Some Friends Circle Back to You, Despite Everything

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friendship: Two teen girls, hands on chins, elbows on knees, stare at each other.

Panya Anakotmankong/Shutterstock

A friend is a foundation, a mainstay, a confidante. They are the mail and armor you don before charging valiantly into battle on your steed. Your favorite blanket enveloping you, insulating you from the cold. Friends are the incomparable beauty of all four seasons.

They can also be the fickle, fluctuant discordance of the changing seasons as well. I have certainly experienced the rapturous highs and ugly lows of friendship, and have come to accept that friendship and human relationships are by nature mercurial. They are fluid, they ebb and flow; can circle and fade out, then return again like the spring or the sun.

friendship: Jaime Silvonek (headshot), sentenced to 35 years to life for murder

Jamie Silvonek

Since my incarceration three years ago, I can count on one hand the friends my age who have remained stalwart. Not that I blame the others. When a child is convicted of a crime as shocking as murder, it devastates and confounds the entire community, not just the immediate victims. Also, being young like myself, I couldn’t have possibly expected my friends to be there for me when I did something I fail to completely fathom and understand myself. In fact, I didn’t expect any of them to show support — but as time has gone by and I have sought redemption, a few of my truest friends have circled back to me, arms, hearts and minds yawning open in wide, unconditional, forgiving love. The winter of loneliness and confusion has passed; it is spring again, at last.

Not all of my reunions have been so forgiving, so full of love, tears of joy and gratitude. The others are all nonexistent.

I am thinking of one relationship in particular, one of my best friends before everything happened. Even now, despite the three cycles of seasons since we’ve last shared the laughter, tenderness and mischief only a pair of best friends can, I still think of our friendship with fondness; of her and all her amazing qualities every day.

Friendships have a way of leaving indelible, eternal marks on your heart that never fade, though the relationship itself may be evanescent.

I forced her into my mess

My friend, solely because of me, was forced to make the terribly difficult decision to testify against me in court. I remember that day with a lucid vividness: I sat handcuffed, shackled next to my attorney with a 100,000-volt electric “bandit” locked to my calf — as if I, my petite, barely age-14 frame were capable of monstrous violence. My heart thrilled in my chest as if it were threatening to come loose. I felt a sheen of cold, nervous sweat glaze my feverish body.

I was expecting, upon seeing her, to be filled with feelings of betrayal, hurt and fury. I expected to hate her. But when my gaze rested upon her meticulously straightened, glossy hair, her graceful outfit, I once again melted into guilt; any traces of resentment dissipated instantly. Tears stung my eyes — not out of betrayal, but out of remorse. I couldn’t imagine how she felt in that moment, sitting alone at the witness stand, being questioned ruthlessly before a crowd of people. Before me.

How sacred, how torn she must have felt! Do the right thing by speaking up and help convict your best friend in the process, potentially for life? A decision no teenage girl should ever be forced to make.

As I sat there trying to listen, all I could feel was how sorry I was to have brought her into the messiness of the pain of something I should be forced to suffer alone. How resilient she was, how brave, how magnificent and beautiful up there alone; how proud I was of her. I was thinking of all the things I wished I could say to her in those grueling, harrowing moments, but couldn’t, for she was across the courtroom in the witness stand and I was shackled at the defense table.

Three years later, and I still haven’t been able to say those things, convey to her that I’m not angry, have never been. She may know how I feel, or perhaps not care. Maybe it’s not for me to know, maybe our friendship will never circle around, we will never see the buds and blooms of spring and I must accept an everlasting winter and move along to something warmer. Or maybe, one day I will stumble upon a tulip poking through the snow.

All I know for now, though, is what I have learned thus far about the endurance of a human friendship, and what mercy and forgiveness truly mean when they are gifted when undeserved.

Jamie Silvonek was sentenced to 35 years to life in Muncy, Pa., at 14 for first-degree murder in her mother’s homicide. Now 17, she is looking forward to starting college through Ohio University’s correspondence program after graduating high school around April 2019.


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