Joseph Tuttolomondo and Rosemarie Fitzsimmons. 2015. Caged Sparrow. Virginia: The Portrait Writer LLC.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
In 2011 I worked as a chaplain intern in a psychiatric ward where I found it helpful to observe patients in their groups before visiting with them individually. One morning as an art group assembled to begin their work, attendance was especially heavy and I offered my chair to a latecomer. For some reason he began escalating, but as the staff gathered putting on their blue latex gloves, the other patients came to my defense saying—“leave the pastor alone”—and threatening the patient who was now shouting at full throttle. While I was stunned for having been called out by the patient, but I was truly humbled by support given me by the other patients.
In Joesph Tuttolomondo’s memoir, Caged Sparrow, written by Rosemario Fitzsimmons we “Tutt” unlikely prison inmate: a narcotics chief from “Little Italy”, who helped clean up Buffalo, New York’s MAFIA and was later framed for a crime that he did not commit. How likely is a former narc to survive a prison sentence surrounded by criminals that he had arrested and sent to prison? In his own words, Tutt writes about November 1977:
“People like me don’t survive prison. I knew that going in. I accepted that one day, may in a week, maybe in six months, someone would probably find me lying face-down in an exercise yard with a shank sticking out of my gut…I’m on their turf, living on their terms—a sparrow in a cage with two thousand cats.” (1, 3)
In the telling of his story, we learn a bit of MAFIA lore:
“during the late 1800s, a young Sicilian couple’s wedding plans were shattered when an officer from the occupying French army raped the bride-to-be and she committed suicide from the shame. After the funeral, the grieving young groom stood on the church steps and shouted ‘Morte ala Francia Italia Anella!’ (Death to the French, Italy Cries!) From these words came the acronym, MAFIA, and their battle cry.” (5)
Tutt grew up knowing the Omertià code: “You saw nothing.You heard nothing.You said nothing.” (5) Young and street smart, Tutt proved to be a good cop—maybe too good. After he and his partner survived an ambush, he thought that he was invincible (62-64).
He should have known: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov 16:18 ESV)
The set up that snagged Tutt was an informant who turned on him, as he pieced it together:
“Carlone must have gone to his District Attorney and said I was a bad cop, and that he was going to offer me a bribe. The DA probably gave him money and put it in an envelop, but Carlone [who was a drug user himself] must have had second thoughts, so he took the money out and replaced it with folded paper [which was supposed to be a list of drug users].”(75-76)
The set up should have failed in court, but no one seemed interested in the truth and Tutt was convicted and sent to prison. But along the way something unexpected happened …
Joesph Tuttolomondo’s memoir, Caged Sparrow, written by Rosemario Fitzsimmons is true story, even though the names have been changed to protect the innocent. After his release from prison, Tutt worked for the city in another occupation, qualified for his retirement, and left Buffalo to live in Florida. Rosemario Fitzsimmons is an author living in Northern Virginia who specializes in inspirational memoir writing. Caged Sparrow is a page turner interesting to anyone who likes a good detective story.
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