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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Pitching investment schemes can ruin friendships
By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published August 14, 2007
I was initially flattered by the invitation. An acquaintance whom I met in local Caribbean circles asked me to drop by his house one Saturday. I had no sooner accepted the invite when I realized that this was no social gathering for calypso and jerk chicken. He wanted me to learn about an investment opportunity.
That's how Saturday morning found me on a sofa watching an hour-long video in South Tampa instead of mowing my lawn.
On the video, the relentlessly upbeat pitchmen offered me a chance to take advantage of wonderful new technology, make money without much effort and dream about having 10,000 people working for me. You guessed it: Someone was trying to rope me into a multilevel marketing scheme.
After 20 years in journalism, I'm used to being used. People get publicity; I get the story. It's a contract. A side benefit is that we usually form friendships based on mutual respect and common interests. It's never about money.
It's the same thing about running into folks from the Caribbean. The accent and common heritage make it easy to form a bond and build a friendship. But nothing ruins that friendship more quickly than when that new acquaintance tried to lure me into a business opportunity. I felt betrayed; I got upset.
Many people make a living selling schemes that folks now call multilevel marketing. Amway is as much a part of American commerce as is Wal-Mart. A person pays to join, persuades others to do the same and gets a cut of the payment from new members as they buy products and recruit others to join and buy products.
I appreciate the notion that if I'm doing well financially, there's nothing wrong with giving my relatives and friends an opportunity to share the wealth. But for many folks, multilevel marketing ends up being a library filled with motivational material and disappointment.
Multilevel marketing is a world in which each social interaction becomes a recruitment opportunity; every person you meet is a potential source of residual income. There's no making friends for friendship's sake. Most of us can't live like that.
This industry exploits trust. Immigrants recruit people who share their heritage and their dreams. Sunday services and other religious gatherings are fertile recruiting grounds. You're not just recruiting someone who will make money for themselves and for you, you're helping a fellow church member. It's service to God and mammon.
Many successful recruiters work in positions of trust: doctors, pastors, hairdressers. If it works for them, it should work for you.
Unfortunately, most of us know someone like that. The cousin whom you hear from only when he has a new scheme. The former classmate, whom you haven't heard from in decades, calls to pitch this miraculous new product.
After hearing the presentation at this acquaintance's house, I was ready to walk out. I wasn't interested.
I don't begrudge anyone making money legally. Getting filthy rich by the pool while others make money for you is the new American dream. It's just not mine.
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is email@example.com.