by Alia Marsha
When William Abbott first sat down for this interview, he couldn’t stop shaking. He said it’s because he hadn’t had any meal yet. But half an hour later, still shaking after filling his empty stomach with yogurt and orange juice, he admitted: “Maybe I’m nervous, that’s why,”
At the age of 42, Will is still trying to figure out how to live in the real world. Having spent years going in and out of prison for drug abuse, he’s accustomed to predictability of prison life. Now a student at SCCC, Will looked back at his troubled past and hoped that we can all learn from his experience.
Early childhood in Chicago
Will’s mother, Marie, raised him as a single parent. His father is a member of one of the largest and most structured Hispanic street gang, “The Latin Kings”. After his parents had separated, his father kidnapped him for a period of time from his mother’s home. Will’s mother, as he described, was a very straight
woman. She passed away 13 years ago, but he still feels very close to her to this day. “It was me and her against the world,” he said.
Growing up in Chicago’s notorious public housing project Cabrini-Green, Will described the earlier part of his childhood “normal”. Yes, there were a lot of gang violence and abusing of drugs, but he wasn’t a part of this lifestyle for a fair amount of his childhood.
Young Will couldn’t stay out of trouble for too long.
As he grew up, he started to take on the “characteristics of [his] father”. At 11 years old, running around the streets carrying a pistol became a part in his daily life. But it’s not until he had to watch his best friend Larry die in his arms that he became the angry, troubled adolescent.
This incident was the one that changed the way he carried himself in his environment. He’d always have to be ready, even in the calmest, mellowest of times. He was always on his feet. “That’s the thing. Everything can be as smooth as silk, and in a blink of an eye, you’d have chaos.”
The early days of violence seem to be way behind him. But I couldn’t help but notice the anger that flickered in those eyes that were no longer focused on me.
Troubles with the Law
Enrolled in a special school in Des Plains, away from Cabrini-Green, was one of the things that helped “save my life,” Will said. He’d ride a bus to school at 6 a.m. and wouldn’t be home until 12 hours later. This kept him off the streets to a certain degree. Still, it didn’t stop him from being shot with a sawed-off shotgun at the age of thirteen.
Will’s mother and her boyfriend at the time responded to the incident by packing his bags and sending him to Arizona, where he turned into an even angrier individual. That’s when he began steering towards the drugs scene. He became strung out on heroin.
He’d go to school to sell drugs to schoolmates, and his social circle centered on drug dealers. “That’s probably the worst thing I could do,” Will recalled.
At 19, he was sentenced 12 years in prison for armed robbery and aggravated assault. Once he was released, he didn’t say goodbye to old habits. He’s still very much associated with the same crowd that got him in trouble in the first place. He then spent the majority of his life institutionalized on the streets, going in and out of jail. He went back to prison for a short amount of time, too. All of these were always wrapped around his drug addiction.
“I learned how to become a man in prison. They took a kid, locked him up and let him go when he’s a middle-aged man. Every survival skill, every tool, every resource that I had revolved around prison mentality.”
Will didn’t know how to live out in the real world, nor did he want to. He would’ve been happier if he were to go back to prison (“There are times when I felt more like I was rescued, not arrested. “). But he knew that’s not how life works. As of today, Will Abbott has been clean for 3 years – after spending the majority of his life getting high. He’s still adjusting his feet to fit the shoes of a responsible adult.
“Finally, my daughter says ‘I love you’ ”
Will has a 14-year-old daughter whom he met for the first time a year ago when he drove to California where she lives with her mother. Despite being absent for the majority of each other’s lives, Will and his daughter talk to every day. They’ve built a very good relationship over the course of one year and she hopes to move in with him and Kim – something that Will never thought was possible. He thought she would never want to be a part of his life.
“For 12 years, I used the excuse that she’s better off without me because of [who] I was,” he said. “Once I’ve gotten clean and realized that it’s gonna last, I made contact with [my daughter and her mother], and they’d been waiting and waiting and waiting.”
It’s no easy to prove to the girl’s mother that Will was going to stay for their daughter. She was afraid that he might fall back to his drug addiction shortly after the visit. “It’s taken all this time – two, three years – and finally my daughter says ‘I love you’.”
Will also has a 14-year-old son from a different relationship. He doesn’t know the whereabouts of his son because his mother “is a psychopath.” Will has tried – without success – to fight for the custody of his son. The mother of the child told the court that Will was a dangerous person.
“When you look at the paper, I guess I am.”
Getting on the right track for the first time
In 1997, Will escaped from prison and found himself falling in love with Seattle – initially due to the drugs scene here– though he had planned to make it all the way to Canada. So after he returned to prison and finished his term, he came back to Seattle.
He’s been taking classes at Seattle Central for three quarters now, and he’s planning to stay in school “as long as possible.” He strongly believes in education. During his time in prison, he took some classes and spent a lot of his time reading.
Every time he turns in an assignment, he feels a sense of accomplishments. When Will and his girlfriend of two years, Kim, moved in together to an apartment in Auburn, it was the first time he’s had utility bills written under his own name. These little things are the ones that matter; they are indications that he’s getting his life back together.
Will is studying to earn a Master’s degree in Sociology and he plans to spend the rest of his life helping other people who are dealing with similar situations. The couple is planning to move closer to campus, and Kim will start taking classes in summer to follow her own dreams.
Towards the end of the interview, Will told me about the personal narrative essay he wrote for his English class.
“It’s [about] the last day I was in jail, the morning they were going to call me to roll off. It’s about the thoughts I had in my head – the nervousness, the anxiety, frustration, the expected failure. You’ve done it so many times, you don’t expect to succeed. It becomes a consistent pattern. And that final time, I did something different.”