John Gotti, the superstar mafia prince who reveled in the spotlight and strutted through New York’s Little Italy in his two-thousand-dollar Brioni suits, spent the last decade of his life housed in one of the most restrictive and inhumane prisons in America: Marion Federal Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. Built in the early 1960’s and classified as a super-maximum security facility, Marion “supermax” was the highest-level security prison in the United States during John Gotti’s incarceration there. Built to replace the closure of another well-known federal prison – Alcatraz – Marion was designed to house the most violent and incorrigible of offenders. Upon John Gotti’s murder and racketeering convictions in June 1992, Gotti was immediately transferred to Marion to begin serving his life sentence.
Gotti, who was no stranger to prison, was said to be in control of himself and his surroundings at Marion. According to Gotti apologists and fans, John was well-respected and feared by other inmates at Marion. As the boss of the Gambino Crime Family – the most powerful and influential of New York’s five organized crime families – Gotti’s notorious reputation kept other inmates at bay. Other convicts stepped aside whenever Gotti strutted through the prison corridors and yards, they said. After all, who in their right mind would want to mess with a guy like Gotti? Johh Gotti was the boss of the largest mafia family in the United States. He was responsible for the deaths of scores of individuals, and he was well-known for his violent temper and mean streak. Gotti was not some two-bit street punk or second-rate convict; Gotti was the real deal! And, for the most part, all of this seemed to be true. For the first four years of his incarceration, Gotti was untouched and in command of his surroundings. But all of that changed on a July day in 1996 when Gotti encountered a two-bit, small-time convict named Walter Johnson.
Walter Johnson was a Philadelphia hoodlum; he was a convicted bank robber who had a history of being violent and incorrigible. He was sentenced to serve out his bank robbery conviction at Marion Federal Penitentiary – a place befitting a man of Johnson’s persona. One day, as many of the prisoners were enjoying a rare moment of free time in an indoor recreation area just off the cell tiers, Gotti and Johnson crossed paths. Gotti, demonstrating that his imprisonment had not dulled his sense of self-worth, allegedly hurled a racial epithet and insult at Johnson, an African American, when he didn’t move out of Gotti’s way fast enough as Gotti walked by. “Get outta my way you piece of s*t, don’t you know who I am?” Gotti allegedly barked. Johnson, of course, knew who Gotti was, but he didn’t much care. He glared at Gotti and moved just enough to let him pass. However, on the following day, as the prisoners were in the same indoor recreation area, Johnson walked up to Gotti and sucker-punched him in the face! Gotti, taken by surprise, fell to the floor in a heap, with Johnson piling on top of him and raining punches down upon Gotti. As prison guards rushed to break up the melee, Gotti was left with a bloodied face and a bruised ego.
Walter Johnson was placed in solitary confinement and Gotti was taken to the infirmary for treatment. Asked by the treating physician to describe what had happened to him, Gotti, in keeping with his allegiance of omerta and never ratting or squealing, replied that he “fell down!” Gotti, however, was incensed. In a prison infirmary photograph taken roughly thirty minutes after his assault by Johnson, Gotti, with teeth clenched and eyes open wide, appears furious. For a man of Gotti’s stature, being assaulted and beaten by a two-bit prison punk was a cardinal sin that had to punished. The problem for Gotti, however, was that he was not in New York City surrounded by his loyal henchman and fellow mobsters; He was in a maximum-security prison thousands of miles away from his element. But Gotti, being the resourceful and prison-savvy criminal that he was, knew there were other avenues in which to exact revenge on his attacker. And Gotti soon found one: the Aryan Brotherhood.
The Aryan Brotherhood is a white supremacist-based prison gang that is one of the most powerful and deadly prison gangs in the nation. Well-known and feared for their violence and ruthlessness, the Aryan Brotherhood operates throughout the federal prison system. John Gotti knew who to talk to for help with his Walter Johnson problem. Allegedly, Gotti offered $100,000 to the Aryan Brotherhood if they would kill Walter Johnson. After a period of weeks, a time in which the main shot callers of the Brotherhood were notified of Gotti’s offer, Gotti was told that his offer was accepted and that his attacker would be taken care of. Walter Johnson was now a marked man! He was going to learn that you don’t raise your hands to a mafia godfather without paying the ultimate price.
A funny thing happened after the murder contract on Walter Johnson was issued, however. The Aryan Brotherhood members had a hard time getting close to him. Prison authorities, suspecting that Johnson was in danger, kept moving him around and eventually transferred him to another prison. Although the Aryan Brotherhood operates in most federal prisons, the opportunities to “reach” someone vary from prison to prison. And, with Johnson being carefully watched and protected by authorities, the chances to get at him were limited. And, to the dismay of both Gotti and the Aryan’s, Walter Johnson was paroled and released from prison. He had managed to escape Gotti’s retribution and finished out his prison sentence unscathed. And, in a cruel twist of fate, John Gotti was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 1999 and eventually died of the disease in June 2002, while being housed at a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Illinois. John Gotti and the Aryan Brotherhood had struck out!