife and kid."

"Do what I say an' you'll see 'em again."

He was large, big-boned, had a red beard, like a lumberjack. He was six inches away from death, the length of my gun barrel. If he flipped out, or my finger twitched, I'd have a dead body under me.

"It's a robbery. I want your truck, not your life."

"No!" he screamed. "I don't wanna die!"

He knocked the back of his head against the metal floor and swung his meaty arms, batting at the gun. His knuckles grazed my chin. I pushed his arms away, then jammed the barrel of the gun into his mouth. "You don't wanna die, huh? Then shut the fuck up!"

He shook his head. His teeth scraped against the steel, his lips sealed around the muzzle. He had to taste the weapon to know he didn't like it.

I let the steel sit between his teeth. When I pulled the gun back, he looked disappointed. The gun controlled him. He didn't trust himself to behave without it. I think he wanted me to shove it back in his mouth, to save his life.

"Turn over."

"Don't . . . shoot . . . me," he gasped. His coffee breath blasted me in the face. He was afraid to turn over, afraid I'd finish him off execution style.

"Do as I say an' you'll be home for dinner."

He twisted his broad shoulders in the cramped aisle, squeezing his eyes shut.

Once he was on his stomach, I reached into my jacket pocket andpulled out a roll of duct tape.

His wide back stretched his Snearco Tool shirt as he wrapped his hands around the back of his head. I didn't tell him to do this; either he'd seen it on TV or was shielding himself from a bullet.

"Put 'em behine your back," I said. "An' press your wrists together."

I placed my gun on a shelf against the wall. I spun the tape around his wrists, then tore it with my teeth.

He let out a long breath and lay still. He wanted to live.

I lifted his head off the floor by his hair, taped his mouth, then gently lowered his head to the side so he wouldn't crush his nose.

About an hour before I grabbed this guy, my crew and I had parked on a street lined with auto body shops. We smoked cigarettes and told jokes until this poor stiff swung his tool truck up onto the curb and parked.

His sliding passenger door was open, like most delivery trucks during the summer.

"I got this," I said to my friends as I jumped out of the car.

I felt a rush of adrenaline. The driver was alone, busy with paperwork when I climbed the steps on the passenger side.

"Can I take a look around, I wanna buy some tools."

He was startled at first, but quickly relaxed, probably hoped to open a new account.

"Sure," he said.

I looked down the narrow walkway. Giant toolboxes weighing a ton and standing as high as my chest sat along the walls. On the racks above me were ratchets, screwdrivers, hammers, and wrenches. The toolboxes were worth five to ten grand apiece; everything in the truck was worth over a hundred.

I pointed to tools, asked some prices.

When he looked away for a second, I whipped out a big bright .357 Magnum and pointed it at his head.

I don't know if he fell to the floor before or after I ordered him to lie down, but I stood over him as he looked up at me.

After I taped him up, I went to the doorway of the truck and waved to my friends, then went back to work.

I lifted him to his knees.

The name tag stitched into the chest pocket of his shirt read "Matthew."

"Matty," I said, "don't be afraid. I only want what's in your truck. This shit's insured, no?"

I knew it was, but wanted to reassure him that he was losing nothing.

He nodded. Sweat ran down his freckled forehead.

"We're gonna take the truck somewhere, then let you go. We'll call the cops, tell 'em where we leave ya, okay?"

The Catalano brothers climbed aboard. Chucky jumped behind the wheel and started the engine while Freddy stared at the tools.

I slid by Freddy to greet Chucky up front.

"Lift your ass." I pushed Chucky forward and pulled a red pillow out from under him as he took us into midday traffic.

"Gimme a hand," I said, sliding by Freddy again. He followed.

"Listen, Matty, we'll be on the road awhile. We're gonna prop ya up against the back door. I'll stick this cushion unda ya, so you don't break your ass on the bumps."

Freddy and I lifted Matthew and dragged him to the back, where we put him on the pillow.

Once under way, driving on noisy, congested streets, I pulled the tape off Matthew's mouth. Red bristles from his beard stuck to the glue.

"I saw a bottled water up front," I said. "Wanna sip?"

"Please," said Matthew, calmer now.

I put the bottle to his mouth so he could drink, then snatched a promo towel off a rack, wet it, and wiped down his face. I squeezed some drops over his head.

"Thanks," he said.

"No problem. Listen, Matt, there ain't gonna be nothin' left but a tin can when we're done wit' this thing. Anythin' you need, personal shit?"

"The pictures pinned to the visor, my wife and kid, can you put them in my shirt pocket?"


Up front, I looked out at the road. Cars, cabs, and buses wove in and out of lanes around us. Cops didn't know what we were up to, even as we drove alongside them. I patted Chucky on the shoulder, admiring his cool behind the wheel.

A Journey from Prison to Proust
. Copyright � by Louis Ferrante. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Louis Ferrante was born and raised in Queens, New York. Unlocked is his first book.

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Unlocked: A Journey from Prison to Proust 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
More than half the book is Ferrante giving a play-by-play of his gangster days (and he seems to exaggerate his role in the Mob). By the time he is out of prison, he portrays himself as a reformer and change agent in prison. Again, what is missing is humility. Ferrante seems somewhat full of himself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is such a good book I couldn't put it down! His stories are fascinating and unbelievable! You feel like you are right there with him while it's happening. He just sold the movie rights, so I hope the movie doesn't disappoint.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An excellent read. Opens your eyes to the reality beyond the glamour of mob life. A pleasure to witness true story of atonement. I couldn¿t put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
By far this is the best book i ever read, once i started i coulnd'nt stop, the way louis describes his story i feel like im there .. I have been waiting a long time for a book like this,i cant wait for the movie
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow! Ferrante tells an amazing story. His 'Streets' stories are hilarious, outrageous, and a foretelling of what's to come. The 'Prison' chapters are poignant, sad, and inspiring all at the same time. Awesome book, I'm going to read it again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ferrante's telling story is the greatest form of mobster entertainment since the Soprano's. This novel is a true page turner, one in which Ferrante grows from mobster to a literary Orthodox Jew. If it's not on the best-seller list within the first month of its release, this book should be. I highly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
amazing.......the next goodfellars, but better!!!!!!