I often wonder how friends take different paths in life. You can have similar backgrounds, family structures, and support systems, yet you can have completely different outcomes in life. When I was in high school, I spent my free time with the same group of friends. We would all hang out together and we were welcomed into each other’s families. After high school, we all went our separate ways.
I had a friend who is now in jail. I met Michael in high school, sometime between freshman and sophomore year. We had similar interests, we quickly became friends, but it didn’t take long for me to realize some red flags. Some were character flaws and some were consistent actions that caused our friend circle pain, embarrassment, and some trauma.
I remember several of us went to the corner store as most teens do. We bought juice, chips, and candy before we went to the basketball court. Once we made it, Michael pulled out extra snacks that he stole! We were upset with him. To us, it did not make sense because he had the money to buy what he wanted. We voiced our frustration, but we remained friends.
Another time, about 7 of us were walking home from an event. He thought it was a good idea to throw rocks at street signs. 7 Black boys and girls walking through a moderately white neighborhood was risky enough, but we didn't consider that to be an issue until he brought extra attention to us. The cops came and stopped us. Michael apologized and we were let off the hook. We voiced our frustration, but we remained friends.
After a school basketball game, 3 of us were hanging out and venting about the relationships we had with our fathers. He shared a very intimate experience with us. We literally laughed him out of the room. We were terrible friends, we never shared a vulnerable space again. I couldn't blame him. He needed us and we failed him. He voiced his frustration, but we remained friends.
I spoke about this situation in my post When They See Dom. Michael, myself, and a third friend were leaving the store one night. Michael bought some ammo for his paintball gun. While we were in the parking lot, he fired his paintball gun into the ground. A bystander heard the shots and quickly called the police. She reported Black men were firing a gun. Within minutes, the police rushed us with guns loaded and ready to shoot. We didn't have the chance to react. We were forced to the ground and arrested, they separated and interrogated us, they threatened the third friend and used every scare tactic they could. Michael told the truth and the cops released us with no charges. We voiced our frustration, but this was one of the last times I would hang out with him.
About a year ago, I received a call from a friend that told me Michael went to jail. I proceeded to look up Michael and read his charges. It came full circle, but I always wondered, what if. What if we intervened? What if we tried to get him some help? What if we didn't laugh at him when he tried to share his truth? Would these things make a difference now? It’s easy to say don't think about the hypotheticals, but this was my friend. He is in jail and unable to take care of his family. Would his life be different if we did more to help him?