Redemption Song

Yesterday morning, I was hosting the morning news show at the radio station where I work, WBAI, in New York City, along with my colleague Leigh Ann Caldwell. It was a morning when everything had gone wrong. The server was down, the CD players were on the fritz, and we had been having technical difficulties all morning. Toward the end of our three-hour show, we were slated to speak with Barbara Becnel, a long-time advocate in the case of Stanley Tookie Williams, and a frequent guest on our show.

As soon as Barbara joined us on the phone, she interrupted me. "Could you guys -- literally, Stan is calling me," she said. "Can you hold just a second? I'm sorry this is live radio but I didn't expect him to call at his hour."

It was about 5:30am in California.

Of course, we held on, talking about his case and the clemency petition. Barbara re-joined us on the air, saying Stanley Williams was on hold. We asked if we could speak with him, and after checking with Stanley, she said he would speak with us for a few minutes. "When I count to three, you'll be patched through to him," Barbara said. "When I say 'three' just start talking to him. Okay? One, two, three."

KAT AARON: Tookie Williams, we are speaking to you from death row. What is your state of mind as you are facing -- awaiting the decision in your clemency petition?

STANLEY TOOKIE WILLIAMS: Well, I feel good. And my redemption shines. I got up this morning, I cleansed myself, I prayed, I exercised, and now I'm talking to you. Prior to talking to you I was talking to my mother and of course she's quite encouraging, spiritual, and so am I. And my lack of fear for this barbaric methodology of death, I rely upon my faith. It has nothing to do with machismo, with manhood, or with some pseudo former gang street-code. This is pure faith, and predicated on my redemption.

And therefore I stand strong, and continue to tell you, your audience, and the world, that I am innocent and yes, I've been a wretched person, but I've redeemed myself. And I say to you, and all those who can listen and will listen, that redemption is tailor-made for the wretched, and that's what I used to be. So, I can answer one more before I go.

KAT AARON: There are millions of people all around the country and indeed the world who are standing in support of you and doing everything that they can to ensure that your life is spared. How would you like the world to imagine your legacy, one that we all hope does not begin tomorrow but begins many years from today?

STANLEY WILLIAMS: I appreciate you making that statement. I've been asked that same query not too long ago and I said just one word, just one word can sum it up, in a nutshell, and that is redemption. I can say it no better than that.

That's what I'd like the world to remember me. That's what I'd like my legacy to be remembered as, a redemptive transition. Something that I believe is not exclusive just for the so-called sanctimonious, the elitist, and is not predicated on color or race, social stratum or one's religious background. It's accessible for everybody, that's the beauty about it.

And whether others choose to believe that I've redeemed myself or not, I worry not, because I know, and God knows, and you can believe that all the youths that I continue to help, they know too. So, with that, I'm grateful. I thank you for the opportunity, and I say to you and everyone else, god bless. So take care.

KAT AARON: And indeed you take care. We so much appreciate you being here with us, and we hope that we are able to speak with you in weeks and months and years to come.

STANLEY WILLIAMS: And I look forward to that as well, believe me. And my faith is intransigent.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL: You talk about redemption, and isn't that the goal of all of us in our lives, no matter what we have lived though, is daily redemption, to do better than we did before?

STANLEY WILLIAMS: Exactly. The thing is that as far as redemption is concerned you never can reach a plateau or an acme. It's a continuous process. Each day brings on a new challenge. So, for me, it's ongoing. It's continuous. And I understand that. So, not only do I live it, but I believe it. So it's a wonderful thing, and it's kept me strong all this time. I have no complaints.

KAT AARON: And that redemption and sense of striving for redemption is certainly something that you have inspired in thousands of people both in Los Angeles and worldwide.

STANLEY WILLIAMS: I pray that it will continue to do so, and I'll be here to see it. So I must go, so take care, and god bless.


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