Arthur “Breese” Williams (pictured above with yours truly) is in his 48th year of serving a life sentence for murder. While in prison he started “The Insider’s Club” as a forum to help other inmates learn the skills, and develop the habits and disciplines, they will need to make sure that when they walk through that prison gate they never return.
In addition to mentoring these (mostly young) men, the group has raised thousands of dollars for charitable causes. This is all work that Breese has done from the heart knowing that, as a lifer, he cannot personally benefit in any worldly sense
While fully acknowledging and accepting responsibility for his long-ago crime, Breese is not in any meaningful sense of the word the same man as the teenage boy who nearly half a century ago committed a crime of passion.
There is a committee working for the commutation of Breese’s life sentence (his previous requests for parole have been denied). If granted this would allow him to gradually reenter society with interim stops in a halfway house followed by a supervised period of parole.
As a supporter of that commutation, it grieves me to read statistics about how much more likely young black men are to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. I also fear that it will make it harder – that it has made it harder – for a black man like Breese to be given a second chance.
In a letter posted earlier today Eugene Woods, President and CEO of Atrium Health, wrote that “we know there’s probably going to be a vaccine for COVID-19 one day, but there’s never going to be a vaccine for racism.”
Given that we can’t vaccinate against it, it becomes our obligation to each do our part to heal the hurt that racism has caused.
The first step in that healing process is to be honest with yourself about how you make assumptions and judgments and accept stereotypes based on race.
I’ve received more comments on my 3-minute video “What’s in a Hat?” than almost any other video I’ve ever posted. So here’s the question: If you make all those assumptions about me based solely upon the hat I’m wearing, what would you assume about me if I looked like Arthur Breese Williams?