writer, listener

Neil Goldberg: a happiness project

on January 6, 2012

The original Sunlion Jewelry

Have you seen Neil Goldberg riding his bike around town? He glows like a pregnant woman. I think he might be the happiest person alive. Which is amazing, all things considered.

Everybody in Key West knows who Neil Goldberg is, but for readers who live in the real world, here’s a brief history:
Goldberg was a talented, prominent local jeweler and a respected member of the Key West community for decades. He had a beautiful wife, three kids, and a shop on renowned Duval Street.
Then in 2005, allegedly amid divorce and custody battle stress, he plowed his vehicle into three vacationing college students on scooters. In 2008, he was convicted on three counts of DUI causing serious injury and was sentenced to restitution, community service, and 104 days in jail followed by probation. Lucky, really.
On the four-year anniversary of the accident, though, he violated the terms of his probation by smoking weed. And for that, he earned 12 years in the big house. He was attacked several times in prison and generally had a terrible experience, despite trying to make good use of his time by teaching other inmates to read and helping several work toward GED completion. I guess that’s the whole point of prison; it’s an ugly place.
But in a strange twist of fate, Goldberg was released from prison after serving 16 months of his 12-year sentence. As it turns out, crucial ICOP video evidence had been excluded from his trial and the court decided that wasn’t fair.
So here’s Neil Goldberg today. He’s a 60-year-old ex-con who’s lost his life savings, his home, and everything he owned. He also lost a good portion of whatever respect he’d earned in this town over the past 40 years or so. His kids moved away with their mother. And he’ll never drive again, which is why we see him biking to his sales job at a sandal store on Duval (not far from his former shop), like he’s the luckiest man on Earth.
I’m not writing to debate the details of Goldberg’s conviction or release. Or to discuss the legalization of marijuana. Or to ponder saving for a new wedding ring since mine came from Goldberg and now I think of his mess every time I look at it. Nope, none of that. I like Neil. My interactions with him were always positive. Plus, I’m a sucker for an involved parent, which he absolutely was before he flushed his own good fortune down the crapper.
I’m simply writing because seeing Goldberg reminds me about the incredible power of attitude. He can’t uncrash into those kids to unalter their lives forever, and he can’t untoke that anniversary reefer. But he can serve as an example of the degree to which choice influences our happiness or misery. Love him or hate him, you’ve got to admire his ability to carry on with his chin up, and to do it on the same little island that witnessed his string of fuckups.
But I could be wrong. What do you think?

21 responses to “Neil Goldberg: a happiness project

  1. Sally_Oh says:

    Beautiful story, Rhonda. Thank you!

  2. Lisa says:

    Attitude and hoices indeed influence our happiness or misery. Nicely said. Thank you!

  3. Susan Chiello says:

    He’s definitely living life with a new perspective; something many of us should consider, but not at such cost. I wish him good luck and, if not happiness, at least contentment, in his new life.

  4. Donna says:

    Thanks for sharing that story. Now, if you could get it out there for some of the KW knuckleheads to read….I’ll do my share and share on fb.

  5. Rick Boettger says:

    An interesting and complicated story, Rhonda. Cynthia and I not only had our wedding rings made by Neil, but listed him on our wedding program, as general recognition of his return to society (before the 4-year disaster). To complete the ICOP story, Neil in fact had stopped to help the men he hit. At trial, it was alleged he callously did not. The ‘lost’ ICOP tape in fact supported Neil’s story.

    • Yup. An officer on the scene also said Goldberg was very concerned and rendered aid to his victims and wasn’t sitting in his car talking to his lawyer–the picture allegedly painted by the prosecution. Isn’t it enough that he got wasted and plowed into three people? Why fabricate more to get the conviction. Jesus. But yes, it’s a complicated thing. Far more than I could capture here in 500ish words.

  6. neil goldberg says:

    This is the first time I have seen this.I am grateful to be free again and I appreciate your comments and hope you are well and your family is fine.

  7. Bob S. says:

    My wife and I met Neil on our first trip to Key West in ’96, when we married there in ’99 he repaired her brand new wedding ring at N/C for us (that we did NOT purchase from him). We have purchased things from him and he has custom made ear cuffs for my wife, by long distance (we live near Chicago). I always found him fair, honest and above board. We keep up on the goings on in Key West and enjoy our yearly escape time there. I was saddened by all that happened and to hear about the accident, the injuries and Neils slip up and going to jail. Perhaps it is the distance involved and we missed something (doubtful) but I am glad Neil has been released and wish him all the best in moving forward in his life and do intend on looking him up when next in town.

  8. Jill says:

    Learn the facts! Neil is a thief who NEVER stopped doing drugs. State attorney should have put his girlfriend on the witness stand & the truth would have come out!

  9. geronimo rafter says:

    I have known Neil since 1976. He was a great conscientious person then He will
    always be a great loving person concerned about lending a helping hand to others
    I pray he will bounce back because he lost what he worked for all his life, I watched him
    work late late hours in the seventies and eighties and always lent a helping hand to
    anyone in need. He helped me many times and always will. Keep the faith Neil, God gave you a cross and you carried it well with dignity, never give up brother, we all love you, and pray the ones
    that don’t will, find God in their hearts too. I still have our pictures together on my last visit there. I keep you in my prayers to rise to the top again. Geronimo 706 duval st many moons ago.

  10. James Pantel says:

    My name is Jimmy and I have been a lifelong friend of Neil. I would deeply appreciate if he could get my e-mail address.

    • Hi, Jimmy. I don’t have Neil’s contact information but if you want, you could put your email address here in a comment (in the body of the message–not where it asks for your email address because that doesn’t appear) and perhaps somebody who reads this and is closer to him would give it to him. Good luck!

  11. I first met Neil in the seventies when my wife and I were browsing his shop on Duval. I recall it because, while we were there an older, seemingly homeless man came in for a battery for his $20.Timex. Neil stopped what he was doing and waited on the man with all the attention and dignity he might give someone shopping for a $10,000 diamond. He then sent him on his way, watch repaired at n/c. in part due to that experience my wife bought numerous items from Neil both on Duvall and Truman and we always found him honest to a fault, friendly and accommodating. We wish him the best.

  12. William Shauver says:

    Am a little bit older than most who replied but my wife and I bought rings from Neil and are very pleased with his work. The expression in those days was, “you can’t leave Key West without a sun lion on your finger.” Later i took my relative from Poland into his shop and he was very happy with his purchase. I would like to know what happened to his dogs? I wish him the very best.

  13. Dana Lehman says:

    My name is Dana Lehman, I knew Neil in the mid 1980’s into the early 1990’s when I lived there in my younger years. He graciously took me around with him and introduced me to his friends and was and is a friend of mine from my heart. I will always have fond memories of him and wish him much luck and only happiness in the future. I hope he sees this post.

  14. Brenda Barnes says:

    So sad to hear about Neil, but I am proud of him for having a good attitude and continuing on with his life! Things can always be worse!
    I first met Neil in July 1989. My fiancé and I were on vacation in Key West and happened upon his store “in the tree”. For grins, we tried on some wedding bands Neil had designed. On our last day in Key West, we decided to get married while there. We made a bee line back to Neil’s after acquiring our marriage license and bought the wedding bands. When Neil heard of our plans, he made a phone call and set up a captain to marry us at sea!
    Neil did not know us from Adam, but went out of his way to help us make our dream come true!
    Captain Finbar of the Wolf Schooner married us that evening at sunset and as we passed Neil later on his own boat, he hailed us with cannon fire.
    Each year after, up to 2001, we came to Key West and visited Neil at his store. I have many pieces of jewelry from Sunlion and they all carry wonderful memories.
    My husband and I planned to return to Key West this July (2019) to celebrate 30 years of marriage; he died on October 9th. Now, my daughter and I will return, as she has not been since age 2.
    On this trip, I planned to have Neil redo our wedding bands, as they have aged over time and the enamel and dolphin engravings are in bad need of repair. Only problem is, we can’t find my husband’s wedding band. He hid it, along with a coin ring from Sunlion and a gold bracelet; the coin in ring is from the Atocha. We have a safe, but he did not know where I kept the key!
    Eventually we will find it, I’m sure.

    So without Neil to fix the wedding bands, who do I use?

    Thanks for posting this story about Neil, I will try to find him when I come in July. He was always such a sweet person and I hope he continues to live as happy a life as possible!

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