Former district attorney Seth Williams works and speaks out for the anti-violence group outside of prison – NBC10 Philadelphia


Former District Attorney Seth Williams was elected to fight crime and root out corruption. He ended up on the other end of the law.

Williams spent nearly three years in federal prison and returned home last April.

Since then, he has been publicly involved, mainly through Twitter, speaking out against the gun violence in the city and the need for criminal justice reform.

We sat down with Williams to talk about his crime, what he learned while behind bars, and why people should listen to him now.

“The lessons I learned after June 29, 2017, I believe, made me a much better person to talk to people about the changes needed, the changes needed, and changes in our criminal justice system,” he said .

On that day in June 2017, Williams pleaded guilty to taking a trip to a Punta Cana resort paid for by a business owner. In return, the government said the business owner asked Williams to help a friend avoid jail time.

It was one of 29 federal corruption allegations.

“I’ve taken responsibility. Advocating Violation of Travel Law, ”he said, citing the official fee for travel and the use of intergovernmental facilities to encourage and facilitate bribery.

As part of the plea, Williams admitted the other 28 charges in court, including other allegations of bribery, fraud at his mother’s nursing home, theft of campaign funds, and use of government vehicles for personal use.

But Williams is still reluctant to accept the bribery allegations.

“I was not convicted of bribery and accepted bribes. But they are gifts that I shouldn’t have accepted. I should have reported all gifts and I take responsibility for them, ”he said.

As an elected official, Williams was required to report any gift worth more than $ 200.

“I realize that I have lived beyond my means and that I have been able to make bad decisions as a result. That I exacerbated those bad choices with alcohol abuse, ”he said. “And that I failed the citizens of Philadelphia.”

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams was released from federal prison after serving two years behind bars. NBC10’s Claudia Vargas sat down with Williams to learn more about his crime.

Seth Williams on prison life

In 2010, Seth Williams made history as the first black district attorney in Philadelphia. During his early years in office, he had a number of successes, including reducing gun violence.

But his victories were wiped out in 2017 when he was jailed for corruption.

A federal judge sentenced him to five years in prison, which rocked Williams’ political future. He had previously been mentioned as a mayor or US Senate candidate.

“I was on a plane to Oklahoma City with handcuffs, a belly chain and leg irons,” he said in an interview.

He was eventually taken to a federal prison in West Virginia.

While in jail, Williams said he made some unlikely friends.

“You’d think this Philadelphia lawyer has nothing in common with this meth dealer from Appalachia, where the reality is that we’re different in so many ways. And he chose to numb himself from his problems differently than I did, but the underlying reasons and problems were the same, ”he said.

Then there was SK

“A guy who was nicknamed SK because he was a serial killer, but he just talked to me and gave me good advice,” he said.

Williams said he taught GED courses and classical poetry to other inmates.

He learned to play the saxophone and took part in a 13-month alcohol abuse treatment program that allowed him to shave a year before his sentence.

“I had to learn to deal with stress in a healthier way, to deal with all these problems healthier,” he said.

Williams returned home last April.

He said he found it difficult to find a place to live and work.

“I couldn’t get an apartment because I have a crime,” he said. “Many jobs that I am not allowed to get because of a recording or that I have problems with have problems.”

His first job after jail was storing shelves in a large store overnight.

He now works part-time with the Philadelphia Anti-Drug / Anti-Violence Network, using his work experience and life behind bars to train young people.

“Most of what I do right now is with teenagers taking part in distraction programs. We have Zoom meetings and we try to talk to them. And so just direct intervention, ”he said.

He also has a little side appearance: officiating weddings.

“I did a little online course and got certified,” he said. “It’s just a wonderful thing when people are just happy on a great day in your life, when they just see people are happy.”

But he’s gotten attention lately for tweeting about gun violence and criminal justice.

“It would be wrong of me to see the level of gun violence we see and to do nothing to keep silent even though I am a felon,” he said.

Seth Williams on returning to civilian life in Philly

Williams said it was a combination of a former prosecutor – especially at a time when the murders were lowest in the city – and the perspective he gained in prison, making him a credible voice in criminal justice reform.

“I had to go to jail to really learn how I think we can prevent crime and reduce relapse,” he said.

While in prison, he said he learned that locking people up is not an answer to preventing crime.

“Provide community-based mental health care before people act and don’t wait for them to act,” he said.

Williams says many of the people he met in prison lacked the skills and ability to maintain legal employment.

“We must do everything we can to teach people these work-readiness skills, show up on time, resolve conflicts, develop literacy and financial literacy,” he said. “It’s these kinds of things that make the difference.”

As a district attorney, he sent hundreds of people to jail every year.

Now he says he is ashamed that he failed to see the collateral consequences of the criminal justice system.

When he stated that he didn’t know any better then, he quoted Maya Angelou: “I did what I knew to do then. Now that I know better, I’ll do better. “

Williams is also working on his relationship with his family, especially his daughters.

“You were hurt in a way I can’t even imagine. And it breaks my heart, ”he said. “I know the rest of my life, I’ll try to heal those relationships.”

His mother died in a nursing home shortly after he returned from prison. Because of COVID-19, he said he couldn’t see them in person, but they facetimed.

“The nurses said my mother said, ‘Seth is home, he’s safe. I no longer need these life-saving methods. I know my little boy is safe. ‘And she died on Tuesday two days later,’ he said.

He declined to go into detail on the allegations he admitted in court, but now denies that he cheated on his mother’s nursing home and took money for her other than saying, “My mother knew the truth.”

“My mother knew what happened. And so my mother and I have always had a wonderful relationship and she couldn’t wait for me to get home. “

Williams plans to stay in Philly, his hometown and a place he loves.

He also has no plans to move into the distance anytime soon. In fact, he plans to write a book (the working title is Man of Conviction, he said) about his entire life as a prosecutor behind bars.

He joked that when a movie is made about him, he wants Dwayne Johnson to play him.

However, its current focus is on crime prevention and criminal justice reform

“I can just hide in a hole somewhere. Some people might like that, ”he said. “But I think the best use of anything that has happened to me is to talk about how we can help prevent crime.”