OF ALL the people I've written about since moving to Philly, the one readers most often ask about is Colwin Williams, the ex-con I met just weeks after his nearly 20-year stint in prison.
It was a fluke. I just happened to be at LOVE Park for an anti-violence rally in 2012 and there was this guy walking straight at Mayor Nutter. He shook his hand, told him he'd just gotten out of jail and was raring to go. Something about how Williams, fresh out of prison but ready to take on the world, got my attention. Yours, too.
How's he doing? a Nutter staffer recently asked me.
Many of you tell me, "I've been down the same road as that guy you write about."
Just last week, a woman called to say that she'd come across one of the stories I'd written about Williams and wanted to get in touch with him.
"I have a friend who just got out after 18 years. He's struggling. He needs to talk to someone who's been in the same situation."
I always hesitate when someone asks that. Williams, 45, has mostly done well since his release after doing time for multiple armed robberies. He has a part-time job as a mediator with Philadelphia CeaseFire, an anti-violence outreach program. He's living in a nice Germantown apartment with a friend. But despite his sometimes irrepressible confidence, he'd be the first to tell you that he has a long way to go.
He tested positive for marijuana in May and had to leave transitional housing. He rented a room off Lehigh Avenue, but left when he felt it wasn't a good place for him. That night I got a call from him, asking if I'd lend him some money to get a hotel room. He couldn't bring himself to go to his mother or sister, who'd done so much for him already. Ethically I couldn't do it, I told him.
No one would know, he said. I would, I told him, figuring that would be the last I'd hear from him. But next thing I knew, an overjoyed Williams called to tell me that he'd been hired as security for journalist Lisa Ling and her crew while they were in Philly filming a piece on violence for the Oprah Winfrey Network.
The old Colwin was back, still raring to go - even if it still sometimes gets him into trouble. At an anti-violence community meeting he attended on the job, he grew impatient when he thought there wasn't enough emphasis on reaching young men and women before it was too late.
"I was in prison," he said he told the crowd. "I've seen where these young boys go. Time is of the essence."
Afterward, his boss reminded him that he was there to listen, not to preach. But time - making up for it, worried too much of it was slipping through his fingertips - has always been an issue for Williams. He rushed to do it all when he got out. He spoke about his experiences to any group that would have him. He took on a full load and a part-time job at Bucks County Community College.
But it took two buses, two trains and more than two hours to get to classes from his halfway house in Philly. And he still had mandatory probation programs he had to attend. He was overwhelmed. Despite doing well in most of his classes, he was forced to withdraw.
He's learning that he has to slow down just long enough not to trip himself up. Besides working part time, he continues to reconnect with his family, grown children who were just in their mother's wombs when he went away, who now have children of their own. Until his grandparents, who helped raise him, recently died within a week of one another, he was able to spend time with them. Even as his 84-year-old grandmother's health deteriorated, she still visited Williams in prison.
"She used to tell me that she wasn't going anywhere until I came home," he said. "She kept her promise."
And he's determined to keep his. He's looking for a full-time job, preferably on the graveyard shift so he can continue to work with CeaseFire. He wants to save up for a car, which he said would make him eligible to be a full-time outreach worker for the organization. He still dreams of filling up the convention center as an anti-violence speaker.
But lately, he's been thinking a lot about something Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder and executive director of the anti-violence group Mothers in Charge, told him after he first got out.
"I love your passion," he recalled her saying. "I see it all the time. You know what's missing? Consistency."
On Twitter: @NotesFromHel