At 57 years old, Oris “Pep” Williams is one of the oldest players on the San Quentin Kings and one of the best. For him, basketball has been life changing.
“I love the camaraderie of the game and it keeps me in good health,” Williams said. “It makes me feel worth something again, as oppose to when I was on the streets using. My self-worth wasn’t good then at all.”
Williams said he started playing basketball when he was seven years old at South Saulito, right near Marin City. He continued playing and, after graduating from Tamalpis high school in Mill Valley, he made the basketball team at Marin College.
Before suiting up, he transferred to Contra Costa College in Richmond but he arrived too late to play. While waiting for the next season to start, his life spiraled out of control.
“I got involved with young lady who was using, at the time I wasn’t,” Williams said. “During the course of that relationship, I start using which lead to my life of crime.”
Williams added, “In the end it was my decision to use drugs. I’m glad I met the beautiful young lady but I wish I could have convinced her to stop using instead of me using with her.”
He committed crimes to support his drug addiction and ended up struck out under California Three Strikes Law and sentenced to 48-years-to life. He has served 24 years so far, but has a chance to see the parole board in 2021 due to the elderly parole law.
Williams made the best of his time, completing programs like Anger Management, working in the kitchen, but through playing for the King for the last five years, Williams, who describes himself as a shy man, found himself again.
Every Saturday from March to Nov., outside community members like Bill Epling, Ted Salveit and John Brewster bring in teams to play at San Quentin against the 40-and-over Kings basketball team. Every week a player from each team is asked to give a half-time talk.
“I like them and the people who we play from the outside, they have brought a lot into my life since I met them,” Williams said. “In my rehab, as far as b-ball, I’ve been a shy person that really didn’t communicate with people that much, but here it opened me up to where I am able to talk to people. I’ve spoken in the circles a couple of times and that was the first time I ever did something like that.”
Opening up to outside community members has also helped Williams communicate with the youth on the yard.
“I am able to explain my situation to them and communicate with youth at a level I couldn’t do at first,” Williams said.
Over the summer, Williams played on an intramural team that had a mix of youngsters and veterans. For him, it was an opportunity to mentor the youth. They don’t always listen, but he still does his part.
Playing for the Kings, his most memorable basketball game came about three years ago against Epling’s Green Team. Williams hit the game winning shot in the face of Center Patrick Lacey, who is still in his twenties and played for Claremont- McKenna college. The shot gave the Kings their first win against the Green Team.
“I love playing for the Kings and I will continue to play as long as I’m here and the coaches will have me on the team,” Williams said.