Bill Livolsi is a member of our White Collar Support Group that meets on Zoom on Monday evenings.
My journey in the criminal justice system has been going for over 10 years now. My former spouse was charged in 2010. I was charged in 2014, I pled guilty, and sentenced in 2015. I served my time in 2019 and 2020. Later this year, in December, I’ll be done with Supervised Release.
While the most difficult portions of the journey are behind me, a recent event has served as a reminder that it’s never really gone for good (even if it’s just lingering in my head). Recent events have also challenged my concept of friendship and caused me to rethink how I am perceived by others.
For starters, I suppose my definition of friendship can be summed up as ‘a mutual bond or relationship based on shared experience’.
There are so many different circumstances under which people form these bonds: someone you grew up with, a former HS or university classmate, a close work colleague, former lovers, former spouses, and yes, even those who you serve time with.
A few weeks ago I was reading my google alerts and read that my old boss, Matthew, had passed away. He had been the president of the ad agency where I worked as CFO for 15 years (I left in 2005). He and his partner Nancy, the CEO, had been the ones to hire me.
Over the years since I left the agency I made attempts to reconnect with him. I truly liked him. I admired his accomplishments and believed he liked and trusted me. Ultimately, we did not stay in touch.
I was pretty shocked and saddened by the news of his death at age 79. I still picture him in my mind’s eye as young and vibrant. Perhaps his passing got me thinking about my own mortality?
I decided to reach out via text to two friends/former colleagues who I worked with at the agency. Both were with the Company when I left in 2005, but are no longer there now. The three of us have kept in touch over the years.
In my text, I said my hellos, and asked how they were doing. It had been a bit over a year since we last talked so I shared a few recent life events about the kids and me. Then I communicated the sad news of Matthew’s passing.
I was expecting that news of his death would give us the opportunity to check in with each other once again, to reconnect over a time and experience we had all shared together.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
From one, I got no response at all. Absolutely nothing.
From the other I got, ‘Sorry to hear he died. Hope you are well.’ That’s it. No Hi Bill; no how are you and the kids, nothing. No hint of a desire to share anything. It was not a response one might expect from a friend I thought.
These were some of the very few people, outside of family and our White Collar Support Group, with whom I had shared my criminal justice issues. As many with similar experience know, it’s a deeply personal issue, but I felt safe sharing it with them, and they always seemed supportive.
I get it, it’s not all about me. People are at different points in their day, and in their lives. There are things going on in their lives about which I have no idea. Perhaps our old boss’ passing didn’t touch them like it did me, I don’t know. I do know It’s not necessarily a reflection on me, but still, I felt… rejected, and definitely confused.
Unable to just let this go and focus on other things, I decided to take a look back on our earlier texts and emails. I was surprised to find in just about every instance I was the one who initiated a conversation.
I had communicated with them off and on during my prosecution. I called periodically after I was sentenced and while home with the kids. And I spoke to each shortly before I reported to prison. I wrote while I was away (I did not hear anything back, which is not surprising or unusual). And once I was released I texted or call now and again.
I had initiated all these interactions, but I didn’t pay that fact any mind. After all, isn’t that what friends do, reach out when the opportunity presents itself? Don’t Friends find ways to keep in contact? I wasn’t asking them for anything special, I didn’t need anything. Just friendship.
One thing I’m really very good at is ‘over thinking’. And this experience has me working overtime and my thoughts are running rampant:
Was I ever their friend, or merely an acquaintance?
Did I over-invest in the friendship because I confided in them my shameful secret? Did I have expectations that they would recognize how difficult that was for me?
Should I consider them friends at all?
I’m left with more questions than answers.
Like most everyone who will read this, once my legal issues became public many, many friends and colleagues cut me off. I was very bitter about the ostracism then, but time has given me an opportunity to rethink my bitterness and now, truthfully, I can’t blame them. But I had hoped this was different.
So maybe this is how the world is today – so many ways to be ‘connected’ on the surface, but few deep and personal connections.
And maybe, just maybe, I have been hanging on to this vestige of my normal past – and life has been telling me for quite some time to just let it go and move on.
Bill is Deputy Director of Progressive Prison Ministries and has been a member of the Ministry’s White Collar Support Group since 2016. Bill served 13 months at FCI El Reno, returning home in 2020. Bill is also a volunteer with Evolution Reentry Services and is their weekly Family Support Group facilitator. Bill is a certified Life Coach and owner of White Collar Coaching, working exclusively with men and women impacted by the criminal justice system. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.