Don Williams Advocates For Prison Guard Safety After Son’s Death
NANTICOKE — While returning soldiers from other wars were treated like heroes, Army veteran Don Williams said this was not the case when he and others returned home from the Vietnam War.
Williams, 71, a Nanticoke resident, served in the Vietnam War from 1966 to 1967.
He remembers a very unwelcome reception when he came back to America.
“I’m so happy for the guys coming back today from Iraq and Afghanistan because people welcome them back,” Williams said. “We came back to a country that kind of abandoned us emotionally over there and took a very negative perception of us, so when we returned, we were not welcomed back. Often times, we found ourselves getting into arguments with people. We were just soldiers returning from a war. It’s not like we caused it.”
Williams served as a helicopter gunner in Vietnam and received an award for his combat missions.
He is the father of the late Eric Williams, a 34-year-old correctional officer who was killed by an inmate on Feb. 25, 2013, while working in a housing unit at U.S. Penitentiary Canaan in Wayne County.
His son was beaten and repeatedly stabbed. He was only equipped with handcuffs, keys and a radio.
Since his son’s death, Williams started and is now president of the political advocacy group Voices of JOE, whose mission is to address safety concerns of corrections officers, to promote and support legislation pertaining to safety of corrections workers, and to raise awareness of the dangers encountered in working within prison systems.
Voices of JOE is named for three fallen correctional officers, including his son and two others killed by inmates — Jose Rivera and Osvaldo Albarati.
He got involved with the advocacy group when he learned there were a number of things lacking that could have saved his son’s life.
“I did it because you can’t kill my son and I’m just going to sit back. I can’t let that go,” Williams said. “We’re still fighting almost four years to get a trial. It keeps getting put off and put off. I just think there’s a lot of problems in the system. I can’t get my son back but I will not be a person who will sit in the house and do nothing about it.”
His efforts helped to get legislation passed to protect federal correctional officers.
The Eric Williams Correctional Officers Protection Act, introduced by U.S. Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, provides that the federal Bureau of Prisons must give non-lethal pepper spray to guards in medium and high-security prisons so they have some means of self-defense.
He also started the Eric Williams Race for Justice and a scholarship fund created in his memory for criminal justice and law enforcement students.
For 33 years, Williams worked at Clearbrook Lodge in Shickshinny, helping adolescents with drug and alcohol addictions. He was a counselor and when he left, he was vice president of adolescent treatment. He still serves as a consultant.
He said it’s difficult to track success rates but he said he is satisfied with what he has accomplished.
“I think the seed that we planted in them there would start to blossom after a while,” he said. “They would realize what we told them was true.”
Current town: Nanticoke
Branch of service: Army
Where he served: Vietnam
Community service: Founder and president of the advocacy group Voices of JOE, to address safety concerns of corrections officers.