Williams, Len 1937-
WILLIAMS, Len 1937-
Male. Born 1937, on Prince Edward Island, Canada.
Retail industry consultant and chief executive officer (CEO) of retail companies in Canada, New Zealand, Belgium, and the United States, including president of Caldor; CEO of Gold Circle; CEO of Lion-Nathan's retail operations, New Zealand; president of Coca-Cola New Zealand; president of J. C. Penney; president and CEO of Pic 'n' Save Corporation, beginning 1990.
Justice Deferred: A Novel, Welcome Rain (New York, NY), 2002.
Retail executive Len Williams wrote his first novel, Justice Deferred, after a bizarre real-life experience made him aware of the injustice of the "three-strike" rule adopted by some twenty states, in which petty criminals can go to prison for life after committing three felonies. In many cases, these are small-time property crimes, such as shoplifting. The life sentences, which cost taxpayers thousands of dollars a year per prisoner, result in an overcrowding of prisons that sometimes requires the release of violent criminals to keep nonviolent ones behind bars.
Williams learned of the problem in 1989, he told Channing Joseph, of PW Daily for Booksellers, when a criminal in Alabama confessed to the kidnapping of Williams' seventeen-year-old son, Michael, who had been missing since 1980. The prisoner claimed he had murdered Michael and buried him in a swamp. Williams, posing as an FBI agent in order to conceal his identity, accompanied police to the swamp, where the criminal would supposedly lead them to the body of his son. The confession turned out to be a lie, however, and the criminal tried to escape while in the swamp, but failed. He had made up the story to escape life imprisonment on the three-strike rule, which, said Williams, was used in a frame-up of the man by local officers who lured men into multiple-felony theft charges. The man had seen Williams's son's picture on a milk carton and decided to use the information to plan an escape. His plight inspired Williams to write Justice Deferred. Williams told Joseph that the incident gave him "the idea to humanize the 'three-strikes' issue through the medium of a novel" and that he "wanted to reverse the roles of the prosecutor and the prosecuted."
In the novel, Mobile, Alabama, native Billy Ray Billings is a petty criminal who serves a short prison sentence for theft and then, once out, rejoins his old crowd and is arrested again. This time, two police officers fraudulently tack on an extra felony charge, activating the three-strike rule and putting Billy behind bars for life. While in prison, he is befriended by his cellmate, Leonard, who helps Billy get into a secret education program. Then Billy sees a picture of a missing boy on a milk carton and, just as the Alabama criminal did in real life, confesses to the crime and plans his escape. In Williams's novel, the plan succeeds, and Billy flees to Mississippi, changes his name, and after working for a dry cleaner and writing court news for a local paper, earns a college law degree. When he becomes an assistant district attorney in Jackson, he vows to go after the two Alabama officers who put him behind bars.
Williams told Joseph that he hopes the novel will help police officers understand that they "need to make more of an effort to see themselves as the public does. Their job is to protect and defend, not to act as prosecutors and judges." He was hopeful that publicity from the novel would create new leads about his son, who remained missing.
A contributor to Publishers Weekly commented that Williams "gets bogged down a bit" in the details of the officers' trial, but that "the combination of dialogue-driven scenes and surprising plot twists is downright addictive." The contributor concluded that Williams had done a rare thing: master both the prison fiction and legal thriller genres in a first novel. Russ Isabella, in a review for DeadlyPleasures.com, called Justice Deferred "at once a prison novel, a courtroom drama, a story of redemption and a clever puzzle.… An impressive and original first novel."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Publishers Weekly, November 4, 2002, review of Justice Deferred, p. 62.
PW Daily for Booksellers, January 10, 2003, Channing Joseph, "Debut Novelist Len Williams Seeks Justice through Fiction."