Mother Assumpta sits down with FBI agent Andy Arena to discuss the virtue of prudence and the criminal justice system.

Join us every week as the CultureCast takes you inside our kitchen for: Heaven's Kitchen to show you how to cook for an army and become a culinary artist! Or come along with us and go: On the Road with the Sisters to become traveling pilgrims as you discover all the things that can be seen and those that are unseen! Or sit down with Mother Assumpta Long as she unlocks a few stories from some unsuspecting guests! Join us each week for unlikely adventures and together let's learn new things, see new places and meet new faces on The CultureCast.

For the Audio Presentation of this article, click here:

Mother Assumpta: 

I am particularly excited to have you here. The fascination is all that you have done in your lifetime. I want to hear from you. I understand that Sister has assigned you Prudence. I don’t know how this is going to go together with all you’ve done. I would be the most imprudent people if I had your job. Tell us about your history and all that you’ve been involved in, such as FBI terrorist organized crime and street gangs. It sounds like a movie.

Andy Arena:

I’m originally from Southwest Detroit. I was taught by the Dominicans. I went to high school at Gabriel Richard and Riverview and went to Central Michigan for my Bachelor of Science. I did a little time at Cambridge working on history graduate work, and then I came back and went to the University of Detroit for law school. I had no intention of ever practicing law. It wasn’t something that interested me, but I wanted the training. I wanted analytical capabilities. I knew I wanted to go into law enforcement, and the FBI was the perfect fit because they hire attorneys. I entered the FBI in 1988, and in 24 years of service, I was able to get a lot of experience. People ask, “Why did you go into the FBI?” I would say that it was a calling. We’re all called to something, and in life most people unfortunately don’t ever find that call or don’t follow that calling. I was fortunate because I enjoyed every moment of that career. I started as a public servant. My job was to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, to be the guy who protected the people who couldn’t protect themselves. As you said, I worked counterterrorism gangs in Los Angeles and Paris. 

For the Visual Presentation of this Article Click here:

Mother Assumpta:

What are some of the exciting things? How do you deal with the violence with street gangs?

Andy Arena: 

I was working the criminals. I always treat people with dignity and respect, and it comes back to you tenfold. You don’t escalate a situation. You go in and do the job the right way. You treat people with respect, and good things happen. That’s the way I conducted myself during my career, and it’s what I expected of the people who work for me. 

Mother Assumpta:

It’s obvious that you did that because you were asked to do something else or promoted to do something else. That wouldn’t happen if they didn’t see in you the character that would do a good job. 

Andy Arena: 

I was here in Detroit. I was a second in command, and 9/11 happened. I didn’t have a whole lot of terrorism experience like my mentor John Bell. What I found after 9/11 is not many people in the FBI had worked that violation. I was called back to Washington to help revamp how we were to counter terrorism. If somebody committed a crime, the FBI was very good at going out and finding that person to bring them to justice. Terrorism has to be more proactive. It’s better to stop the terrorists before they blow something up, so we had to change how we built the business of an intelligence driven organization and try to change the culture of an organization. That was one of the most difficult times I ever had in the FBI. I think the Bureau was much better, and I think the country is much safer. It was a wild ride. I would be sitting with President Bush one day and Donald Rumsfeld the next day and the Crown Prince of Jordan one day. Here I was, a young guy from Southwest Detroit, sitting with these people, which was to me amazing. 

Mother Assumpta:

What about street gangs? What do you do? 

Andy Arena:

A lot of my crew was working organized crime and the mafia. I had come from New York to LA, and they said, “You don’t take what you did working organized crime and apply it to a street gang.” The biggest difference for me was when I work the Italian mafia, to them those are doing business. They never took it personally. Gang members would stick to it personally, and you were the enemy. Whereas an organized crime member would never conceive of trying to kill an FBI agent, these gangbangers would. I worked with a gang called Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, which is big in the news today. We were the first ones to target that group. What we found was that they were like organized crime in the way they operated and how they were set up. We’re very fortunate to be able to develop some informants inside the gang. What I found was they were people leaving El Salvador in a civil war, looking for a better life, and just like the Italian organized crime when they came here, they bound together to protect themselves and to make money. Looking at it from that perspective, it was much easier to find a way to target them. We were very successful in targeting them criminally and also bringing some of the folks out and getting them into the right life.

Mother Assumpta:

Which is just as important. I want you to know I went to the graveside of Al Capone. The cemetery guy said, “I’ll take you to the Chapel of the Cardinals.” I said, “Okay, but I want to see the grave.” It’s kind of hidden because they said so many people went. Itfascinates me. You talk about them as humans. Every human being is made in the dignity of the human person. What makes them do what they do or what makes gangs or anything like that? How do you see that? Your job has to integrate Prudence. I mean, how did you see that you would have to exercise this in the things that you were doing? 

Andy Arena: 

You have to be well trained. You have to you have to have mentors. You have to learn things. You have to take the time. You have to have a moral compass, and you have to follow that moral compass. What builds your moral compass is where you were raised, who raised you, and your faith. Your faith is bigger. I did a piece for the Archdiocese a couple years ago during Catholic schools week. They asked me to write: What does a Catholic Education mean to you? I said, “One word: gift.” It was a gift my parents gave to me. It is a gift I give to my girls, and I think it helps form that moral compass. Forming the moral compass is one part, but I think just as important is having the ability to trust that moral compass. When I was making decisions in FBI investigations or personnel moves or administrative things, I would try to listen to that moral compass – my parents; my friends; my mentors in the FBI; my Catholic faith that I was raised in – to lead me to do the right thing. Another thing my friends used to say when I was young, “Andy, you were always the guy who stopped to think a few extra seconds before you did something.” I tell my kids this all the time. “You’re young. You’re not mature yet. You’re going to make mistakes, but try to listen to that voice in your head. Try to listen to Mom and Dad.” 

Mother Assumpta:

It’s so exciting to think that men or women would be in such a position and have that moral courage. I think that we were so fortunate with our faith and our parents in Catholic Education. I’m right with you. Let me ask you a question. Was your wife worried about youor she’s a saint? She must be a remarkable woman. 

Attorney and former FBI agent Andy Arena sits down with Mother Assumpta to talk about the virtue of prudence and how it plays into the criminal justice system.

Andy Arena: 

She’s a saint. She’s a much better person. She’s part of my moral compass, and she’s my conscience in it in a certain way. I don’t want to say that I never hid anything from my wife, but I didn’t bring home some of the things when working gangs in LA. I remember all my squad mates were together one time, and they started talking about different things. My wife actually worked for the FBI for a short period, so she kind of knew, but they’re talking about certain things that happened on the job, and I’m looking at my guys to stop. Don’t worry the wives, but [at the same time] you need that support. You need somebody to be able to take care of business at home and somebody who’s supportive, somebody to tell you when you’re wrong.

Mother Assumpta: 

How old are your children? 

Andy Arena: 

I got a junior or sophomore in high school and an 8th grader. 

Mother Assumpta: 

Do you think they realize what you have given? 

Andy Arena:

I’ve been retired from the FBI and working with the Crime Commission in running the Flint water investigation. I think they’re just starting to become very interested in Dad, and they’re Googling. They’re seeing some of the things that areinteresting.

Mother Assumpta:

I love to read about the mafia. It’s kind of exciting, but I think you know it is wonderful to hear from people like you so that we can look at it from a different angle. You say you were interested in those young people that are in gangs, and it’s beautiful to hear that instead of just going in with your gun. 

Andy Arena:

This isn’t like the mafia. I remember some interviews over much of the mafia turncoat to see all the people who had ratted out their fellow. Listening to them and getting to know them. They’re just sociopaths. The way they’re able to sit with you and talk about their grandkids and then the next moment talk about killing a person in the transition. You think, “There’s some people who can’t be saved, but there are a lot of people who can be shown the right path.” That was something that always struck me as a psychological aspect of how can you think like this. There’s evil in the world, and my job was to help contain it. 

Mother Assumpta: 

It’s wonderful. My brother was an investigative reporter for The Oregonian, and he did a lot of prison work, and I think maybe that’s what got me interested. I went to Alcatraz. What can you do to remember that these people are human? You can certainly pray for them, but what makes them what they are? We’ve been so blessed, like you were blessed by parents and Catholic Education and the Catholic faith. Think of all of the young people that don’t have that blessing. How can we reach them? Did you see any concrete examples? 

Andy Arena: 

I remember as a young FBI agent in a house in an urban area doing a search warrant. It’s the middle of winter. The windows all have plastic on them. There’s no heat. There’s garbage everywhere. It’s filthy, and there’s two young children. I remember to this day looking at them, and I said, “These two children have no hope in life, and my kids are going to have every opportunity. It is not their fault. It’s this environment, and there’s no parental. There’s no faith.” That struck me. We’ve got gotta go in there with eyes open. If you’ve got to [execute a search warrant], you have to have some humility and see humanity. I think this is one thing that hurts law enforcement. I think public relations’ perspective is police officers get so jaded because they only see the bad, and it’s very easy to think that the whole world is bad instead of asking, “How did you people get in this?” I think the most successful law enforcement officials have that view of the world. They don’t let themselves get jaded.

Mother Assumpta: 

That would be so hard. You also think about these people and what are they bringing in their own personal life to that, their marriages or whatever. There’s a lot to do, and there’s a lot to pray for, and we’re so grateful for what you do. We’re so glad you have a child in our school. We have to do what we can for this world of ours, and we’re grateful for all you’ve done. I can’t even imagine the good that you’ve done. The Sisters really love those children. We get to work with the parents, who are the primary Educators. We’ve got to do everything we can because the culture is going to be difficult for them. Thank you for being with us. It’s been an honor. 

Andy Arena: 

Thank you. My pleasure Mother. Thank you for inviting me. 


If you are enjoying receiving content and resources from GoLEDigital, please click here. Your generous gift provides expanded opportunities for programming that can be shared more widely and frequently.


Want to Republish this Article? Request Permission Here

Request to Republish:

Share This Post On

By subscribing, you agree to LEDigital's terms of use and privacy policy.