There’s a popular perception, often perpetuated by movies and TV, that mafia guys have a pretty easy time in prison. If you’ve seen the movie Goodfellas, you’ll remember the scene: four wiseguys in what could be a dorm room, sitting around a dinner table eating Sunday Gravy and steaks cooked medium-rare, red wine and scotch in clear glasses, Frank Sinatra playing in the background. You’d never know they were serving jail time.
You might see a scene like that and think, There’s no way that happens in real life. But as former mobster Anthony Arillotta describes in the newest season of CAFE’s Up Against the Mob, prison for men with mafia ties can look a lot like that movie scene. “We were eating pizzas, Chinese food…there was wine,” Arillotta said about his time in a state jail near Springfield, Massachusetts. He also claimed that wiseguys could get illegal drugs, like cocaine or marijuana. “We had a lot of fun,” he confessed. “How can you not?”
Not surprisingly, there can be steep penalties for prisoners who are caught possessing controlled substances. Under 18 U.S. Code § 1791, a federal statute outlawing the provision or possession of contraband in prison, offenders can face up to 20 additional years behind bars. Those harsher sentences are reserved for the possession of narcotic drugs, but the law also bans everyday items, like “any United States or foreign currency” and “phone[s] or other device[s] used by a user of commercial mobile service.”
So how do inmates, even if they’re part of the mob, get their hands on such desired commodities? Often, it is through the very people tasked with enforcing the laws: correctional officers. Indeed, In 2021, the Department of Justice charged two former correctional officers for smuggling drugs and other contraband into a federal prison in exchange for payments from inmates. One defendant could face up to 40 years in prison for the offense.