Follow us:

UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

February 17, 2012 at 6:48 AM

In Passing: From San Quentin to Levi Strauss & Co.

"In Passing" posts capture shorter snapshots of places and people we encounter on the road. (Photos courtesy of Alex Stonehill, A.V. Crofts and Flickr Creative Commons/UW Election Eye)

LAS VEGAS – The first thing I noticed were his earrings. Drew Williams, 61, sports diamond studs that could cut through glass. He was nursing a bottle of Corona with a wedge of lime, an untouched basket of chips and salsa on the table.  When he smiled, his gold incisors sparkled. Williams wore a watch the size of a corsage and a baseball cap with his first name stitched across the front.

He was killing time at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant while waiting for his car to be fixed at a nearby mechanic.

Williams knows a thing or two about time.

When we met a few weeks back, he told me he arrived in Las Vegas to start a new chapter of his life, after eight years of incarceration for robbery at San Quentin State Prison, California’s oldest and most notorious correctional facility. While in San Quentin, Williams was part of a different 1% than the one most referred to these days: In the United States, one of every 100 adult Americans is in jail or prison. As The Man in Black, Johnny Cash, sang this about San Quentin, “I hate every stone of you.”

Williams is all too familiar with some of those stones. He explains to me that two of those eight years were spent “in the hole,” otherwise known as solitary confinement. Author Adam Gopnik, in his recent article for The New Yorker, reports that each day, “at least fifty thousand men — a full house at Yankee Stadium — wake in solitary confinement.” During those 730 days of limited human contact, Williams describes how his neighbor taught him how to play chess through the walls of their cells. They played one another through the power of their imagination.

Drew Williams, 61, photographed at La Choza Mexican Restaurant on February 3, 2012. He was having a drink while waiitng for his car to be repaired nearby. (A.V. Crofts/UW Election Eye)

Once released, “I turned my life around,” Williams says. For the last 17 years, Williams tells me he’s worked in the Las Vegas Distribution Service Center for Levi-Strauss & Co. He is active in the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 711. He thumbs through his cell phone to show me photos of his newest grandson.

When I ask Williams about the upcoming election, he speaks with a realism that in part stems from the total of his life experiences. “I’m a Democrat,” he says. “Obama faced many challenges, and I think he could have done some things better.” But Williams takes the long view, and says that one man cannot change a system overnight.

“It’s going to take time,” he says, “It’s going to take a miracle.”

I take his words to heart. The man knows about time.


Comments | Topics: Barack Obama, Democrats, Election 2012


No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.

The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.

The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►