MICHAEL FRANZESE: UNMADE MAN
By Mohan Karulkar and Michael Franzese: Second chances are lived out all around us. Stories are being written -- and shared -- faster than they can be curated. And while every story is unique, you sometimes come across one that just makes you say whoa.
Michael Franzese was a mobster. No, seriously. He was named, by Vanity Fair magazine, as one of the biggest earners for the Mob since Al Capone. And no, I didn't realize they tracked that either. I came across his website by chance, and I couldn't look away.
His story reads like a movie script: union kickbacks, tax schemes, racketeering charges, violence, luxury...you name it. But then, one day, after 20 years, he gave it all up and allowed a new story to take shape. He took the rap, did the time, and lived to tell his story.
Why? Because he trusted the second chance God promised him.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Michael a few questions about his journey, and it was reassuring to learn that he and I, though worlds apart, share a lot of the same types of struggles. Keep reading to see if you do too...
POTSC: Many at POTSC can attest to having trouble giving up habits from their pasts. We struggle with porn, self-harm, unhealthy relationships, and substance abuse, long after embracing our second chance at life. What aspect of your former life was hardest to give up, even after committing yourself to living differently?
Michael: I committed my life to La Cosa Nostra. I took a blood oath and vowed that I would never betray the life. For years I felt that I betrayed my oath, my father and even myself. The loss of the loyalty, and commitment I had to the men, especially my father, was what I found the hardest to deal with. The camaraderie with the men was very attractive and extremely important to me throughout the time I was a member of that life.
POTSC: Old habits and comforts from our old lives can continue to haunt us. How did you overcome the hard-to-break patterns?
Michael: It took years to overcome my feelings of betrayal and to rid myself of the "mob mentality" that was so much a part of my psyche. However, we do serve an awesome God who has so mercifully replaced the camaraderie I shared with my former associates with the fellowship I now share with many of my brothers and sisters in Christ -- I had to surround myself with people who genuinely love the Lord.
If you want to rid yourself of any vice, bad habit or destructive pattern in your life, you must first and foremost seek a relationship with Jesus. (Proverbs 3:5-6). Then you must have an inner circle of people, your true friends and confidants, who have done the same. That's how it worked for me.
POTSC: Nothing undermines second chances like guilt. What advice do you have for others who are struggling with guilt from past mistakes?
Michael: I have been asked on several occasions if I became involved in ministry to "make up for" the wrong I committed in the past. But I cannot make up for what I did in the past. What's done is done. A dear friend and brother in Christ once gave me some very valuable counsel when I talked with him about the guilt I dealt with. He told me that guilt was a tool of the enemy. That the devil uses the guilt in our lives to separate us from God and prevent us from fulfilling his plan and purpose in our lives.
That statement served as a wake up call for God's grace and mercy, and gave me the confidence to pursue the ministry I believe God had intended for me.
POTSC: I imagine not everyone has been willing to forgive you for your past. What is it like dealing with someone who won't forgive you?
Michael: My decision to quit the life brought some very strong feelings against me by so many people I cared about, including my father. We didn't speak for almost 10 years. It tore me up inside. Today, God has brought that relationship full circle and we are as close as we have ever been. That's very important to me because I love my dad very much.
I learned that we need to have patience with God and with those who have turned against us. Our walk with God is a process. It happens over time as God works on us and equips us for fulfilling His purpose in our lives. If we are faithful, He will do amazing things in our lives, even restoring relationships that we believed could never be restored.
POTSC: Your wife, Camille, sounds like an amazing woman, who stuck by you even during the most difficult times. POTSC is committed to sticking by people during their struggles as well. Talk about how important it was for you to have a personal advocate during your pursuit of a second chance at life.
Michael: Had God not put Camille in my life, I would either be dead or in prison for the rest of my life. He placed her in my life to lead me to Him, no doubt in my mind. And if you know her life story (which is being told in a book that Thomas Nelson will release early next year), you will see how God prepared this young woman for life with a mob guy. She was and still is my inspiration.
And Cammy inspired more advocates that supported me and helped me to develop my relationship with Jesus. My mother-in-law, our pastor and friends we met at church. It is so important to have someone stick with you. But you must show that person that you are committed to change and follow the course God has intended for your life. God will take it from there.
Check out Michael's video for more info on his story, and let us know how his story resonated with you.