Correctional and spiritual guidance
In the 25 years Edward Williams worked as a prison officer he earned a reputation for caring, but also for being firm.
He’s especially proud to have helped many young men turn their lives around.
“People come up to me, literally, all the time,” said the 70-year-old who retired 15 years ago. It’s gratifying that some of them have been out of jail for 20 years or more. They turn to whoever they are with and say, ‘This man’s words or actions made me think differently about crime, and I haven’t been to jail since’.”
He remembered being at the Prison Farm in St George’s when a group of young men awaiting release were being rowdy in the yard.
They’d been labelled “toughies” because they’d assaulted a police officer.
When another officer failed to quiet them, Mr Williams stepped in.
“I said to my officers, stand by the phone here. If things go awry call for help, but I will do this my way.
“I went down to the compound — it may sound wrong or stupid, but I had to. I threw my keys to my officer up top in case they did something to me. I went over to the group.”
The men were messing with a bunch of buckets which Mr Williams grabbed and tossed away.
“I said, ‘Just touch me once, and you are mine’,” he said. “They all fell back.”
He ordered his officers to take down names. To the troublemakers he said: “If the chief sees you and feels you have been a nuisance to the staff, then you will be given your ticket back to Westgate.”
That day he not only won a battle of wills but also a new nickname — “Bully”.
“If you are a leader, you should lead,” he said. “I believe in being a person whom others can follow.”
He grew up on The Glebe Road, Pembroke, raised by his mother, Mary Williams and grandmother, Gladys Williams. At 20, he studied at the Eastern Pentecostal Bible College in Peterborough, Ontario, hoping to become a minister.
“In my last year they gave me the option to come to Bermuda for a month’s apprenticeship in my own church, so I did that,” he said. “It was the West Pembroke Pentecostal Assembly. I worked under Reverend James Thompson. It was a wonderful experience.”
He returned to college and was eventually ordained. His plan was to come back home and take over from Mr Thompson, “who was getting older”.
It “hurt [him] to the core” that someone from the West Indies was given the job instead.
Mr Williams changed his career path. For several years he worked at Stuart’s, a camera store then on Reid Street, before joining the Department of Corrections in 1978. He started out at Casemates, the former Dockyard prison.
“I put my heart and life into that,” he said. “I still ministered when I could in the prison.
“People came in and we did the best we could to crack the behaviour — we were called prison guards then.
“The term changed when the philosophy changed, and it became more about assimilating inmates back into society.
“It worked out pretty well. Through our intervention, we helped to modify some people’s behaviour in a positive way.”
He worked in a number of different departments over the years, helping to fortify Westgate Correctional Facility when it opened and helping to design the work programme at the Prison Farm.
He retired as chief prison officer in 2004 but wasn’t done serving the community.
“I eventually became commissioner of St John Ambulance,” he said. “It was a good experience. I did that for just under three years.
“I loved it and I think I helped to bring some positive changes to those people who were there under my administration.
“When I retired from that, I felt mentally alert and physically fine. I couldn’t have stayed home and gotten fat, old and senile.”
With that in mind, he found work as a security officer.
“I love it,” he said. “I do a lot of walking with it, and talking with my colleagues.”
In his spare time he helps Cleveland Simmons with Caravan, his project that travels the island entertaining and educating people about community violence.
“We have people who will talk and speak to groups — youth and older people — to help them try to bring about some sort of harmony,” Mr Williams said.
“We had a big thing in town last year at City Hall. It was a great experience. I want so very much to see Bermuda’s youth take a different turn and a different way of thinking. There are too many of us killing our own.
“There is too much distress in homes and people’s lives. The causes of it are multiple. One of which is that people don’t follow the word of God.”
He met Mr Simmons while the latter was an inmate, jailed on drug charges.
“Thank God for being able to help him to see a different way of living his life,” Mr Williams said. “I find him a real blessing right now. What he is doing is really good.”
Married to Emily, Mr Williams has seven children — Edonna Bean, Michael Webb, Chevon Burch-Armstrong, Edward Damien Burch, Natasha Burch, Daniel Williams and Sharon Bean — and three grandchildren. He is immensely proud of all of his family.
“Each of my children has been a blessing,” he said. “They have all grown up to love the Lord.”
In terms of regrets in life he said he has too few to mention.
“The journey has been awesome,” he said. “I love life. I thank God for him coming into my life.”
• Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them