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In the American Mafia, a made man is a fully initiated member of the Mafia. Other common names for members include man of honor (Italian: uomo d'onore), goodfella and wiseguy, though these can also apply to non-members who work closely with the Mafia. In Sicily, the proper term for a member of the Sicilian Mafia is in Italian: uomo d'onore. Mafioso is a common term used by the press and academics, but is not used by members themselves.
Traditionally, in order to become a made man, the inductee had to be a male of full Southern Italian (preferably Sicilian) descent. Today, it is believed that this requirement has been loosened so that males of half Italian descent through their father's line can also be inducted. Other sources say that a half-Italian through his mother's line can also be acceptable if he has an Italian surname. Because many third and fourth generation Italian Americans have non-Italian ancestry (due to the mixing of ethnic groups in the United States), having an Italian surname seems to have become the prerequisite for Mafia membership. An example of a made member who is not of full Italian descent is John A. Gotti, whose mother was of Russian descent.
An associate of a crime family who was in the police force or attended a police academy cannot become a made member of the Mafia. For example, DeMeo crew member Henry Borelli could never become a made man in the Gambino family, since he had taken the New York City Police Department entrance exam in the early 1970s, and Bonanno underboss Salvatore Vitale was only made because his brother-in-law and future boss Joseph Massino covered up his previous work as a corrections officer. However, an exception to this rule includes Scarfo crime family capo Ron Previte, who was a former member of the Philadelphia police force.
Before being inducted, a potential made man is required to carry out a contract killing; any murders committed for personal reasons "do not count". Committing one's first contracted killing is referred to as "making your bones." Until the 1980s, one only had to be involved in a murder (such as driving the getaway car) in order to fulfill the requirements. It was not until the Donnie Brasco trials, which revealed that the Mafia was about to make an undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone, that a rule was made that potential inductees must actually perform a killing.
When introducing one made man to another, the phrase "a friend of ours" is used, indicating that he is a member and business can be discussed openly with him. If the person being introduced is an associate or civilian to whom business should not be mentioned, the phrase "a friend of mine" is used instead. Made men are the only ones who can rise through the ranks of Cosa Nostra, from soldier to caporegime, "consigliere," "underboss" and "boss".
To become made, an associate would first have to be sponsored by a made man. According to Pistone's accounts in his books The Way of the Wiseguy and Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business, the associate must now have at least two sponsors, one of whom must have known him for at least 10 to 15 years. The sponsor knows the associate and vouches for his reliability and abilities. Although a capo or other senior member(s) will determine the prospective member's credibility, ultimately the decision lies with the boss of the family into which he will be inducted.
When the crime family "opens the books" (accepts new members), an associate will get a call telling him to get ready and dressed. He will then be picked up and taken to the room where the ceremony will take place, alone or with other accepted candidates. An inductee will be required to take the oath of Omertà, the mafia code of silence. Though the ceremony varies from family to family, it usually involves the pricking of the trigger finger of the inductee, then dripping blood onto a picture of a Saint, typically St. Francis of Assisi or the Virgin Mary, which is then set alight in his hand and kept burning until the inductee has sworn the oath of loyalty to his new "family," e.g., "As this card burns, may my soul burn in Hell if I betray the oath of Omertà," or "As burns this saint, so will burn my soul. I enter alive and I will have to get out dead."
After the ceremony the inductee is a made man and a full member of the Mafia hierarchy. Inducted as a soldier (Italian: soldato), he is given certain responsibilities and privileges. The made man now enjoys the full protection and backing of the Mafia establishment as long as he remains in favor and earns enough money, of which a percentage is passed up the hierarchy. A made man is traditionally seen as "untouchable" by fellow criminals, a man to be respected and feared. To attack, let alone kill, a made man for any reason without the permission of mafiosi higher up in the organization is a cardinal sin normally met with severe retaliation (usually death), often regardless of whether the perpetrator had a legitimate grievance. A made man can however be killed if a good enough reason is provided and the Mafia bosses give permission.
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- The FBI's 'made' man. Michael Heaton, Plain Dealer Reporter 08/31/03
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- "Former Capo: "I was underpaid" 60 minutes interview by Steve Kroft with Previte http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/03/11/60minutes/main605432.shtml