Our Voices > Walk in Our Shoes

Elijah Williams: A Moment That Changed Everything

Jun 10, 2024

The perspective of

Elijah Williams

Incarcerated at

USP McCreary
in Kentucky

Year incarcerated


Home State


I grew up in the Bronx, with an incredible woman who shouldered many responsibilities as a single mother. I was active in sports and at school, and was fierce in protecting my siblings. While living on Cypress Avenue, two of my sisters became seriously ill (one of them would later die), an experience that left a deep emotional scar.  

At age 15, my then girlfriend became pregnant with our first child, and I found myself navigating uncharted waters. Striving to support my new family, I took on various jobs while still in high school. When I reached the age of 21 and my second child was born, I enlisted in the military, driven by the desire to do the right thing for my family. 

After successfully passing the entrance exam with one of my brothers, we happily anticipated our joint journey into the army.

One bad decision, then another

However, I made a regrettable mistake that disrupted this path. One night, I joined three other people in a car that turned out to be stolen. The situation escalated quickly, resulting in a car accident. Everyone was fine but the cops arrested us all for car theft. Prior to this incident, I had never been in any legal trouble. As I faced the court, a senior military officer accompanied by fellow soldiers appeared to speak on my behalf. The officer requested that I be given the opportunity to join the military as an alternative to imprisonment, highlighting my clean record. Despite this plea, the judge still sentenced me to four years. My brother went on to join the Army without me – a juncture that turned out to be consequential for me.

Upon my release into society, I struggled to find a steady job. When I was offered the “opportunity” to engage in the drug business, it seemed like just what I needed at the time. I sold drugs to high rollers, through a network of people under me. I didn’t do any hand-to-hand business, and I only worked one day of the week. But then, in 1996, one of the workers was arrested with $1.5 million, and he told the police everything. They came down on me hard with the RICO Act. 

It’s never too late to change

After my arrest, I began doing the right things in a positive way, but although  it was too late to avoid prison I have kept on this path. I’ve been in 28 years now, and I have remained fully committed to self improvement.  I have completed over 5,000 hours of vocational and educational programs, 1,00 hours of faith-based programming, 3,000 hours of volunteer work as a suicide companion and 2,500 hours of other coursework related to personal growth. I have worked in numerous jobs and have had a good rapport with all of my supervisors. During this time, I have been charged with only two rule infractions, and have mentored young men coming into prison in using their time productively. All this despite living in some of the country’s most dangerous prisons.

For me, the most challenging aspect of life in prison has been the constant lockdowns, which keeps us in our cells most of the day. These prevent us from participating in all of the programs that are helpful to our rehabilitation. Meanwhile, so many members have passed away while I’ve been in prison: My brother Wallace died about five years ago from a heart attack (while riding his bike). One of my sisters also died after a heart attack; her name was Vivian. One of my daughters, Ebony, and a granddaughter, Valerie, died from pills. None of this can be undone, but I persevere due to my faith and by doing whatever good work I can do from inside here. 

Hoping for a second chance

Today, I am 68, and I have filed a motion with the court asking for compassionate release. I wish to extend my sincere apologies to all of those who have been affected by my past poor decisions and actions. I have not engaged in a single act of violence since I was incarcerated. If I am released, I will live with one of my sons, who will give me a job in his business, and take care of my health (I have diabetes and high blood pressure). In my volunteer time, I want to help young people stay out of prison. I hope I’m given this chance!

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