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September 8, 2005 - Philadelphia City Paper (PA)

Penn's Landing A Local Mob Movie?

As George Martorano Yearns To Help Katrina's Victims, Sean's Little Bro Mulls A Film.

By Brendan McGarvey

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

It's usually around 4 a.m. in central Florida when George Martorano wakes up, stares out his cell window toward the bright yellow light in the exercise yard and climbs out of his bunk bed.

Groggy and still heavy with sleep, he shuffles 3 feet sideways to sit at his tiny desk. The only sound he makes, the scratching of pencil against paper, is almost too faint to be heard in the open corridor of his cellblock. He writes about life on the outside although he hasn't been out for 23 years.

Books. Screenplays. Poems. Set in places like South Philly, South Jersey and South Florida. Tender teenage love stories, tough Mafia crime tales, screenplays about prison life and essays about God and the afterlife.

"Lately," he says in a phone interview from Coleman Federal Correctional Institution, which is located about 50 miles from Orlando, "I've been praying a lot for the people who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. I know what it is to lose everything."

Martorano understands loss better than most. His wife died of cancer, his son was killed in a motorcycle accident and his father, a high-ranking member of the Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra, was assassinated by mob hit men in 2002. All while he was behind bars serving one of America's longest federal sentence for a nonviolent offense [Cover, "In the Name of His Father," Brendan McGarvey, March 3, 2005].

Despite it all, Martorano said last week that if the Bureau of Prisons would let him, he'd lead a brigade of federal inmates like himself, all nonviolent offenders, to New Orleans or Biloxi, Miss., to help the victims of the catastrophic natural disaster.

"They need so much help there. We could haul away trash and mud and rebuild roads. Put us to work repairing damaged houses or carrying sandbags to fix the levees," he says. "We're Americans in here and we want to help those people."

For those who know Martorano, the idea of him leading a contingent of federal prisoners in an effort to help clean up the Gulf Coast isn't outrageous. He's already considered a leader of sorts among fellow prisoners and with prison administrators. He teaches and counsels fellow inmates and is an officer in the prison chapter of the NAACP. He founded a charity to help raise money for the medical expenses of a child battling a rare medical disease. Martorano is also the co-founder of a national prison-reform group called We Believe, which has drafted a sentencing-reform bill that's being sponsored by U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.).

Martorano, whose life sentence for a 1984 drug-trafficking conviction is currently under review by the White House for a possible commutation by President Bush, may not get to help hurricane victims, but his case has captured some attention in Hollywood.

"They put Georgie in for life so he would roll over on his dad," says actor/producer Chris Penn, alluding to Raymond "Long John" Martorano. "His dad's gone now, but Georgie's still in. He's the longest-serving nonviolent offender ever. It's ridiculous."

Penn, who has visited Martorano in prison several times, adds, "I want him out as quick as possible given what they've done to him."

Known for his roles in films ranging from Footloose to Reservoir Dogs, Penn has produced two films and says he is currently looking to turn some Martorano screenplays into movies.

"It's a lot harder with George still in prison," admits Penn, brother of fellow actor/advocate Sean. "I have major stars who have responded well to Georgie's screenplays. The stories George tells can't be beat. But if he was out it would make it easier to get these screenplays turned into films."

Penn says he often walks the beach in Santa Monica, Cal., pondering just how tough life must be for his friend behind bars.

"George has a lot of insight into people, into the differences between people," Penn says. "He should be out here, not in there. We're fast friends and I can't wait for the day when he is free."

© Copyright 1995­2005 Philadelphia City Paper.

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