Incarcerated: 35 years
Housed: Stateville Correctional Center, Joliet, IL
I met a young volunteer tutor named Annie during my final quarter in Northwestern’s Degree program here. Her forte was all things math related, and since my final course was psychology, she and I rarely interacted. We would smile and greet one another when our paths crossed, but we had almost zero instances of substantive discourse. On the last day of her tenure here, Annie and I sat across from one another, and talked. I learned how genuinely kind, empathetic and bright she was. I lamented that I wished we’d made time to talk sooner, and we’d had the opportunity to talk more often. To my surprise Annie replied, “I’m going to reach out to you William, this won’t be the last time we speak.” I smiled and nodded, but to be honest, I did not take her seriously. What on earth would make this young person, with so much life and joy ahead of her, want to keep in contact with someone like me? You see, I was rightfully convicted of first degree murder, sent to Death Row, had my sentence commuted to Life Without Parole, and have been locked up a total of 35 years of my life! So why would Annie want to know me beyond her duties as a tutor? Then, out of the Blue, I get a new contact alert on my prison issued tablet. Annie and I have built a symbiotic relationship of trust, honesty, respect and mutual encouragement. I give her counsel about boys and life, she teaches me through poems about the world and being human in this new and scary world. I’ve been absent for over three decades. I’ve told Annie in vivid detail, all about my past, the harm I’ve endured, and the harm I’ve unleashed on the world when I walked in pain, ignorance and addiction. Initially, I think I did it to shock her, may be run her away; but she’s stuck by me, saw me not for who I was, and what I’d done; but for who I am now, and the gifts I can give to the world in my healed and self-actualized state. Despite all the odds, I found a friend, I gained acceptance, and for someone I least expected it to come from. Picture is of William and a reporter from PBS – he was featured in a story on bringing back elder parole to Illinois.