C L E M E N C Y GRANTED
(A Letter 1.08.2017)
- R. L. Williams
The Governor has full authority to grant pardons, reprieves, and commutations. §328. Governor’s Power and Discretion
Our brightest blazes of [kindness} are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks. -- Dr. Johnson
Governor Cuomo and The Executive Clemency Bureau,
You're doing a phenomenal job and I hope this reaches all of you in the best of health and spirits. With a mix of horror and wry amusement I carefully reviewed the information consent Form containing the list of institutional and court documentation inaccurate guideposts utilized by your office to make its determination of whether to further eclipse resilient-hope from weary citizens in correctional-bondage or to remove the dismal obstruction and allow a lighter penance to shine in.
As I stared at the form, I kept thinking, are they serious? Those documents, even when DOCCC's manages to keep them up-to-date, are at best, grossly one-sided and unfairly used to assess an individual's potential to live at liberty successfully without violating the law -- as if the sum of compiled documents would ever equal
the whole of a person's boundless possibilities for metamorphosis or the future opportunities promised to man by his very nature as a cognizant, heart-aware and divine being. Moreover, I know the District Attorney’s Office gets a chance to spew its usual venom, thus, I added this cover letter to shed a more reasonable and honest light on who I was -- not who soma listless file will have made me out to be-- and who I am now, and granted my sentence is commutated, my plans and designs for the future.
In March 2010, it was official: I was a bona fide twenty-six year-old f**k-up. Convicted of a homicide. But luckily I had refused the court's "lowest" offer of 20-to-life because the jury was merciful. My dress shirt and tie confirmed that I was more than a little remorseful, when I had finished speaking my peace on the stand, they were unquestionably soggy with grief. The weight of the evidence proved my crime to be unintentional and so the jury, none of them my peers, acquitted me of the top count. So in turn, the court punished me for taking the case to trial with a sentence of 25 years with 5 years post-release, the maximum sentence for the charge of Manslaughter in the First Degree.
In retrospect, up until that time I was an undisciplined man-child. The pressure of keeping a roof over my head made me a Dutchess-Community-College dropout in 2003, yet; I'd skated through my adolescence armed to the teeth with superficial charm, rhetorical wit and youthful stupidity truly believing I couldn't fail. I had been working since I was fifteen and never had problem finding employment. And although blind to the value of higher education, I wasn't some street thug preying on innocence. I came from a good home. My father, an honest and hard-working man, retired from the Metro North, while mom, was a God-fearing woman who worked for IBM, but suffered from chronic-illnesses which forced her into an early retirement. And no stranger to charitable works, I'd volunteered for over five years at Music Too Light, a non-profit where I taught sound-engineering to at-risk youth.
The real game changer for me came in 2008 when my best-friend Damian and I formed a partnership called Shyne Regardless. It was then my sleepy-eyes opened to the wide range of possibilities that come with turning my self-taught skill of sound engineering and production into a legitimate business. Sura, I had a few "minor"
run-ins with the law but never before was I motivated to cleanse myself of the street's alluring morass which had seemed to cling to my coattails like the smell of cigar-smoke. I was looking forward to gaining full-custody of my daughter Harmoney, she was two years old at the time and had recently spent some quality time with my son Ameer on his birthday. You know, learning what it meant to be a father. Nevertheless, wading inside a teardrop of yin always swells an inky pupil of yang.
I busted my ass at the Poughkeepsie Journal for over two years and was expecting a promotion to Line Manager, but instead I found myself laid off with the rest of the night packaging-crew. After that, life just kept dealing me a barrage of back-to--back hay-makers: my nephew O.D.'s on exstacy -- a gut-shot. My father; my rock, decides the time is ripe for him to pack up and move to Florida to live with my aging nanna. A right-hook. Oh, did I mention my volatile relationship with the sweetest young woman, a type-one diabetic whose blood sugar would drop turning her into the cutest little tervagaunt. Anna loved drinking herself as debauched and manic as I did.
That was the knockout blow. Down goes Williams I Down goooes Williams••••
Like the detonation of a nuclear weapon and its subsequent fallout, one wrong choice decimated everything around ma, sending out shockwaves that altered profoundly the lives of so many others and suddenly; my life was a mushroom cloud. Family and friends wanted nothing to do with me, as though all my past good had ceased to matter; their kindness came with conditions. Fair-weather relatives and friends love you for what you do, not for who you are.
If New York State had self-defense -- I would not be in prison. Like I had a caesarian, a thick scar runs down the center of my stomach. Still, my inability to say no and keep my wits about me; the cause, and my taking a human life, the irreversible effect. But describing the circumstances and details of that fateful night will dredge up too many painful memories, I won't. Moreover, remembering and describing trauma in words simply reinforces and amplifies the nervous system's imprint of the original trauma, meaning, doing so reeks all sorts of havoc on one's mind and body. Besides, having blood on your hands is an honor, but only to the soldier. As Byron Katie declares, "As if the past isn't horrible enough we want to resurrect it. We talk about it and talk about it and that's as far as the human race has ever gone." so I'm not going to discuss my hospitalization, can't remember it even if I tried. but God bless the inventor of the morphine-pump.
I entered prison a shattered soul. But I didn't plan on staying here long; me, my wrist and any sharp object were going to "make everyone happy." Sleep, a supposed exit from worry and waking anxieties had long become a source of nightly torment. A prescribed cocktail of anti-depressants and sleeping meds only made me feel like something out of the Walking Dead; I paced back-and-forth inside my cell in Elmira for hours. I was a chain-smoking recluse, binge-reading fiction novels voraciously starving to escape the reality I created. And at weekly law library call-outs I did my best to decipher a foreign language called legalese.
But after my preference-transfer to Green Haven in June 2011, my prison experience, which had been an unforgiving gauntlet where I was forced to dodge wild-attacks of neurotic-thoughts and bouts of uncontrollable nausea (at the most sociably awkward moments) -- that gloomy suffocation took a sudden one-hundred-and eighty degree turn towards Plato's Allegorical cave, something permeable, lucid and purifying as annealation and into a mystically rich and creatively brilliant dark.
I'm not going to be an overblown redemption-monger here, or testify "Jesus saved my life!" That would be utter and complete b.s. words, words, words whether spoken by the enlightened master Christ, Buddha, or God himself merely point the way to the path of awakening. Men are their own messiahs. For isn't faith without works dead? Given the right guidance, no matter the environment they're in when people are fed up enough with themselves, they change. Truth be told; I would've never emerged from my somnambulistic state if it wasn't for the wisdom of a young enigma, who, as I know him well would like to remain a mystery. Similar to what George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1866-1949) referred to as The Work, this sage taught me a method of
self-development, a rigorous, unconventional process without the taint of bias or nationalistic ideologies or egotism. A method of stopping your past from becoming your future.
The most valuable portion of my journey, however; its narrative is locked within the time-capsule of my captivity; held in my chest, I .dare say, as one of the most amazing transformational stories yet to be told.
Currently he belief that any mandatory or vocational programs can "rehabilitate" anyone doing cruel and usual time is actually a quiet inside-joke between staff and prisoners. Kind of like the oxymoronical term "correctional facility." Rehabilitation, one of its definitions is "to restore former capacity, standing, rights, or privileges." The Department of corrections (or the justice system for that matter) isn't geared toward restoring any of the above to the citizens in its custody, not even upon their release; on the contrary, former residency inside the great beast's gravid belly disenfranchises them almost indefinitely.
Therefore, knowing the long and arduous road ahead, fighting to better ourselves in here so we can become an asset to our community on the outside, takes an incredible amount of self-volition. Rolling up our sleeves. Taking fate -- that squirmy little razor-backed bugger into our hands. Then forcibly kneading it to tranquil submission.
In Green Haven I become a member of the writer's circle which participated in Dutchess County's Big Read. An annual event sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. At the NAACP's creative Writer's workshop, I served as the teacher’s assistant organizing lesson plans, grading homework assignments and quizzes, leading group-critiques. over thirty men graduated from the workshop. A published writer, I gravitated towards teaching the craft of -writing because I'm in full agreement with the PEN American Center that acknowledges "unlike many skills, writing well is useful in almost every avenue of employment, education and daily life, and it's a skill that generates other skills." And while I received
immeasurable satisfaction from teaching the workshop the friendships I made inside the classroom were what mattered most.
By far one of the most viable programs is Rehabilitation Through the Arts. Its screening process only allows for the most dedicated men to enter its folds. Never had I imagined myself being coached by real life actors, performing-on stage in front of a packed house of prisoners, outside volunteers, and DOCCCS staff, a handful of them Albany officials. The hard work and dedication which went into putting on the stalwart production, "Same Thing Make You Laugh, That Thing Gonna Make You cry" will forever fortify my resolve -- just so you know: there wasn't a dry eye left in the audience.
Then there was the Alternative To Violence Program, more commonly known as A.V.P. I seen that program crack the shells of the most seemingly hardcore convicts. I've had mind-blowing experience in A.V.P. workshops.
Meanwhile, I've been a student of Siddha Yoga's correspondence course for over four years, which teaches the art and science of meditation. If the entire world practiced mediation there would be world peace. Every third Thursday in Building 12, the first classroom on the left became an unwinding after a long trek across burning sands at an oasis of grace, where I was able to close my eyes, focus on my breath and mantra and just, be. Evenings of darshan replenished the whole me. I'm eternally grateful to the outside instructors Alan, Mario and Brian for all their years of seva.
Finally, I'll touch on GrEen Haven's NAACP, the inmate-run organization which forced me out of my hermitage; into the land of community. Kareem Joyner and Malcom Baptista, then, the acting president and vice-president, respectively, challenged my cast-no-pearls attitude, although I had over five years of teaching experience in my hometown of Poughkeepsie, New York, I still hadn't completely comprehended the dynamic reason why educating others mattered in the greater scheme of things.
It took a while for me to realize that true gifts outlive the giver. seemingly random acts of human kindness are like plucking the first domino standing in an endless row of dominos. The two men I mentioned above (along with a Mr. Eris B. Blount) made the Creative Writer's Workshop possible. Moreover, their gentle prodding is the reason R.T.A. became more to me than just another colorful distraction to squint at on my way to the mess hall. I ended up forging solid friendships with a tight-knit group of good-hearted and genuinely positive brothers, which was only natural when you consider that we did spent countless together at organizational meetings debating, seminar planning -- hustling to meet impossible deadlines put against us by the administration -- fighting with our own membership -- stragglers-- to get them to sacrifice an afternoon of recreation and phone-time to bask in the intellectual light of men like retired Vassar College Professor Mumia and Hofstra Professor Alan Singer.
Yet at the seminars, Sharon Content, the founder of Children of Promise, NYC., her describing the unsavory issues our children face as a result of our incarceration always sat heavily in my gut, days later. I found the fact our children and their caregivers being collateral victims difficult to digest. Mrs. content's tearful sincerity made her message of the empowering work CPNYC does for our children all the more compelling; her pulling-no-punches when she spoke about how us men need to step up, so inspired me that I made a modest donation of my state "slave-wages" and have motivated others to support the organization on the outside too.
I would be a fool to believe political motivations didn't influence Clemency decisions. For example, you've recently signed a document that will release 1,200 prisoners who have committed non-violent felonies. However, you still hold off on pardoning anyone with a violent offense when statistics show that people with violent offenses have a lower rate of recidivism. so your decision is discriminatory and begs the question. How long will you continue trying to sweep the mammoth (along with its mountain of defecation) under the Persian rug? Am I to believe, Governor Cuomo, a visionary like yourself, that your actions are at the mercy of public delirium, bias, and irrationality?
I imagine you'll say: I, Governor Andrew Cuomo, granted Robert Williams clemency because while, yes, as a younger adult he had taken a life senselessly -- an action I do not condone -- yet, since then the man has repaid his societal debt by enduring a commensurate suffering, a suffering which taught him reverence for all life and to honor its liberties. I have commutated Robert Williams's sentence because although a victim's family's loss and pain are taken into consideration; their desire for revenge -- the superficial justice celebrated when a man is sentenced to a quarter-century shouldn't be capable of degrading New York state's judiciary process into an eye-for-eye punishment process. I have commutated his sentence from twenty-five to fifteen years and removed the needless post release encumbrance. our unlikely outlier had pledged to continue working with organizations like Children of Promise, NYC., Transforming Lives NY and the Realization Center which addresses substance abuse and domestic violence issues holistically as well as to continue laboring with his benevolent affiliation and its charitable causes. The breadth of Robert's pledge merits an unfettered, fresh start. Restoring a tarnished legacy is no easy task, however, it can be done.
Therefore, we are giving him the opportunity to make his good outweigh his significant mistake -- for the good he's done and the good he's doing. In fact, we commend Mr. Williams's honesty. His institutional record isn't exactly spotless; but thankfully, he's never claimed sainthood. I ask you all, is clemency an intelligent act of governmental kindness? With reason as its indelible guide? Can the public dehypnotize itself momentarily from the costly tough-on-crime propaganda and join me in building a better New York? so is it with the same reason, intelligence and kindness we've granted this man the light of a lesser penance?
Artwork by Lamar Little
The knee-high hazel-brown Verse Scribbler
Sported a high-top fade with dreams of selling
Literary Crack hot off the presses
From his concrete perch the hustlers and
Their playa ways held the allure of 72 Virgins
Virgins know more than indiscretions
Watching the fiends 'till twilight ideas dawned
On him to versify the arisings
Of pushers who were well liked -- Swagger Stars!
Black-dwarves misguided before they all went
Supernova: bubbled, burst and vanished!
While the world dissolved their memories as
If they were fireballs and jawbreakers
As a boy he wanted so badly to
Emulate the Drug-Dealer's Persona
To conform to hiphop's brash cultural
Norms so the boom-boxes banged snares and kicks
And bass slammed into his chest brass-knuckled
Gorillas fists cracking graffitied bricks
Spray painted rest-in-peace symbols and slang
The ceremonial "Boom-Boom Bap, Ba
Boom Ba-Boom Bap" was a form of Voodou
Possessing with voices the root of all
His choices after consuming Ether
With other at-risk youth underneath the
Street-lights he couldn't triangulate where
He was caught inside the Bermuda Triangle
The streets can twist your insides out with a
Sawed off shotgun and rummage your pockets
When you're down so he learned to keep it
"Real" once his mother was in a "Better
Place" disconnecting from compassion to
Sell Literary Crack vile-vent-in g bottled
Frustrations, four walls, barred spaces falling
But he ate a Thousand Petaled Lotus
And the high-top fade become a nimbus
Unlocking his Indigo DNA
As one transforms himself into the
Savior all saviors then begin fading Away literally into the cracks