What are the advantages and disadvantages of membership in an organized crime group?
The answer that follows regarding the advantages and disadvantages of membership in organized crime is based upon extensive readings and research into the topic, including the lengthy series of hearings conducted by the US Senate Committee on Government Affairs, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in the late 1980s titled Organized Crime 25 Years After Valachi; Joseph Pistone’s memoir of life as an uncover federal agent in one of New York’s organized crime “families,” Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, A True Story by FBI Agent Joseph D. Pistone; Gus Russo’s history of the Chicago “Outfit”; retired FBI agent William Roemer’s memoirs and histories of organized crime; Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy and Casino; and dozens of other primary and secondary sources.
The advantages of membership in organized crime accrue primarily from the sense of omnipotence that comes from rising up the organizational ladders to high-level positions within individual groups. The reasons for joining such organizations vary, with some joining out of an affinity for criminal activities and others out of a sense of familial obligation, as was the case with Philip Leonetti, who was groomed for membership from childhood by his uncle, Nicholas Scarfo (See Leonetti’s memoir Mafia Prince: Inside America’s Most Violent Crime Family, 2014). Whether membership originated from a psychological tendency towards deviancy or from familial obligation, however, the advantages were largely the same. The power that comes from being a “made member” of organized crime is intoxicating. Much of the public is fascinated by you and fear you the same time you are extorting money from legitimate businesses and other criminals alike. You enjoy a sense of fraternal brotherhood with other members of your organization and spend the vast bulk of your life socializing and working with those other members. Membership in organized crime can be very lucrative and entitle one to the benefits that accrue from walking around with pockets bulging from wads of cash, such as preferential treatment in certain dining establishments and bars, as well as at mob-affiliated hotels and casinos (the latter mostly a thing of the past). Members of organized crime mete out their own justice rather than relying upon legitimate avenues for resolving grievances, such as the courts.
The disadvantages of membership in organized crime can be said to outweigh the benefits. Those disadvantages include constant pressure from law enforcement agencies at city, state, and federal levels (often simultaneously) seeking prosecutions against members followed by costly criminal trials and, frequently, long periods of incarceration. Many members of organized crime do not profit financially from their membership unless or until they succeed in moving up within their respective organizations following the deaths or imprisonment of those who came before them. Most importantly, perhaps, is the knowledge that death, often following a period of intense physical torture, can come at any moment and be meted out by one’s closest friends and confidants. This latter disadvantage is a defining characteristic of life in organized crime. Because members of organized crime are, by definition, criminals, they associate with others who are, by nature, socially deviant themselves and cannot be trusted no matter the length and intensity of the friendship. Members of organized crime are perennially on-guard for indications that they are about to be set up for murder by their friends, because those who order such murders know they must rely upon subordinates close to the designated target to carry out those orders. Being invited to the home of a close friend can, in other words, mean death.
While it might not seem like there would be advantages to being a member of an organized crime group, there can be advantages for some people. There are, of course, many disadvantages.
One advantage to joining an organized crime group is the economic potential. A person who joins a gang might be able to make a lot more money than a person with the same level of education who works a legitimate job. Things like dealing drugs or stealing and selling things can (at some levels) be very lucrative. This can be very beneficial to an uneducated person from a poor neighborhood.
Another advantage is more personal. Belonging to a gang can make a person feel better about themselves. It can give them a sense that they are accepted and important in a group that has some status in their world.
One major disadvantage to joining a gang is the possibility of being put in prison. Whenever you make crime your life, you are liable to get in trouble with the law. This can lead to major disruptions of your life if you are arrested, tried, and sent to prison.
A second major disadvantage is the likelihood of becoming a victim of violence. A person working a regular job is not likely to encounter much violence in their life. By contrast, a gang or mafia member is much more likely to end up getting hurt or killed whether by a rival gang or in the process of some sort of crime.
Thus, there are both benefits and drawbacks to getting involved in organized crime.
While there are many disadvantages of being involved with an organized crime group, there can be a few advantages. One advantage is that a person may be accepted as part of a group. While the activities are dangerous, people have a need to feel support, companionship, and friendship. Being part of a group helps satisfy these needs. A person could also make a decent amount of money by being part of an organized crime group.
However, there are many disadvantages. Since organized crime groups are involved in illegal activities, there is a risk of going to jail. While a person might make a lot of money, it won’t help them if the person has to spend much or all of his or her life in jail. Sometimes, the money made by illegal methods can be taken away from a person. There also is the risk of being killed. Organized crime activities often involve violence. Rival groups may try to kill members of other groups. Since the activities of organized crime groups are illegal, there is a possibility that a person might be killed when participating in these activities. Finally, a person may have a very negative legacy if they are involved with an organized crime group, especially if they are convicted of illegal activities.