From a life of crime to Christ
HE WAS ONCE one of Trinidad and Tobago’s notorious criminals. Today as Dr Aaron Williams, the former convict is using that notoriety for good.
Like his father, Archbishop Granville Williams the late leader of Barbados’ Spiritual Baptists, this Trinidadian is winning souls in his native country and in Africa, using the Bible and his testimony of deliverance from a life of crime to help others to turn their lives around. He is also working to improve living conditions for many a schoolgirl and schoolboy on the African continent.
Williams confessed that as head of the 1970s gang known as the Laventille Posse he robbed banks, sold drugs, and was involved in kidnapping, among other nefarious activities. “I was one of the most senior criminals in Trinidad. I came from church to the streets . . . . I was one of the main pusher men in Port of Spain . . . . I sold drugs day and night,” he told the SUNDAY SUN.
Such a life was stark contrast to his early upbringing in the Shouter Baptist Church, founded and run by his parents. He was just seven when his father left Trinidad for Barbados to begin his ministry here, and with his father gone, teenager Williams strayed.
“I started to follow bad company. What came out of that was a prison term and I feel honoured to say that, because facts are very stubborn things,” Williams said last week, while on a visit to Barbados.
He told a harrowing story about his criminal activities that in 1988 saw him being slapped with a prison sentence imposed to run up to the year 2055, along with 47 strokes with the birch and the dreaded cat-o-nine tails.
Today he is a free man, having served only 18 years and being released without receiving a single stroke.
The conviction was a blow to his parents and today he regrets the pain he caused them, especially when he admitted his criminal activity did not end with incarceration. “In prison I was selling drugs still, I was still smoking; I was still doing things in prison.”
He even escaped early in the prison term, he said, when he was presented with an opportunity to do so. Speaking deliberately and with great passion, the Trinidadian gave an exposé on the dark side of prison life and detailed activities behind bars of which only rumours are heard on the outside.
He said: “There was always a fight whenever I go to the courts, because of which I was, the kind of money I played with, the kind of guns, the kind of jewels I played with.”
“Prison is a university. Prison is not like Cave Hill (UWI) or Howard. These universities cannot teach certain subjects that prison teaches,” Williams said, while taking care to point out: “I am not glorifying crime or prison. What you are getting is an exposé of what my life was.”
He reflected on the many times he used cocaine – snorting and free-basing –and warned: “When you start to smoke that thing called cocaine, the devil takes you deeper and deeper into hell and I would advise anyone using it now to get the rid of it.”
“It changed me for worse,” he said as he confessed drug-taking sessions that would leave him asking: “Where the rest of banks are; where are the jewel shops; who do you want us to kidnap now. . . . ?”
However, he recalled the night he had a vision “when Jesus Christ came to me and he called me a fool. He [Jesus] said: ‘but if you should preach my gospel right here in the prison house I will make sure you don’t get one single stroke from those 47 and you will be out of here before time and you will travel the world.”
People in the Frederick Street Prison swore there was a madman on the loose the Sunday morning when that vision began to unfold into a reality. “The Holy Spirit arrested me and carried me through the entire Frederick Street Prison. The prison came to a standstill. Officers, cooks, prisoners coming out to see who is this madman because at the top of my voice, I was crying out: ‘Holy Spirit, all you homosexuals you robbers, you killers . . . .”
He was spurred on, hearing the voices of fellow convicts shouting: “Amen, brother, preach the word.” Even in the cell block where men could not come outside, a request was made for him to go inside to preach. It was one year that he had been in prison and the turning point from which Williams said he has never looked back.
“People need to understand that this call on my life. the Bible says the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and God never sends anybody to steal or kill, but God shows up in the consequences.”
He was motivated to fall back on his religion when he noticed how other young criminals with convictions for serious offences turned to their faith. “These were very bad men, people that shed a lot of blood. I said if they could do that, I was brought up in a church. Let me go back to God.”
He still marvels at how his miraculous transformation inspired other prisoners and claims responsibility for the opening of churches in prison. He also went back to school, securing 5 CXC passes, and acquiring other qualifications through distance learning, in prison he became a teacher of social studies, principles of business, English and religious knowledge.
Later, he acquired his doctorate in theology from the University of California, and in 2007 received his bishopric from the Gerizim Shouter Baptist International located in Sangre Grande, Trinidad, with the archbishopric following in 2009.
“People thought I was coming out [of prison] to be a de facto leader with the drugs.
He said instead: “When I came out, the Lord told me to go to that same village [where he had committed a lot of his crimes] and preach the gospel and keep a crusade there.” With excitement in his voice, he described the overwhelming response to that crusade he promoted with posters bearing the name of someone the villages recognised as the big criminal they once knew.
He has taken his salvation message to Africa, paying 22 visits to the Democratic Republic of Congo to date. He has also been spreading the gospel in Uganda, Rwanda and Southern Sudan and has ministered to African prisoners, preaching in churches and prisons there in addition to the work he continues to do in Trinidad and Tobago.
Touched by the conditions faced by children and women in those African countries, he has built a hospital, school and health centre complex in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as other churches in Africa, where he travels frequently.
The married father of five feels an obligation to carry on his parents’ legacy, especially after the way he disappointed them during his time as a career criminal. “I regretted it a lot. They are both dead now, and what I am doing, I know they will be turning in their graves to see what I have become now.”
He said he is thankful that “God has preserved me”.
His message to anyone battling the kind of challenges he overcame is, “If you have never seen a miracle in your life, watch me well.”