Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Dateline: August 10, 2011

A four-decade-plus friendship was renewed Sunday, July 31, 2011,  when my dear friends, Sombat, Keila, and their son, Andy, made a trek from the other side of the world to visit with Libby and me at Wakulla Annex C.I. Homeland Security has nothing on the Florida D.O.C. when it comes to bureaucratic red-tape and paperwork. It was easier to travel 12,000 miles from Bangkok, Thailand, to Tampa, than it was to get to and into this place, but they persevered.
I met Sombat at the University of South Florida in 1968, through a mutual friend from the Yucatan, Mexico, who enrolled in King High School, not speaking any English. Since I spoke Spanish, I helped Tony Puerta learn to speak English well enough that he graduated from King, enrolled at USF, and eventually became a rocket scientist at Sperry-Rand. He repaid the kindness by introducing me to Sombat, who was studying engineering, thus beginning a life-long friendship.

Sombat and his beautiful wife, Keila, were there for me during some of the worst times of my life, offering non-judgmental friendship when I had nowhere else to turn. I hope I was able to do the same for them.
During college, Sombat played on the USF soccer team, and I was in the martial arts business, tae kwon do and Karate schools in Tampa and Lakeland, and tournament promotions. We played golf at the USF golf course, but I didn't know Sombat had been a champion kick boxer in Thailand until he offered to be a sparring partner for Florida black belt karate champion Ron Slinker, one of my partners in Martial Arts Institute, Inc., who was training for a professional kick boxing (PKA) match with the American kick boxing champion. After Sombat put on a "Muay Thai" kick boxing exhibition against the hapless Slinker, sending him to the hospital, Ron decided kick boxing was not for him. Slinker went on to become a professional wrestler with Vince McMahon's WWF. His biggest claim to fame was teaching "The Rock," Dwayne Johnson, to be a professional wrestler. "The Rock" is now known as a highly-paid movie star. In his biography, "The Rock" talked about Slinker, calling him the baddest fighter he's ever met. Obviously, "The Rock" never went three rounds with Sombat.

I was there when Andy, Sombat's and Keila's first child, was born. Until 1989, when they moved back to Thailand, Andy and his sister, Adrie, grew up visiting me in a sucession of prisons, dragging their parents along.

It was a very emotional time for all of us when my old friends and their now-grown son, who towers over all of us, entered the visiting park to hugs and tears. The years in between truly fell away. Afterwards, Libby, who had met them for the first time at the visit, said she felt like she'd known them all her life and was humbled in the presence of such special, loving people, whose feelings and words were so obviously genuine.

In the midst of such repression and negativity omnipresent in here, it was an incredible boost to my sinking morale to be in their presence for a few precious hours. Truly I am blessed and thankful for such purely good people in my life, who validate my own worth as an individual.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sombat and Keila and Andy ... Your goodness shines from your faces and eyes. I did not take the time to enlarge this picture when last I was here. Now that I have ... WOW.. Andy, you are an extremely handsome young man. Be sure to find someone deserving of your good heart. How fortunate for you to have such awesome people for parents !!