Saturday, October 3, 2009


I am often aware that perhaps the greatest treasure I possess is a small and faithful band of true friends. This is not a new realization. After all, over thirty years ago, I wrote a book, FRIENDS--The Power And Potential Of The Company You Keep. On the jacket of that book, I had these lists:

Some friends:
make you feel good
bring out the best in you
give you a fresh viewpoint
challenge and stimulate you
make you feel alive and energetic
respect and appreciate you

Other friends:
make you think less of yourself
drag you down
manipulate you to their advantage
never level with you

One of the reasons I survived and triumphed over twelve years of incarceration was that I had the love and support of several very special friends. And most of these are mentioned in the acknowledgements for FRIENDS. Five women, in particular, were mainstays of the nurturing energy I got from the outside world while inside those prison walls. One of these, Susannah Lippman, I dedicated that book to. The others,
Rupa Cousins, Rachel Harris, Mary Ann Somervill, and Julie Coopersmith, are all also still very important aspects of my personal friendship wealth. I'm taking a moment here to smile as I pat myself on the back for my exquisite good taste in choosing friends.

In a world where someone can have 300,000 "followers" but not a single real and true friend, the company you keep is significant. In prison, you rarely have the choice of the company you keep. Of necessity, your standards have to be lowered a bit, so when they deliver a new "cellie" who is going to share your 10 x 6 foot living, eating, sleeping, bathroom space, you exult in the fact he is not noticeably psychotic and doesn't have running open sores.

A few friends, of course, dropped by the wayside during my time in prison. Some people just aren't equipped to support someone who has fallen into the quagmire of our justice system, saying basically, "Whoa, I didn't sign up for this when I agreed to be your friend!" There is a popular stereotype or myth in prison that most friends on the outside last at most two to three years before they weary of the one-way nature of the relationship. And I found this to sometimes be the truth of the matter. So the friendships that persist and even grow over a much longer period, despite the fact that the prisoner is not in a position to fully reciprocate, are even more amazing.

I thought about friendship in terms of the late Michael Jackson, much in the news since his passing. The saddest aspect of his life, despite his fame and millions, was that there was not one single person who stood out as a true, enduring friend--someone who was always there for him. A friend of mine was hired by Michael some years ago to be a consultant for him on how to emotionally deal with his great wealth. She was invited to join a two week cruise in the Caribbean on a luxury yacht, the only other passengers being Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, one of his few close friends in the entertainment industry. After one week, Diana Ross left, not being able to take it anymore. My friend stayed, and said the most poignant part of the experience was how very alone this famed, immensely rich young man was--and this was before he experienced his major negative publicity and loss of stature in the world.

So the next time you want to ponder your assets, or count your blessings, just sit down and make a list of the friends you have.


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