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When your book ends up in a suspect's room

frazierl.gif Nine years ago today, I first wrote a story for The Washington Post about three young doctors from Newark, N.J., who rose together from poverty, broken homes and troubled childhoods to successful medical careers.

The deluge of responses from inspired readers told us we were onto something, and the four of us agreed to work together on the doctors’ best-selling memoir, “The Pact: Three Young Men Make A Promise And Fulfill A Dream,” first published in 2002.

Even now, I get testimonial-type emails from readers who were touched by the doctors’ story. So imagine my shock when I learned recently that, of all the books in the world, this one was among the possessions found in a Pakistani hotel room where five young men from Alexandria, Va., were arrested under suspicion of trying to join forces with the Taliban.

I wondered: Had the suspect who’d brought the book with him been enticed simply by its title, without ever having read it? Had he somehow twisted the book’s message about the awesome power of friendship in a way that was never intended? Or had the guy just picked up the book randomly in a store somewhere to prepare for his long flight?

It’s possible, too, that the book caught his attention from a college reading list. One of the suspects was a dental student, as was George Jenkins, the dentist and co-author who persuaded his two best friends — Sampson Davis and Rameck Hunt — in their senior year of high school to do something they could scarcely even imagine: go to college and medical school together. That was the promise they made to each other then; thus, the name of the book, which has had a long life on high school and college reading lists.

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Their story is indeed enticing. I was so intrigued after seeing a brief video clip about the three young men during the televised Essence awards program in 2000 that I tracked down Sampson at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, where he then worked as an emergency room resident, and requested an interview. The editor of The Post’s Sunday Styles section at the time had given me the green light for the story, even though the guys had no real connection to the Washington area. Their story of hope would resonate with practically anyone anywhere, we reasoned.

The three guys agreed to my interview request, and I spent a few days in Newark, immersing myself in their old and new lives. In February 2001, just two months after the piece ran in The Washington Post, we had a book contract. So began our journey together.

We may never know what the suspect had in mind when he carried “The Pact” along for his journey to Pakistan. But the irony is striking.

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Sampson, Rameck and George, all now 36 years old, wanted more than anything else to inspire young readers, particularly those growing up in tough situations, to form friendships that could help them avoid trouble and reach beyond even their imaginations.

Through The Three Doctors Foundation, the guys still volunteer much of their time to mentor students and raise money for academic scholarships. Everywhere they go, the doctors also encourage youths to form their own positive pacts.

Sampson, an emergency medicine physician at St. Michaels Medical Center in Newark and Easton Hospital in Easton, Pa., said he was flabbergasted by what he saw when George, an assistant professor of clinical dentistry at Columbia University, called last week and told him to click on CNN. George also called Rameck, an internist at University Medical Center in Princeton, N.J., and assistant professor of medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes" Sampson said of the image on CNN of the Pakistani police searching the belongings of the five and holding a copy of ‘The Pact’ in his hand. “No way, no way, no way was this possible! I still can’t believe it.”

My sentiments exactly.

Lisa Frazier Page is articles editor for The Washington Post magazine and co-author of the best-selling “The Pact: Three Young Men Make A Promise And Fulfill A Dream.”

By Lisa Frazier Page  | December 24, 2009; 10:42 AM ET
Categories:  The inside story  
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