A friend is asking for help…should I?

About Me/BackStory

I might regret admitting this: In almost EVERY SINGLE situation, if a friend or even an acquaintance needs help of any kind I am there 100% to help out in any way possible.  I will help friends move, give free advice on WordPress or other web stuff, pick up a friend from the airport at 11:00pm because her flight was cancelled, I have even run into the burning house of people I didn’t know. It’s who I am and what I do, I always have.

Sometimes, I even go out looking for ways I can help.  I have been known to ask NPOs like the 1010Project if I can promote what they are doing through my Twitter feed, on Launch Your Project or in any other way.  I even have been working on a shadow project that could generate revenue and I am going to offer it to NPOs and other benevolent organizations first and for free.

I do these things because it makes me feel good and whenever possible, I put myself in a position where I can help out. I do not tell you these things to put myself up, or to make me seem like a good person. Fuck that.  I say these things, because I am trying to lay the ground work for the story I am about to tell.

In elementary school in Prairie Village, Kansas I grew up in a part of the neighborhood where there were not very many kids.  I had my friends who stayed at their grandma’s house two doors down and I had Jaymee Duncan who lived up the street. Jaymee and I would ride bikes and play “Man Hunter”, we would hang out, or sleep over at each other’s houses on the weekends.  Jaymee was such a good friend that when I was kicked out my house in high school, he let me stay in his room with him in the basement of his mom’s house for 6 months.

At some point, Jaymee got to be good friends with some guys who I eventually met and came to like quite a bit as well.  One of the guys, who turns out to be almost exactly the same age as me (by a couple days at the most), was named Brandon.  Brandon was not the smartest guy, but he was a good friend who was happy to just hang out with you, get drunk or high with you, and who would blindly have your back in a heartbeat.  He would jump in a fight for you if slightly provoked. It’s just the kind of guy he was.

If I remember correctly, Brandon left for a while to go to Texas to see his mom and live with her for a while.  After some time, he headed back to KC and hooked up with a guy he knew or met or something.  The two of them started selling Xanax, and reportedly were making about $2000 a week. Needless to say, they got busted by the cops because they were not all that clandestine about their pharmaceutical business and Brandon’s friend rolled over on him.  What this means is that his “friend” basically told the cops everything and then some to get a deal.  Brandon, being the type of guy he is, said nothing because “you don’t rat out yer boy“, Brandon’s words.

Brandon went to jail.

He has been in and out of jail for almost 7 years. During one parole time, he got into coke and some cops (not his PO) found out and told him he had to help them get his coke dealer or he would be put back in jail.  They set up the sting at Brandon’s workplace and when the deal went down, they raided the place like bored Prairie Village cops do – guns a-blazing, screaming, and generally excited to be involved in anything other than harassing 16 year-olds for minor traffic violations. Again, needless to say, Brandon lost his job.  Well, part of his parole was that he had to have a job.  Being a convict, he couldn’t get another one.  Being depressed about what had happened, he made more bad decisions and went back to jail.  Over the next 5 years, he was in and out and couldn’t stop “dropping dirty” – Brandon’s words again, for when he had drugs show up in his mandatory piss tests.  So he is back in the slammer, he says for the last time.

Brandon has somehow always remembered my phone number, so before he went back into jail he called to check in and tell me what was going on. He asked for my address, which I gladly gave him.

About a week ago, I got a letter from Brandon.  He told me about jail, about his plans to find a solid footing when he gets out, and how much it sucks in prison.  Some quotes (just as he wrote them in the letter):

“I have to go eat lunch, its hamburger.  I am not going to eat though I sold mine for a stamp.”

“Prison is a lonely place, I have no moral support from my family at all. Its heartbreaking. But luckily I have goods friends like you and Jaymee.  Jaymee once told me that no matter what happens we would still be friends.  I would like to think it applys to you to.  You have seen me at my worst and still fucked [around] with me the next day and I got love and respect for you for that.”

He asked me to call his mom, so I can get her address and send it to him.  Apparently, he does not have access to a phone at all.

My Dilemma

The next part is what is killing me, and made me want to write this blog post and ask for what you would do.

He sent me a couple money slips, and asked me to send him some cash.  $300 or about $22 a month, which he says “I put it on our friendship that I will pay you back. If I didn’t need help I wouldn’t ask”.

I am torn because Brandon got himself in this situation despite the advice and pleas of his friends.  I am also torn because of the quality friend that he was to me when he was out of jail.  I hear from him sometimes more often than I hear from other people I knew in high school that have never even seen inside a jail except on TV.

What would you do?  Would you fill out the money slip and send him the cash?

I plan to find out his mom’s address, write him back, and to send him a sheet of stamps so he can write back.  I just don’t know if I should send him the money.  Please help!


To answer a question: He says the money is for toiletries and things of that nature.

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  • http://markwilliammann.com Mark Mann

    Honestly… that’s a tough one. On the one hand you are always obliged to help out a friend that has been good to you but on the other hand there is a semi moral dilemma.

    I say give it time. Send him the stamps. Think about it some more and seek out advice from people that know you and him best. Feel free to follow up with me if you’d like.

    • http://www.mkbernier.com Matt Bernier

      Thanks Mark, I appreciate it. It is a moral dilemma, because he is a good friend just with a bad direction. I want to show him love, but I also want him to suffer a little so he will realize that his actions will put him in his own personal hell. It is tough love, but I am not sure much else will get through to him.

  • http://kaushan.com Slava Kaushan

    wow – this is story I didn’t expect …

    You have to make hard decision my friend…

    All this story remind me example with helping in Africa:
    People die there because there no food so we are giving them food and population continue to grow and as result even more people die and we have to give more food and as result …

    I were you I would send the money if you can send it but with the money I would send them some wise/smart book to help them understand where the problem is and where is solution

    Pls let me know about your decision

    • http://www.mkbernier.com Matt Bernier

      I am tempted to help, but I am not sure. It is a tough thing. He has an opportunity to make a decision to turn himself around. He will always have the pock mark of prison on his record, but I believe he can make it despite that.

      I wonder if there is anything else I can do besides give him money that will help him out?

  • Jaimie Bakas

    I think your reply above answers your dilemma, you want tho show him love and can still do that by offering him your support and friendship. Just be honest and explain exactly how you feel, most people who are rationale (and who are also true friends) will respect your opinion. I sounds like it’s not so much about coughing up the dough and more of a moral issue, but you can still be a good friend AND keep your hard earned money in your pocket (don’t you have a wedding to pay for?!?)

    Let us all know how it goes……

    • http://www.mkbernier.com Matt Bernier

      I do have a wedding to pay for, but we have been saving and budgeting around that since January so we have managed to put away almost exactly what we need!
      It’s not really about coughing up the dough, I could make $22 a month happen.

  • http://twitter.com/cdgeorge Chris

    Matt – I’m confused – what does he need the money for? Does the money a) save his life or b) directly help his much-needed rehabilitation? If the answer is yes to either/both of those, then I would consider it a charitable donation, and cough up the $22/month or whatever. If it doesn’t, then I’d consider proposing some *other* way to help him, that would facilitate a or b above. Otherwise it’s like giving a wino some change (sorry, no offense please, but you catch my meaning?).

    I think you’ve successfully established that you’d never turn your back on a friend. I think it’s just a matter of what particular form of help you’ll be offering, big or small. The sheet of stamps is a great idea, and you may simply want to keep writing back and forth for a while. That should provide some more insight into his situation, and perhaps at that point, a solution will become clear.

    Good luck!

    • http://www.mkbernier.com Matt Bernier

      He needs the money because he doesn’t have any toiletries and he says he “smells like shit”. I don’t understand how the penal system works, that he would not be given soap and deoderant to solve this issue. It seems like it would be a health hazard.

      I think I am going to try to get more information from him before I consider sending actual money.

  • http://kaushan.com Slava Kaushan

    you can try to get more information but you can’t perceive that info the same way/form anyway – you are not in his shoes (and I wish you will never be in that shoes;)

    even with full information you can’t be sure that you are making “right” thing.

    I’m sure you understand that if you even don’t send money to him you can help him much more then sending that money.

    You know there are tons thing to give and not give that money and each way is right in the long run anyway

    So don’t worry and do what you want to do (or ask you girlfriend do decide – my wife helps me a lot in such situation:)

  • http://www.bizcoachdeb.com/blog Deb Kolaras

    Hey Matt, this puts you in a tough spot. I’ve had at least 3 friends in very similar situations in the past. Showing love to someone doesn’t necessarily mean giving them what they ask for. Likely, he will use that money for stuff he doesn’t need or even for bargaining, etc. I think in doing so, you give him permission to continue making bad decisions. In this situation, I would do what I do with homeless people I encounter (many of which we know have substance abuse issues). I give them a gift card for some fast food joint and I give them food. In this case, your friend should get from you what will help nourish him – contact, stamps to write with, stationery maybe, journal, ways to contact others, and contact with himself – motivational books, etc. It’s time he started acting like a man, and that means becoming one with knowledge; knowledge gives people poise, power and choices.

    Do I sound mean? No, I’m just a person who’s tried the other way, only to fuel someone’s continued death spiral and as long as that safety net remains, people some how continue to make the poor choices (often the easier ones), than the good ones (a tougher, longer road.) Empower him and maybe he’ll begin to empower himself. And while the stuff in prison isn’t the greatest, they’re required to provide at least nominal hygiene and toiletry items. God love him, but no one needs $22 a month worth of toiletries in that place :)

    • http://www.mkbernier.com Matt Bernier

      Thanks Deb. I appreciate your comments and I believe that this is the route I am going to take. I really don’t want to send money, and my impression was similar to what you said

      And while the stuff in prison isn’t the greatest, they’re required to provide at least nominal hygiene and toiletry items

      I will write to him, and send him things like stamps, envelopes etc.

  • http://tekee.wordpress.com/ Ted

    Matt, I like the idea of doing what you can by continuing moral support via mail and letting him know you are still a friend. If you stay in contact for a while it may become clearer what he needs the money for and you might be able to make a more informed decision down the road. Yes, you may feel that you have your bases covered and that you can afford $22 bucks a month, but you have worked hard creating your own path to this point in your life and you should not have to compromise what you have done for yourself and your bride-to-be. You have a lot more “making $22/month happen” moments coming in your life so if you can solve some of them in other ways you will stay ahead of the game. Give it time and it will become clearer.