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Former NY mobster finds new purpose helping Indianapolis men overcome addiction

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — It’s now been several years since John Franzese left witness protection and two years since his father forgave him.

“I am the manager, director, whatever you want to call it. I’m also 19 years sober,” Franzese said.

John now runs the Prana House, a sober living home just north of downtown Indianapolis, where he helps other men get clean.

“We have no tolerance for drugs or alcohol — I mean, like, immediate leaving,” Franzese said.

Indianapolis has become home. He has a routine and friends.

“He’s a guy who pulls a guy out from a behind a Panera dumpster and gives him some place to stay and talks to people about HIV and AIDS and goes to high schools and tells them to stay out of trouble. That’s the guy I know,” Lisa Gilbreath said.

Reporter Zak Keefer finished his article on John. It went on to gain national attention. John and Zak still stay in touch today.

“I think the attention was a lot at first, and I think it took him by surprise because, remember, this is a guy who was hiding. He was trying to be invisible for 10 years. He was in witness protection for 10 years. And all of a sudden he’s a pseudo-celebrity in Indianapolis, and people are coming up to him and asking him, and some people are scared of him, to be honest, with that history and that past. It was a lot to handle; I think he’s come to peace with that and the biggest thing about it is he’s very content with who he is and he’s very content with what he decided to do, which was tell his story,” Keefer said

But for the men who spend time at Prana House, it’s John’s story of addiction and recovery that resonates most.

“I’ve been here for about a month,” Chaston Starling said.

Starling didn’t even know about John’s mafia past.

“One of the things he told me when I first got here, I was going to go outside the guidelines — I was going to go pick somebody up — and he said, ‘It’s my job to save your life. It’s life and death out there, and that’s what you’re paying me for, so if you want to live in this house, you have to allow me to save your life.’ And I took that to heart; I’ve got a lot of respect for the man,” Starling said.

Respect earned, no longer feared. 

“In a lot of ways, he’s this huge contradiction. He’s got this dark past, and he’s one of the sunnier, friendlier people I’ve ever gotten to know,” Keefer said.

Indianapolis is a long way from the streets of New York, a long way from John’s past. But John has found his calling helping others beat their demons.

‘I watch guys who can’t call their parents — to their parents picking them up for lunch. It doesn’t just heal the guy. Family members, wives, children: They get to find the peace, too, knowing that someone came back, someone that lost their life, that didn’t know who they were,” Franzese said.