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16 Things You Didn’t Know About the Witness Protection Program

The Witness Protection Program (WITSEC) is, by definition, a secretive institution. In fact, the Department of Justice has only arranged for the press to interview one protected family since the program’s creation in 1970 as part of the Organized Crime Control Act. So, as a consequence, the average person’s knowledge is limited to what they’ve seen in mobster movies and TV shows. Fascinating witness protection program facts are actually pretty hard to come by. 

While Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) of AMC’s Better Call Saul may be the most entertaining on-screen character in the Witness Protection Program, Henry Hill from the movie Goodfellas is the most famous. Played by Ray Liotta and based on a real-life gangster of the same name, Hill describes life inside the program in the film’s memorable closing scene: “Today, everything is different. There’s no action. I have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food. Right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce, and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.” Other movies about WITSEC – like the 1997 Kirstie Alley and Tim Allen romcom For Richer or Poorer and the 2009 Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant flick Did You Hear about the Morgans? – tell zany stories of couples coming together under the strange circumstances of witness protection.

But is that what it’s really like to be schnook? Read on to learn how the Witness Protection Program works and what it takes for a person to assume a new identity and start a new life from scratch.

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