By MEGAN MOSELEY
Tribune-Herald staff writer
It was the apology heard around the world.
When Hawaiian Paradise Park resident Michael Goodman, 53, wrote to Claude Soffel, 52, on Facebook, telling him sorry for robbing him of his bus pass 35 years ago, he had no idea it would gain national and international attention.
Since the mid-November apology, he’s made headlines in everywhere from New York City to Switzerland, been interviewed by NBC’s “Today” and has more than 200 new online-friend requests from people in Iraq, Israel, Japan and Europe.
But Goodman hasn’t always been such a good man. Born and raised in Manhattan, he speaks candidly about neighborhood brawls and troubled times.
“Back then, New York was a pretty seedy place. We were a tough group of guys and you really had to defend yourself,” he said.
So, when a new kid in town questioned his ruggedness during a visit to the American Museum of Natural History, Goodman said he felt compelled to prove a point.
“We were talking about how I was in a gang. I was in a graffiti club and he was saying ‘you’re not so tough’ and this and that. So, I said, ‘Oh, ya!’” he said.
That’s when he robbed Soffel. Nearby police officers caught wind of the mugging and arrested him. He was later sentenced to scrub graffiti off trains and walls at a subway station, and said it was years before he would hear the name “Claude Soffel” again.
“When I turned 18, I got a phone call from an officer and he told me ‘Happy birthday.’ I said ‘OK. Who is this?’ He said, ‘You probably don’t remember me, but I’m the guy that arrested you when you ripped off Claude Soffel’s bus pass and I want you to know that you’re 18 now and to stay out of trouble because I really don’t want to arrest you.’ And that’s why his name has stuck with me all these years,” he said.
Years later, that same name popped up in a Facebook group, providing Goodman with a chance to make peace.
“That’s him! That’s the guy I took advantage of! I thought it was pretty weird and that it was a good opportunity for me to go ahead and try and apologize for that crime from a long time ago,” he said.
Not sure of how Soffel would react, Goodman said he was beaming with enthusiasm when he got a response right away.
“He wrote back that same day and said, ‘You seem like a much bigger man today and it’s funny because I’ve actually dedicated a large part of my life to being a life coach for men. It was a good thing you just did and I accept your apology. I always say if you can take one step over the line forward to better your family and your children and humanity, then that’s a great thing and that’s a hero to me,’” he said.
Goodman’s 13-year-old son, Sol-I, considers his dad a hero as well.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget this. This is such a great thing. I’ve learned that whenever you get a chance to apologize, do it,” he said.
Goodman said, if anything, he praises Soffel.
“I think Claude Soffel deserves just as much attention for this as me,” he said. “To forgive is divine.”
Part of Goodman’s evolution from tough guy to peacemaker started when he moved to the Big Island 18 years ago. Fed up with the hustle and bustle of the city, Goodman said one incident in particular pushed him to leave his New Yorker lifestyle behind.
“The final straw for me was when I left New York on the train one day and a kid came through on the cars. He bumped into me and I gave him a look. This kid was 10. He had gold teeth. He pulled up his shirt, gave me smile, and showed me he had a gold, ivory handle .45 mm in his belt. That’s when I thought, ‘OK. New York is getting a little too crazy for me,’” he said.
Goodman then booked his ticket and traveled from the East Coast to the Big Island, leaving his old life and old attitude on the mainland.
“You know how this island changed me? When I first moved here, everyone told me I had to be more aloha. I learned to slow down and be nicer to people,” he said.
Email Megan Moseley at firstname.lastname@example.org.