Jimmy "The Shiv"

Death House Barber of Sing Sing

 A soon to be published memoir 

by Jodi DeStefano -- Jimmy "The Shiv"'s daughter

The lower East side of New York and the colorful gangsters who emerged from within its boundaries have always intrigued and mystified people everywhere. So will this compelling story of Jimmy, “The Shiv”, Death House Barber of Sing Sing, for he was one of them. This is the true story of my father’s extraordinary life. It will leave a disturbing echo in readers’ minds for years to come. Jimmy, “The Shiv”, Death House Barber of Sing Sing will touch upon the multi faceted personality of a troubled young boy who struggles with the realities of life.

After coming to America in 1909 tragedy overtakes this Italian immigrant family the father, Giuseppe DeStefano, an accomplished violin maestro dies in a trolley accident. Alone in a foreign country, his wife is left with no means of support. Fearing for her two children’s welfare she marries a man who turns out to be brutal and evil. She died shortly after, leaving her two children at the mercy of the stepfather, who despised the young son, Jimmy. Continual abuse forces Jimmy into the streets where he joined his friends and began a colorful criminal career that would eventually lead him to Sing Sing Prison. There, for five years, as the death house barber, he gave 46 men and one woman their final haircut.

Al Capone and Jimmy were working as bouncers when Capone got the infamous scar on his face. Their common desires to escape the stench of poverty and get their piece of the American dream bonded them for life. Jimmy’s many daring escapades with Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano molded his future.

Lewis E. Lawes, Warden of Sing Sing Prison for 21 years met Jimmy as a young boy in the Protectory where Jimmy had already acquired the moniker “The Shiv” defending himself from the advances of a priest. Warden Lawes recognized his desperate situation and they became friends as he supported and encouraged the troubled boy.

In 1936, Jimmy reported to a New York City parole officer, who disliked Jimmy and the men he was connected to. Abusing his powerful position (and wanting to teach him a lesson) he beat him so severely that it nearly took his life. He, an innocent man, was shipped back to Sing Sing with bogus documents prepared by the parole officer. From there, after fourteen months with Warden Lawes's encouragement he represented himself before the New York Supreme Court, successfully winning his appeal and his freedom. He emerged from the prison shadows to marry his sweetheart, Maria Durante, the niece of famous entertainer Jimmy Durante, and lead an exemplary life.