Statement on Richard Williams from Netdahe Willams Stoddard
Warm and revolutionary greetings in this new year!
Sadly, I write this now to inform the supporters and loved ones of Political Prisoner Richard Williams of his death last month. This note comes late; I was waiting to receive dad’s property from the feds- to see if this might include a final statement from Richard himself. Unfortunately, dad was unable to get anything down on paper, due to the speed with which his body deteriorated toward the end. With Richard passing I lose not only one of my two dads, but one of my very best friends. I want to share a bit of him, understanding there are not words in the language I know to accurately describe either his wonderful intricacies, or the depth of my love for him.
Richard died on the evening of December 7th of liver failure related to Hepatitis C. Richard’s son Richard was able to visit him earlier that afternoon, and he knew that two more of us were en route to see him. We believe Richard chose to let go of his pain that night, knowing his family was there and ready to claim him from the system and according to his wishes.
Richard’s death is a small chapter in the book of his life, but it is important to keep in mind, and to relay to others the story it tells of the federal government’s criminality. We should use his death as a consciousness-raising tool; he would want it no other way. Richard was a strong and healthy man up to that autumn of 2001. Fifteen months of solitary confinement, lack of exercise, medical neglect and abuse by a reactionary and vengeful federal government left dad suffering from an array of medical problems, severe enough that he was moved to a federal medical center in North Carolina December ’04. Dad did receive adequate medical treatment and some level of comfort during his last year, but it was too little too late. The abuse he suffered from 9/01 to 11/04 proved too much, and is why I’m not the only one who understands that Richard’s death was murder, brought about by an extended period of intentional medical neglect, indifference and delay.
In the last weeks of his life dad would joke that his six-year-old grangrandson could-“kick his ass”, due to his deteriorating and underweight body. None-the-less, he was always fully shackled for transport to outside facilities, and Lieutenants’ future careers were made because they could put on paper that they had “successfully transported” such a “dangerous” man. We would laugh out loud at such idiocy, but this policy and the government’s actions/inactions that led to Richard’s death are very real, and should inform our arguments against government proponents, as well as strengthen our resolve to bring about conditions that make Richard the last of the people’s soldiers to die in captivity.
Crazy as it may sound, I believe there is more to be strengthened and empowered by in dad’s passing than to be disheartened by. One of the main purposes of the prison is to isolate and disempower its captives. His family, friends and supporters worked successfully against such design right up to Richard’s death. Richard received more visits this last year than probably any other year in captivity. He had more letters of support than he had time left to read them. He laughed, loved and felt loved to the end, and appreciated this support beyond words. Richard is an example that supporting our political prisoners and POW’s in any and all ways is even more important and empowering than we generally realize. It helped Richard stand tall to the end.
Richard had advanced warning of his death, which was unexpectedly empowering in its own right. He was able to make some end-of-life decisions that he might not otherwise have been able to make. He had some important conversations with people (his mother for one) that he may not otherwise have had. Richard was able to be explicit about his wishes for his remains, which we were able to carry out to the letter. Dad is/was a freer spirit than most, myself included, and years ago had requested that his children see him free, if only after he had died. For us to see him a last time free but dead was better to him than a last image alive in captivity. We were able to do this, as well as remove any trace of the FBOP (#’s, tags etc.) before he was cremated. The three of us present were happy to do so and felt strong. This was extremely important to dad and to us.
The thing we can be most positive about in all this, something: really only fully realized after one’s death, is that Richard died a principled man who never gave the system an inch. He never regretted his choice to take a stand against oppression and stay standing, no matter how difficult or painful were the consequences. We successfully kept/built loving family ties through the bars, and against all intended design. Richard decided, as a fairly young man in NH state prison, that he would be aligned with the racially and economically oppressed majority across the globe, against our common oppressors. He died thirty years later equally committed to that end. Everything about the prison system is designed to disallow this possibility. As with some other’s before him, Richard’s spiritual strength, steadfastness and his being principled to the end are huge victories over hopelessness that should be celebrated. I have to believe that Richard, his example and integrity, helped create more consciousness out here than the system takes in his death. Venceremos!
There’s so much to say of my father, I could never do him justice, but I want to mention a few things about him that would be hard to know, unless you knew him. Richard had a younger heart and spirit than many half his age, and was incredibly strengthened by the love and support shown him, especially in times of extra hardship in captivity. Dad was someone who was more likely to survive and succeed the worse the odds were against him. It was impossible to break him, because attempting to do so only strengthened his resolve further. He had one of the most critical minds, questioning every position in effort to find the truth. He also encouraged criticism, knowing that he was as fallible as anyone. The times that I questioned and/or disagreed with him most were times I could feel his respect for me grow most. He wanted no truth sugar-coated, equating straightforwardness with respect.
Richard was no theoretician or leader in any traditional sense. One of his last and most adamant requests was that we not let anyone turn him into a “hero”, knowing the movement would gain more from accurate reflection of his life and actions than from doing his persona any favors. Dad rejected the concept of “hero”, because he believed everyone equally capable of effecting change- willingness to participate/sacrifice, perhaps being the only difference.
Richard’s was a most thoughtful, caring and brilliant mind. Though he put little down on paper, he was as equally well read and informed as anyone I’ve known. But, he needed no recognition or honors for it. He had weaknesses, as do we all, and liked for them to be addressed, but never let them detract from his strengths. Contrary to the government’s projected image of my father, he was not a reckless man. His actions were guided by egalitarian theory and worldly survival. He made hard decisions, and sacrificing a life of freedom with his children was as difficult for him as it would be for anyone. Richard was an incredibly loving and respectful father.
I need to mention of dad, how anti-racism manifest in his person. Richard knew that he wasn’t perfect, and could grow and learn from the personal experiences and oppression of others. He was an avid anti-racist (in the spirit of John Brown and family), but knew he could always be a better one, perfection being an illusion. The too common “white guilt” phenomenon was nowhere to be found in Richard. He took responsibility for white historic atrocities and white skin privilege, and would grab firm hold of his humanity by acting against such forces. He made a decision as to where he stood and backed that position with action, making war on the institutional profiteers of racist imperialism. The self-hatred endemic in all areas of our society was unable to take root in Richard. He would not mire in guilt, but find redemption though action.
Dad took his death with surprising ease, considering. Even after more than two decades in captivity, and nearly five years of ill-health, he knew he had been able to live a good and principled life. In a time when so many children die hungry, bombed or from curable diseases while a select few grow fat, he was lucky to get to live to 58 and to make his stand. Especially for those of us who love him so much, his loss will be a long, deep pain. It is Richard’s wish though that we rejoice, celebrate and strengthen ourselves with his memory; that we learn form his missteps and find drive in his many successes!
Richard wanted, and will get, a warriors good-bye and party. He wanted us to forgo the traditional memorial, and instead use the opportunity to celebrate and network-to strengthen ourselves for our protracted struggle. Please memorialize Richard in whatever way you see fit. For those who would like to be a part, we will be partying and giving Richard’s ashes to the mountains of Vermont this June 2006. Please write me for directions etc. if interested.
Richard’s family was shown incredible support and generosity to help with dad’s passing. We have excess contributions that we’ve decided will be redistributed to the Rosenberg and for Children, the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee, the Jericho Movement, and the Jaan Laaman Legal Freedom Fund in dad’s name. In lieu of flowers, so to speak, contributions in Richard’s name should be ‘made not to his family, but to these organizations or your local political prisoner support and/or prison abolition organizations.
Free all political prisoners and POWs!
Netdahe Williams Stoddard
P.O. Box 160
Johnson, VT 05656 USA