The Day John Gotti Got Beat!
When John Gotti was convicted in June of 1992 and sentenced to multiple life terms in prison for an assortment of criminal mayhem and nefarious deeds, the government didn't waste any time in shipping John out to one of the most punitive and restrictive federal prisons in the United States - Marion Federal Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. Classified as a "super-max" facility designed to house the most dangerous and incorrigible of offenders, Marion was the place for the worst of the worst. And for a guy like John Gotti, who was the boss of one of the largest and most powerful organized crime families in America - the Gambinos - Marion seemed like the perfect place befitting a guy of Gotti's stature in the criminal underworld.
Confined to his tiny eight-by-ten jail cell an average of twenty-three hours per day, and with nothing more than a small thirteen-inch black and white television set and a thin mattress atop a concrete slab of a bed to count as luxuries, Gotti was a world away from the personal luxuries and privileges he had enjoyed as Godfather. But Gotti was still the Boss! Even under the harsh and restrictive conditions of prison, John was in control of himself and his environment. His notoriety and influence transcended prison walls, his supporters said. Other inmates, from murderers to terrorists to common street thugs, gave Gotti a wide berth as he swaggered through the prison corridors. Offending or assaulting the head of a major organized crime family is never a smart move for those interested in good health and prosperity - whether in prison or out on the street! Who in their right mind would want to mess with Gotti, the "Boss of Bosses" of the Italian Mafia?
The answer to that question turned out to be nobdody! At least not for the first four years of Gotti's incarceration. But on a fateful day in the Summer of 1996, during one of those rare moments of "recreation" outside of his tiny cell, Gotti met a bold and violent inmate who dealt the Gotti mystique a harsh blow, and left him with a bloody lip, a puffy face, and a bruised ego. Walter Johnson, a Philadelphia bank robber and small-time hoodlum, was a violent and incorrigible convict who was sent to Marion due to his propensity for mayhem. Johnson, who was an African American, seemed the kind of guy who acted in the moment and didn't really give much thought to any resulting consequences. If he had a problem with another inmate, whether it be a two-bit hoodlum or a Mafia boss, Johnson would handle it. He didn't give two shakes about a guys reputation, something that John Gotti was soon to find out.
The trouble all started rather innocently enough. Walter Johnson and John Gotti, along with an assortment of other Marion's finest, were enjoying a rare moment of recreation time outside of their jail cells, along an indoor walkway between the cell tiers. John Gotti, proving that his cockiness and overwhelming sense of self-worth had not been dulled by his years of incarceration, walked towards one end of the walkway. Walter Johnson, apparently minding his own business, happened to cross Gotti's path, and in Gotti's estimation, didn't hop out of the way fast enough or show enough respectful distance. "Get outta my way you f****ng n***er, don't you know who I am?" Gotti allegedly bellowed. Johnson of course knew exactly who Gotti was, but he didn't much care. The joint can be a great equalizer, and to Johnson, Gotti was just another lifer in an orange prison jumpsuit. But for the moment, Johnson moved enough for Gotti to pass. And the exchange appeared to be over.
But Johnson didn't forget the insult. The very next day when the inmates were again taking a recreation break, Johnson walked up to Gotti and punched him right in the face. Gotti, taken by surprise, fell to the ground in a heap, with Johnson piling on top of him raining blows. Unable to mount an offense, Gotti was protecting himself with his uplifted hands as the guards dove in and pulled Johnson off of Gotti. Startled inmates stood in awe and neither helped nor joined in. Gotti, who was bleeding from the lip and mouth, was taken to the prison infirmary; Johnson, after being restrained, was put in solitary confinement. After Gotti was patched up, it appeared that the whole incident was over. Fights, after all, happen all the time in prison. That's nothing new. There's winners and losers, and Gotti happened to lose. End of story! But John Gotti had other ideas. He wasn't about to suffer the indignity of a jailhouse beating at the hands of a lowly criminal and go quietly into the night. In Gotti's mind, Walter Johnson had committed an unforgivable sin, and he had to pay!
And John Gotti, being an experienced and street smart gangster, knew that every prison tends to have a hierarchy; a group of prisoners that tends to exert more of an influence and reach over the general population than others. And Gotti found that group at Marion in the Aryan Brotherhood, a violent white supremacist-based prison gang that has a well-earned reputation for violence and brutality. The Aryan Brotherhood was alive and well at Marion. And it didn't take John Gotti long to make contact with one of the ruling members of the gang who was housed in Marion. According to law enforcement intelligence, Gotti offered as much as $100,000 to the gang to murder his attacker, Walter Johnson. Gotti's offer was gleefully accepted, and Johnson now had a large target on his back. He was going to find out that you don't assault a high-profile inmate like John Gotti without suffering dire consequences!
There was only one problem though. Walter Johnson proved to be an elusive target. Prison authorities, apparently aware of the Gotti/Aryan Brotherhood alliance, kept a watchful and protective eye on Johnson. He was routinely moved and alternated to various sections of the prison, and the Aryan Brotherhood could never isolate him to make a fatal strike. And, to make matters worse, Johnson was eventually paroled and released from prison. John Gotti and the Aryan Brotherhood struck out! Gotti would eventually develop head and neck cancer and be transferred to a federal prison hospital, where he would die in June of 2002.