Ear Hustle cofounder has lasting impact on his community – both inside and out of prison
Williams said he “can’t fathom” what it’s like to be outside prison. “The sad reality is there are people in here that I may never see outside these walls.” He said he’s leaving with a heavy heart.
“A big part of who I am stems from the people in here,” said Williams. “All of you have shaped who I am. You guys have been my family.”
“I grew up in prison,” he added, “ and I don’t know what my life is going to look like without it.”
Most of the men at San Quentin know Williams by the moniker “Banks,” a name given to him in the Los Angeles county jail by other prisoners who thought he was arrested for robbing “banks” because his bail was set at $7.3 million.
“I couldn’t bail out,” said Williams, convicted of one count of robbery, but with a gun enhancement.
Williams told a gather- ing of admirers in the San Quentin Media Center the day before he walked out: “I’ve been in this place longer than I’ve lived in any place my entire life.”
Tears flowed and emotions ran high as the men, volunteers and staff shared their stories of how they came to know Williams and their working relation- ship, friendships and bonds formed over the years.
Brian Asey first met Williams in 2011 when he transferred to San Quentin from Old Folsom. “I watched (Williams) grow from the hot-headed, emotional, hard person that he was to the mature and thoughtful man that he is today,” said Asey.
“I grew up in prison and I don’t know what my life is going to look like without it”
“It’s been amazing, and when I think about him leaving, I think about all we’ve gone through to put the pod-cast together,” said Sacramento State Professor Nigel Poor, a volunteer, co-host and co-creator of Ear Hustle. She said Williams was part of the creative influence and now that he has paroled, “I don’t know who’s going to be that creative person.”
Williams, like the other men who work in the media center, started out as a volunteer when there was little opportunity. “You have to gently fight your way into the media center and make it work, but there’s a camaraderie,” said Poor. “It’s going to be interesting to see how the media lab will be changing as more and more people get out.”
“I hope that (Williams) works with young people,” said Poor. He can inspire them, she said, adding, “I feel like that’s his calling.”
“When my specific tal- ents weren’t needed, people kept telling me I need to be there” (in the media center), said Williams, so he stuck it out by providing artwork and music, while keeping the workplace positive with his easy-going personality.
“He made this prison a better place and now he’s going to make this world a better place,” said Rahsaan (New York) Thomas, co-host of Ear Hustle. He described Williams as “talented and humble.”
“Banks (Williams) is like the talented little brother that I never had,” said Greg Eskridge, an inmate who volunteers at SQ Radio. “We all started this radio program together in this little room.”
Williams was sentenced to 15 years. He served 13 years, eight of which were at San Quentin, where he arrived on November 8, 2011. He left Old Folsom for San Quentin as a result of Assembly Bill 109, California’s plan to reduce its prison population. A number of San Quentin inmates had been moved to county jails. After his arrival, Williams met Earlonne Woods, the other Ear Hustle co-founder, who paroled last year.
Before his last day in prison, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) public information officers Alexandra Powell and Ike Dodson arrived to videotape Williams. They planned to video him parol- ing the following morning as well.
“A big part of who I am stems from the people in here. All of you have shaped who I am. You guys have been my family”
“We’re here to capture Antwan’s (Williams’) experience as he prepares to leave prison,” said Powell. “We’ve been trying to tell stories of both those in prison and the people that make programs work.”
Powell said the CDCR is very interested in what pro- grams work inside of prison to influence successful reentry back to society.
Williams said it’s not the groups, programs or self- help groups that make San Quentin though. He said it’s the men that make it a “community.”
Dodson said he got to know Williams the first time the CDCR’s Office of Public and Employee Communications came to San Quentin to cover a story about Ear Hustle.
“I thought it would be cool to share that story,” said Dodson. “When you get to know people inside, you build a relationship. This is a very important moment for Antwan.”
“Anybody would miss where they’ve grown up,” said Poor, who teaches art at the Sacramento campus, in reference to Williams spending so much of his adult life in prison. “I hope (paroling) will be everything that he dreams it to be. It’s going to feel empty when I come to work tomorrow.”