STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Every Friday morning we hear another selection from StoryCorps. That's an oral history project and there is nothing else like it in this country. Americans have been telling their stories for two years now. Family members or close friends ask questions of each other that we might never think to ask. Today we'll hear the conversation of two friends reunited. Ralph Tremonte and Donald Weiss grew up together and it wasn't by choice. As children they were committed to a New York state psychiatric institution. After their release, they went 40 years without seeing each other, then they were reunited at the StoryCorps booth in New York. Tremonte and Weiss remembered life in the institution, how that experience affected them, and they gave us a chance to listen as they caught up on the four decades since their release.
Mr. RALPH TREMONTE: I'm seeing you after 40 years and I'm seeing fear in you. Let me ask you a very important question. Do you feel institutionalized?
Mr. DONALD WEISS: No.
Mr. TREMONTE: Because I'd like you to come out of that shell, man.
Mr. WEISS: I'm--I'm...
Mr. TREMONTE: Because you're not free in that shell and I'm...
Mr. WEISS: I'm free.
Mr. TREMONTE: And I want you to be free.
Mr. WEISS: I'm free. I can do what I want now but the only thing is...
Mr. TREMONTE: But you're still scared.
Mr. WEISS: No, I'm not.
Mr. TREMONTE: Yes, you are. And I want to tell you something else. Don't stop having interest in women. You're a free man and you should feel that maybe you could pick up a lady or meet a lady.
Mr. WEISS: I have one.
Mr. TREMONTE: That's great.
Mr. WEISS: Her name is Maryanne(ph).
Mr. TREMONTE: And another thing--what you should do is make your home more comfortable to live in. Get yourself a CD player, listen to some music. Don't stay in that shell. Do you do a lot of reading?
Mr. WEISS: Yes, dirty novels.
Mr. TREMONTE: See, I do--well, dirty novels is all right. That's not against the law. That's why they sell them, Donald. You're not allowing yourself to exercise your freedom, man. And that's what I want you to do, man, because that will make me real happy and you'll be able to come out of that shell, man, because I really don't want you in that shell for the rest of your life. That's the way I feel about it, man. Go ahead, Donald, I want to hear you. I haven't seen you in 40 years.
Mr. WEISS: That fear in that darn lousy hospital is still in my system as it ever...
Mr. TREMONTE: Well, you're never going to get rid of that, but guess what...
Mr. WEISS: I might get rid of it, the ...(unintelligible) is gone.
Mr. TREMONTE: The memory is always going to be there, but guess what?
Mr. WEISS: Yeah.
Mr. TREMONTE: You don't have to live it the rest of your life.
Mr. WEISS: Yeah, yeah. You can bite my fingers ...(unintelligible).
Mr. TREMONTE: Donald, they don't have that many hospitals to put anybody in no more.
Mr. WEISS: I know.
Mr. TREMONTE: We're not living in that era anymore. That era is dead. That era...
Mr. WEISS: It's dead. It's dead and buried. Don't want it...
Mr. TREMONTE: You don't ever let anybody tell you they can do something to you. You're free, man, you don't have to take that. Am I right, Donald?
Mr. WEISS: Right.
Mr. TREMONTE: Say it loud and clear.
Mr. WEISS: Right, 100 percent.
INSKEEP: Ralph Tremonte and Donald Weiss are former psychiatric patients who were reunited after 40 years. Weiss is now in assisted living. Tremonte lives independently.
We're going to hear next from Jim Rye, a mental health professional at the hospital where Tremonte and Weiss were once committed. Rye arranged for the two to meet at the StoryCorps booth. He's the reason they were reunited. And after the interview he wrote this letter.
Dr. JIM RYE: (Reading) As we ended the day Ralph asked, `Jimmy, would you mind if I find my way home without you? My friend and I would like some time to ourselves.' I watch Ralph and Donald walk down 45th Street, their heads up, arm in arm into a new beginning. My eyes swelled, my heart quickened and chills flowed up and down my spine. I truly can't describe the divinity that radiated from that moment. It was life at its best. Thank you for the experience.
INSKEEP: That's Jim Rye reading a letter to StoryCorps. All the StoryCorps interviews are collected by the Library of Congress and you can find out how to participate by going to npr.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.