In the introduction to his 1995 memoir, "Dreams from My Father,'' U.S. Sen. Barack Obama noted that except for his family and several public figures, he had changed the names of most of the people in the book "for the sake of their privacy."
More than a decade later, that privacy is rapidly evaporating as the media, Obama's campaign staff and others have begun to dig into the book and reach out to friends, classmates and associates of the presidential candidate.
The experience has been an uncomfortable one for some of those individuals as well as the Obama campaign, which doesn't always know what those people will say.
Keith Kakugawa, for instance. In "Dreams'' he is known as "Ray," a close friend of Obama's in high school who rails against the racism of their elite prep school in Hawaii.
The two hadn't talked since those days until earlier this month, when Kakugawa, a convicted drug felon, contacted Obama after reporters began tracking him down.
That brief conversation occurred March 15. In the ensuing days, though, the relationship between Kakugawa and the Obama campaign has devolved into accusations of extortion and a disagreement over whether the Democratic presidential candidate told his long-lost friend not to speak to the media.
Obama's communications director, Robert Gibbs, said Kakugawa "contacted our campaign and in discussions about wanting help, he asked that money be wired to him.
"We told him we would be happy to make calls to social service agencies," Gibbs said, "but we could not and would not send him money."
According to the Obama campaign, Kakugawa explicitly raised the possibility that he could make up false stories about Obama, implying he would do so if the campaign did not give him money.
That allegation infuriated Kakugawa, prompting him to speak to the Tribune after repeatedly refusing to do so.
"You must understand, I am not an extortionist," he said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where he is living out of a car with an acquaintance after being released from a California prison on March 10. "Listen, I'm homeless. ... I ask everyone I know for money."
Kakugawa wouldn't discuss his school days with Obama other than to say he considered the senator "a brother" and "wouldn't do a damn thing to ever hurt his campaign."
After he was released from prison recently, Kakugawa said, he had begun getting calls from reporters. Unsure how to respond to their questions, he said, he called the Obama campaign and was eventually put through to his old friend. It was a quick call.
"There was just the 'Hi, how are you?' stuff, and then he said, 'Hey, man, I gotta go,' " Kakugawa said. "He did say, 'Hey, I'd rather you not talk to reporters.' "
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said that wasn't true. The senator told Kakugawa that he should call the campaign before speaking to the media, according to Burton, but "it wasn't to tell him not to talk to reporters."
Campaign officials also said they told Kakugawa he should tell anyone whatever he wanted.
In the interview Saturday, Kakugawa said the senator directed him to speak with Devorah Adler, the head of the campaign's research department.
Kakugawa, who was using a pay-as-you-go cell phone that was nearly out of minutes, said that when he spoke to Adler, "The first words out of her mouth were, 'What can we do to help you?'
"This lady wants to know what they can do to help me," he recalled. "I gave the typical homeless answer: Send money."
In the months to come, the identity of other characters from Obama's writings is likely to be revealed under the white-hot glare of a presidential race.
Undoubtedly, some of these individuals don't want to be interviewed because they don't want their personal baggage aired. At the same time, because of the way some of them were portrayed in the book, they could be in a position to confirm or dispute his recollections.
Obama confirmed Kakugawa's identity during an interview earlier this month, two days before Kakugawa contacted the campaign. Informed about Kakugawa's incarceration, Obama replied: "That's a shame."
He lamented how the glare of his candidacy was finding some of his former acquaintances. "Suddenly everybody who's ever touched my life is subject to a colonoscopy on the front page of the newspaper," he said.
After high school, the lives of Kakugawa and his friend took radically different paths. As Obama campaigns to become the nation's first black president, Kakugawa faces the possibility of returning to prison. As of late last week, he was wanted on an arrest warrant for failing to report to his parole officer.
Since 1995, Kakugawa has spent more than 7 years in California prisons and months in Los Angeles County Jail. He has been arrested and convicted four times for possession of cocaine, twice for possession of cocaine with intent to sell and once for auto theft
Just before his cellphone minutes ran out Saturday, Kakugawa said he was angry at the campaign over the extortion allegations but did not hold it against his old friend. "If Barry wins or loses," he said, "I'm behind him no matter what."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times