Episode 8: Bob Mladinich Insights from NYPD Detective to Author to Therapist

Insights on transformation, struggles, decisions, love and fulfilment.

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Good morning, world, and welcome to Choices Books and Gifts to our “You Always Have Choices” podcast. 

I am so proud and happy to present a very good friend of mine. His name is Robert Mladinich. Good morning, Robert. 

Hello, Jay. Great to be here. Thanks for having me. 

it's my pleasure. Believe me, it's more my pleasure. So, Bob is an old friend of mine. We go back many, many years and I'd like to read to you, his bio.

Robert Mladinich served the New York City Police Department for 20 years, retiring as a detective 2003. He is currently a licensed private investigator and a licensed clinical social worker specializing in criminal defense and mitigation. He's the author of four true crime books, as well as an actor, film producer and screenwriter.

He appeared as a backstabbing mafia bodyguard in ‘The Irishman’, and most recently in the soon-to-be-released Don Q with Armand Assante, where he has also served as an executive producer. That's quite the accolades, my dear man. 

Well, thankfully, I was able to survive my twenties and then embark on a more productive and fulfilling life.

So, with that, can you tell me a little bit about your childhood where you grew up? What was it like?

 I grew up in the in the Long Island area. And one of the things, you know, looking back on my childhood, I always related to the anti-hero when I say the antihero, I mean, you know, the kind of society's outcast.

You know, the Jesse James and those type of people.  I never rooted for the good guy.

I was the same way, I always rooted for the bad guy. Always, always, always. I used to think there was something wrong with me. 

Yeah. And, well, I didn't think it was anything wrong with me then. But, you know, when I look back on some of my choices and decisions, you know, I shudder. But as you know, you met some of the people that I kind of idolized growing up. They were guys a little older than me - bartenders, we both know,  former fighters we both knew. And these guys were all very intelligent. They all had something in common. They were all very intelligent. But they also had very bad, alcohol or drug problems.  They were classic underachievers. They had so much potential to do well in life or to be productive and successful. But they weren't. And they all kind of or at least two guys that we both know died, unhappy. One guy took his own life, as we know. But these were the people I idolized and looked up to.  Right until my late twenties, early thirties, when I had an epiphany and turned my life around.

Well, that's  great. That leads into my next question.  When did you know you needed to change? How did you know? Was it something specific that happened and what were your actions to make those changes? 

It was a gradual progression.  I spent my twenties  drinking very heavily, carrying on. I had a very responsible job. I was doing very well in the police department, but it was like an alter ego.  I would work 8 hours, 10 hours, 16 hours.  If I made arrests, all I wanted to do was go to the bar and hang out with my friends.   I had a cheers-type bar back then in the eighties where I liked to joke, although it's a serious -  I’d say I spent all of my twenties there -  the entire decade.

I would wake up every day to go to my responsible job, which I did well.  But I always felt physically ill.  I was always under the weather.  I never really felt good physically, mentally, or emotionally.  I knew I was kind of cheating myself, somehow. I had gone to school, to college for journalism, and I had started writing a little bit,  immediately after college.

When I moved to New York City in 1980, I didn't join the police department until 1983.  I felt as if I cheated myself by giving up the writing.  I could have done some freelance writing on the police department. So, I always, always was very self-critical.  And then finally,  in my late twenties, I think I just turned 30, thankfully. And I don't minimize the people that have had a bigger problem giving up drinking than I did.  But I remember waking up being really physically ill,  being over the sink, coughing and spitting.  And I just said “enough is enough.”  And thankfully, for me, that worked. I know it doesn't work for everybody. And I don't want to minimize people who have far more, far more serious roads to get themselves together.

But for me, that enabled me to, for the most part, stop drinking and engage in other activities. I immediately; you know how some people take up running or exercise when they quit drinking. I had to start achieving things, making up for lost time.   I took scuba diving classes, and I scheduled a trip immediately.  But most importantly, and this is something that helped me later on in life, I went back to writing.

I started writing articles for a boxing magazine. And I'll tell you an interesting anecdote about that. I was so proud of my newfound magazine writing career.  I went to a bar where one of the bartenders was a former fighter - he and I did a lot of carrying on in our twenties. He heard that I was having some success with boxing writing - and said to me, you know, big-time boxing writer, look at you, you don't come around, you don't come to the bar anymore. You're talking about being a screenwriter.”  (which I was, and I was making $100 an article – but I was just so proud to see my name on an article..

And I look back and remember that when I was drinking, one of the things that I thought made me jovial and funny and interesting was that I would tell people,” don't ever change. I love you like you are.” 

And this bartender said to me with scorn and disdain – “You used to say, don’t ever change. I didn't change. You changed.” 

And unfortunately, this man took his own life a couple of years later. He stabbed himself in the heart. So, I wish that he did change. 

Yeah. Yeah, that's hard. I know the gentleman you're talking about, and it broke my heart when it happened as well.  So, you're a New York City police officer. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?

Because it sounds like you were still going through what you were going through while you were a police officer.  And just in general, what was it like being a New York City cop? 

Well, when I was younger, when you're young, you don't really appreciate all the good and exciting things that are going on around you.  So, because I had gone to school for journalism, I always wanted to be a journalist.

And I viewed myself as a civil service sellout rather than embracing and appreciating this great opportunity I had with the police department.  So, it took me a while to realize, what a great job it was.  How rewarding and fulfilling it was.  Looking back, I didn't appreciate it at that  moment -  you never do when things are happening.  And, I was thrust into some amazing experiences. For example, I went into the Narcotics Bureau in 1986, which was the advent of the crack cocaine epidemic. So, I got to see a bird's eye view of that on a daily basis. I wound up on special  task forces.  Some big foreign organizations in the drug trade.

I worked on federal and local task forces. Then, when I got promoted and transferred from the Narcotics Bureau to a detective bureau, I was dispatched to Brooklyn South. I thought I was going to a no-man's land and I was so disappointed that I had to go there.

I knew nothing about Brooklyn. I had been in Manhattan and a Bronx guy, my whole career.  But then, when I landed in Brooklyn in 1991, it was the advent of the Colombo crime mafia crime, war, and you see these people dropping dead every three or four days. So that was another tremendous experience. My girlfriend says I'm like Forrest Gump because there's three or four degrees of separation between me and major incidents or famous / notorious /  infamous people.  I have some sort of connection with so many of them. 

So, Brooklyn wound up becoming a phenomenal experience for me, especially because of the crime war and some of the people that I was involved in trying to arrest or arresting.  One guy in particular, a mafia hitman -  I  became friendly with him. He served many years in jail.  When he  got out, I wrote the preface for his book, and he and I, to this day, are very good friends and have a good relationship. 

That's fantastic. And, if you don't mind, I'd like to toot your horn a little bit. I knew you all those years as a police officer. And I know that, while you were a police officer, some of the things that happened on the job - you lost  people, and there are tragedies and things like that.  I want to tell the people that Bob had one of those tragedies. He lost a good man on the job, and Bob started a fundraiser for this young man.  I wanted people to know a little bit about who you are. 

Well, let me tell you a little more about that. And I promise all the people listening to this, this was not planned. I didn't know Jay was going to bring this up.  But,  I had promoted a boxing match between police officers and friends and family members of this officer who was killed in the line of duty. His name was Christopher Holbert, and he was killed in 1988.  And in May 1989, we had a huge boxing match at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn.

There were about 20 matchups between cops and Chris’s friend.  There had to be a couple of thousand people in attendance, the place was completely filled. And Jay, as the “Kid Calzone” , stepped in and participated.  He took all of his Queens / New York, dirty street-fighting habits into the ring with him against a guy by the name of Warren Norman. We had made up some t-shirts for Jay called “The Kid Calzone”.   The cops (in the audience) were being very biased - rooting for their own man – and they were yelling “Calzone, go back to your pizza shop.” But it was all in good fun.  And Jay went into the ring knowing he was going to be patsy, and he took it like a champ.  And it was to this day, very special.  You know, stepping ino a  ring is a very scary thing.  And Jay did it for a good cause. He made himself, he made a lot of us proud.  He did himself proud because he really put up a Herculean effort in front of the “enemy.” 

The one gentleman who committed suicide. He was my corner man, and he was so very funny.  Those were good and tough memories. But I just wanted to put that out there so people know you.  

And just one last thing, Jay. To this day, I communicate with a lot of these officers on Facebook. I haven't seen them - I've been retired over 20 years, so I don't see them anymore -  but I speak to them on Facebook.  And  inevitably, at least four or five times a year, somebody will write, how's “The Kid Calzone?”  Do you still see “The Kid Calzone?”  Jay, you left a tremendous impression.  And, I remember all those years I would come into the store to buy an anniversary coin for people, I loved seeing you.  AA coins are a big part of the recovery world - they help us celebrate eachother and the important sobriety milestones.  On my first year sober, I got an AA chip, and I cant tell you how proud I was.  And, that fact that I bought it at your store, was amazing to me.  What you have done here, at Choices, helping others, its truly inspirational, Jay.  You give back a lot.  

I thank you. I thank you, that means a lot to me. So, there are a lot of people out there – and this podcast is all about helping others.  We have all different walks in  life and on the show. Some people are  in program, some people not in program, because as you mentioned, and it's one of my favorite things you say, there's many roads to Rome.   And I know when it comes to recovery, there are many ways to skin a cat.  I love AA and receiving an AA chip each year, and celebrating with people in recovery.  

But, you know, you knew when you had enough and had to make the changes. So, what if somebody is out there and they're unhappy, they're not sure they're not living the life they want to live. What are some of the things that you would tell somebody to do and how to go about it, especially if they're not necessarily looking towards a program, but they want to they want to do it in a different way.

I think the hardest thing to do is, and I think it's easy to admit to yourself that you have a problem because, you know, every day you're waking up, you're unsatisfied, you're not feeling good. But the hardest thing you know, as the AA tenants say, is you have to admit that, in many cases, you just can't do this on your own.

But that's really, really a lot harder than it sounds. I remember, for example, when I was in the throes of my drinking, if I was going to a new girlfriend's house or if I was going to a strange city on vacation, I always had to have that little bistro bar near the hotel or near the new friend.

It was so important to me to have a place to call home, like a little new place to call home. And I would go in there, and I would be with the people, and I'd make all these friends within 10 minutes. I'd be embellishing and telling BS stories.  I couldn't imagine not having that. The thought of not having my little bar to go to was impossible for me to comprehend.

I don't want to minimize anybody else's effort, but you just have to admit “enough is enough - It's not doing me any good. It's keeping me back. It's not allowing me to appreciate all the other wonderful things I might have in my life.”  And once you stop drinking or don't drink as much or get some type of control where you can appreciate all the things, this whole world opens up.  I just turned 67 about a week  ago. And the last ten, 12 years, or 20 years, it's been a time of great growth, a lot of achievement. I kind of  keep outdoing myself. And I'm not saying that in any way with hubris or arrogance. It's just that I feel so much more complete and so much more capable.

And most importantly, I just like myself more than I've ever liked myself in the past. I had so much self-loathing in my youth, and even as a young man, it was so hard to get beyond that self-hatred. And I think that malady is something that a lot of us have in common in this world.

I do agree with you completely. You know, you mentioned how difficult it was.  I know for me, I took a little bit of a different path than you, and I needed a little extra help and whatnot, and I got it.  That's what I needed But can you tell me what you think are some of the major differences between then and now? I know you just covered a little bit about it, but could you keep relationships back then? Are you in a relationship now?  What is your life like every year? 

You just about every relationship that I was involved with back then, every romantic relationship I was involved with, as soon as we got too close, as soon as one of the women uttered the dreaded “L” word or even suggested it by their actions that they were feeling that way. (And I know most people will know this this phrase from AA.)  I would start building a case against them. And I was great at building the case. 

I would find all of these things wrong with them and then I couldn't get out fast enough. I notice, even though it's been about 30, 35, 40 years since I was going on a better path.  But one thing, looking back now, there was still the residue of that, until, maybe, even ten years ago.  I certainly was a lot better at it.  I matured a lot, but I catch myself now.   I thought I was  so healthy  at 50 or 60.   and I'm 67 now. I  was still suffering with a lot of that residue. So, it never really goes away. But when you get older, you just get this awareness, and you're able to pick it up, and you're able to understand yourself better.  AA medallion, one year AA coin. 

I'm going to be really honest -  I don't mean to be corny when I say this, but I have a little dog now.  She'll be three years old in May, and this little dog has enabled me to just feel that unrequited love that I never thought I was capable of feeling.  Love in my family of origin - there was no real physical abuse or anything but, we never said, I love you. That was never conveyed.  My mother is still alive. She's 100 now. And we have a very loving, dear relationship.  But growing up, that wasn't there. 

And we got this little dog a couple of years ago, and I can't tell you how much this little animal has just changed my life. She gazes up at me with these brown eyes and it just makes me feel so complete. It makes me so much more capable of just expressing how I feel about my partner, my mother  when I see her, my brother, and people like you.  When I was, when we were drinking, we would say, “I love you” -but  we never meant I love you.  It's all BS. Except when I got my AA chip from you, then I loved you! 

But now you feel it. I say it with feeling. It enables me to feel.  I think we both know people who are still out there wasting away at the bar, and they're not really feeling.  They're trying - but they live a shallow and unsatisfactory life.  They get through day by day by just numbing their feelings. I don't want to numb anymore. I might have 20 years left. I don't want to numb them.  

I know, I hear you. And there are two things you hit home with me there. I too, I’ve never had children of my own, and I, too, have a tiny little bit teacup Yorkie. And I swear to you - I don't know what it's like to have a real child, but to me, it's my daughter, this little child.

You do have a real child - this little Yorkie is your real child. 

Absolutely. Absolutely. One of the things I wanted to say because I know what you had said earlier about doing it yourself, as opposed to doing it with help.  And there's many different ways. But I find a lot of people and for me, it lasted longer because I was in denial. I understood the truth that you talked about.  The understanding that I know what I know, and I have a problem, this, and that.  But I really didn't know there was a choice.  And if anybody would have told me, “Jay, you need to get some help.” I would say, “what? Are you kidding me? There's nothing with me.”  So, I think that's so important, what you said about admitting it and then taking the action to go ahead and do something about it.

Well, I'll tell you and I'll give you an example of something that really hit home for me.  And I think back about this often. I had gone to as part of my efforts to change my life - I went to the Caron Foundation in Pennsylvania, and I did the seven-day family program.

Yep, I did it too 

They really hit some heavy stuff there. I mean, that's no joke, you better be prepared for that or you're going to come out shaken to the core. And they do one of these workshops where you're in there with groups of seven or so and they put you out in the middle of the group and they start asking you all these really tough questions and all the questions you don't want to answer.

They wrap something around you. So, you wrap something around your chest and maybe your head. And before you know it, you're completely wrapped because you're closing yourself off.  They would be asking me all these questions and I would be giving all these great intellectual answers because I understood exactly what was wrong with me intellectually.

But the facilitator, who was terrific, he kept saying, “I don't give a f what you're thinking. We know you're a smart guy. We know you understand all this stuff. I want to know what you feel.”  And I guess that I didn't understand what feelings were. And I think I even left Caron grappling with still being able to tap into my feelings.

And it took a couple of more years for that to happen. But this guy was trying to get me to feel, which was something I had trouble doing – for as long as I can remember.  He was getting so frustrated with me that he was going, “Feel goddammit, feel. I don't want to hear your psychobabble bullshit – feel! Say something real.” 

That was fantastic. I had done the same thing, and it was the exact same experience. You know, you and especially you, so much more than me because you are wordy, you've been to college, you're a writer, so I'm sure you could have given them what they wanted to hear. But it wasn't your intelligence, it wasn’t your brilliance - they wanted you to get down to the core, and I think that has to do with what we just said. And that is a real part of AA, getting to your feelings, and celebrating with an AA chip to commemorate sobriety.

The work really begins later on when you're in life and having to admit and move forward and dig deep, because that's the hardest thing. 

I grew up in an Italian family. You grew up in an Italian family as well. It was just so difficult to express yourself. So difficult. But we did and we're here. 

We did, we made it to the other side and we're enjoying life now. We did not use our age, to be too big to have come this far and appreciate what we have.

I do agree with that. The guerillas off my back and I can breathe and I'm happy today. I'm happy. 

I mean, you're insane if you're happy every moment of every single part of the day, that would be insane. But in general, I'm happy. 

My relationships with you years ago, was based on drinking and carrying on. Now, my relationships are based on love. And whenever I have an issue, I love calling you and talking to you about it. And I value our friendship just tremendously. 

And with that, we will wrap up this episode of Choices.  Remember that life is a series of decisions that shape our journey. I hope our time together was inspiring and motivating. Stay empowered, stay well. And remember, “You always have Choices.” 

Peace and blessings. See you next week. 

And Bob, I love you, and I'll see you when you get back from your vacation. 

Thank you so much, Jay. Great to be here. Good luck with the show. It's always a joy and a pleasure speaking with you.