A Mafia associate who spent most of his existence in and out of prisons and living a life riddled with crime eventually found himself broken, emotionally tattered, and at a dire crossroads.
“I knew about God but didn’t know God. I gave God an ultimatum,” Robert Borelli recently told “The Prodigal Stories Podcast.” “I said, ‘You better have somebody kill me — or change me.'”
Borelli, a member of the Gambino Crime Family, had lived a hardened life, but that moment of pure emotion overtook him as he sat alone in his jail cell, separated from his daughter and loved ones.
“I was crying like a little baby,” he said. “It broke my heart, just shattered my heart in pieces.”
Listen to Borelli tell his story of going from a violent Mafia affiliate to a passionate Christian:
What followed for Borelli was a fully transformed life, with the former mobster embracing Christ and launching a ministry aimed at telling his incredible conversion story.
“I’m so thankful that God honored the cry of my heart in that jail cell,” he said. “And he put those pieces of my broken heart together again.”
Borelli, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1954, recalled how the Mafia dominated his neighborhood growing up.
The men offered locals seemingly positive opportunities in sports betting and other efforts and kept the neighborhood safe. Borelli felt the guys in control “seemed to have it all.”
Enamored by their supposed prestige, he started working for them.
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“I gravitated to that at an early age,” he said. “So, I started doing little things for them.”
Borelli said his father was often working and these older men in the Mafia gave him the attention he craved, further adding to the attraction.
“They kind of became my family, even at an early age,” he said.
One of the guys would sometimes say something that impressed on Borelli’s heart and mind, planting a seed that impacted his worldview. They would leave Mafia activities, and the man would point at people walking to the train station or to work.
“Those are the suckers. They go and they work, and they have to give half their money to the government,” he would say. “We’re the wise guys.”
Borelli said he would feel like a “sucker” every time he would attempt to work a normal job, reflecting back on those interactions. Unfortunately, as a result, he kept getting sucked back into crime.
A Dangerous Path
By the age of 18, Borelli was hiding from law enforcement amid a murder investigation, refusing to give up anyone involved.
“My first arrest was for two murders and possession of a weapon,” he said. “I was only 20 years old at the time.”
As the years progressed and Borelli was back on the street, he started selling and using drugs — something that further denigrated his life.
“I got involved with selling drugs, and then drugs started selling me,” he said. “And I hit my rock bottom. … I was a crack head.”
He had a baby in 1993, and that little girl was sadly separated from him during these years of crime. Borelli said he kept choosing to get high over being with his child, and that eventually tormented him.
The ex-mobster ended up at the infamous Rikers Island in New York City. Destitute and without help from the Mafia or family, he was alone and broken.
That’s when he asked God to either take his life or transform him. Around the same time, he struck a deal with the government to cooperate with officials and enter the witness protection program.
“When the government offered me that, I accepted that offer,” Borelli said. “I could see God moving from that point in time … God was honoring the desire of my heart to get to know Jesus more.”
A New Life
Borelli was disconnected from friends and family as he started a new life in the witness protection program. At the same time, his faith grew exponentially. Embracing Jesus changed everything.
“When I confessed … I believe [God] came inside me and gave me a brand new start with him,” he said.
The ex-Mafia associate ended up leaving the witness protection program, getting married, and reconnecting with his daughter.
Borelli also wrote a book about his life titled “The Witness.” He’s now committed to letting people know about Jesus and about a central truth embedded in his own story: “It’s never too late for a new beginning.”
Listen to him tell the full story on “The Prodigal Stories Podcast.”
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