Here in Virginia, we are debating Governor Terry McAuliffe’s decision to let felons be jurors and to vote for Hillary Clinton (for whom they are are presumed to have natural affinity, as well as for Governor McAuliffe himself, perhaps), but nobody would begrudge them the chance to be barbers.
That’s what George Williams is about to be: a barber. He just graduated from Tribeca Barber School in Lower Manhattan, and will soon face state examiners to qualify for his New York barber’s license. He almost didn’t make it.
As he was about to be released four years ago from the infamous Attica Correctional Facility where he was serving his two- to four-year sentence for robbing a pair of Manhattan jewelry stores, a gang of prison guards brutally attacked and beat him. Williams had both legs and his collarbone broken, and a fractured eye socket Doctors placed screws into one leg to hold the bones together.
Disgustingly, prosecutors allowed the guards involved to exchange a guilty plea to a lesser charge for a punishment that included no prison time. Here was their primary penalty: they can’t be prison guards any more. Funny, I would think that would be automatic, plea or no plea, when you beat prisoners half to death.
The story of George Williams’ beating and the ridiculously, suspiciously lenient sentences received by his state-paid muggers was one of the nightmarish Tales From The Dark Side of the Justice System in a front page of a The New York Times story about The Marshall Project. Williams was quoted as saying that he still headaches and nightmares from the attack but was trying to save the $2,600 barber school tuition to start a new life as a law-abiding tonsorialist.
27-year-old United States Army specialist, Don Huber read the article while stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas. He had been raised in Attica, New York, and had just finished serving nine months in Afghanistan with the First Infantry Division.
Huber was moved William’s plight and bothered by the bad reputation the incident gave his community. Huber had gone to high school with one of the guards who beat Williams, but had never met George. Still, Huber organized an online fundraising campaign to raise at least $2,600 to help the ex-prisoner get on with his life. The campaign quickly received $5,800 through more than 70 donations.
“I wanted to show that the Attica community stood for more than what happened in that story,” Huber told the Marshall Foundation. “Not only to help George but to show there are many of us who care and wish nothing but the best for people who are unfortunate enough to end up in prison and want to change their lives.”
The extra money went to George Williams’ lawyers as he tries to sue the brutal guards in civil court.
Oh—I began by saying that nothing stops ex-felons from being barbers. That’s true in Virginia, but not necessarily in New York, where one can be denied a barber’s license if state officials decide the applicant lacks “moral character.” The Marshall Foundation, however, is still looking out for George, and extracted a statement from officials that “there is no absolute bar to licensure as a barber because of a felony conviction.”
When that final hurdle cleared, assuming it is cleared, Williams hopes to open his own barber shop in Harlem or Brooklyn. “Maybe I’ll hire some other guys who come out of prison,” he says.
I hope Don Huber is his first customer.
Source: The Marshall Project