Reformed Mobsters Help Epilepsy Foundation

Jimmy Calandra, far right, John Alite, third from right, Perry Hovater, second from left, and
Minister Glenn Hovater of Goodfellas for God, third from left, at epilepsy fundraiser held recently.

Former mob associates Jimmy Calandra and John Alite both stood at the podium and electrified the audience at a fundraiser for the Epilepsy Foundation held on July 24.

The event was organized by Perry Hovater, in honor of his son Austin, who suffers from epilepsy, as does Alite.

The fundraiser took place in Cleveland at the LaVera Party Center in Willoughby Hills.

The News Herald ran a piece about the event, Former mafia members explain why the life should not be glamorized:

When Alite, who also suffers from epilepsy, and Calandra got up to speak to a crowd of more than 100 people, I expected the worst. They delivered with stories about felony crimes involving murder, drugs and robberies which put them in prison. Alite, who spent 20 years in prison and was involved in over 40 shootings, shared his feelings of shame and regret for the crimes he committed. At one point, he unexpectedly put his cell phone to the microphone and played the song, “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” The crowd sang and clapped along. 
Once he had the crowd’s attention, Alite got serious and spoke from the heart about meeting with family members of his victims and asking for forgiveness. A heavy, cold silence filled the room. Strangers, who sometimes glamorize the mob, seemed to realize a life in crime is nothing to be proud of. 
Alite and Calandra, who have reformed their lives and are now motivational speakers, confirmed that. 
Calandra, who spent 13 years in prison, unexpectedly shared poems he wrote in prison. One told the story of how he got involved in the mob at a young age. When his father divorced his mother and moved away, the “wise guys” on the streets of New York where he grew up became his mentors. He spoke about what it was like to have his best friend killed by the gang he hung out with. He also described the day he realized a life in crime wasn’t for him. 
He had gone to a home to do a hit on a man with a fellow mob member. When he got to the home, a lady answered the door instead of the man he intended to kill. His fellow mob crony, who had his finger on the trigger of his gun, instantly killed the woman, who was a complete stranger. 
It’s unusual that a murder could become a turning point in someone’s life, but for someone in the mob, unusual, devastating circumstances are everyday occurrences. 
As I sat in LaVera’s Tuscan room, a former mob hangout known as the Mounds Club several decades ago, and listened to Alite and Calandra’s stories, I wondered what it was like to wake up every day with disappointment, pain and regret. I wondered what it was like to live with the constant worry that I could be killed at any moment out of vengeance for someone I had murdered. I also wondered how much strength it would take to put a life of prison and crime behind me and move on knowing I had missed watching my children grow up, my best friend dying and some of the best years of my life. 
“If I can change one kid’s decision to join a gang, to enter ‘the life,’ or to throw away his future, then I know everything I’ve been through hasn’t been in vain,” Alite said. 
Alite openly shares his story with anyone who asks. Earlier this year, a book about his life titled “Gotti’s Rules: The Story of John Alite, Junior Gotti and the Demise of the American Mafia,” was released. Calandra, who plans to write a book, also isn’t afraid to share his stories. He has talked about his trials and regrets in an episode of “Inside the American Mob” on National Geographic.
Because I am human and make mistakes myself, it’s not up to me to throw stones and judge Alite and Calandra. They have to wake up every day, look at themselves in the mirror and live with what they’ve done. I don’t at all condone what they’ve done. I despise it. I feel bad for their victims and their victim’s families. 
What I do admire about Alite and Calandra is their courage to be open and honest about the dark side of the mafia. They stress to their audiences that the mob life should not be glamorized. They have asked for forgiveness from their God and have vowed to live the rest of their lives helping others. 
How they ended up in Willoughby Hills from their homes in New York and New Jersey is a fluke. They willingly made a 10-hour drive together to help a friend raise money for a good cause. They brought people in with the anticipation of hearing stories about the mafia. While their stories are sad and horrific, their courage to share is admirable. 
My hope is Alite and Calandra continue to speak at charity events. Not only are they benefiting themselves by telling the sad truth about their lives, they are also helping others realize nothing good comes from a life of crime. Crime can suck you in and squeeze years out of your life. Alite and Calandra are proof of that, and they aren’t proud of it. 
Despite the trail of troubles they have let behind, they are determined to spend the rest of their days helping others.

Perry's father is Glen of Goodfellas for God.