Today we’d like to introduce you to Antwan Williams.
Hi Antwan, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
My name is Antwan “Banks” Williams, and I was raised in South Central Los Angeles. I am the youngest of three siblings. My mother and father are both artists, and I inherited my creative gene from them both. My father had a passion for music, so he played many instruments, but he also loved painting and drawing. My mother was an educator who also had a passion for praying and sculptors. I remember my mother having boxes of clay that she would eventually carve and mold into something extraordinary. But unfortunately, like many families in the inner city, my family was struck with addiction that led us down a tough road.
As I grew into my teenage years, I became more distant from family and closer to friends and the streets. As I suspect, for many young men of color in LA, life outside of the home compounded preexisting and unprocessed traumas. The feeling of hopelessness, grief, powerlessness, and needing to be seen, validated, valued, heard, and respected became my excuse to commit a crime. I was soon arrested, and at the age of 20, I was sentenced to 15 in prison for armed robbery.
While in prison, I faced the same struggles and feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, and the need to be seen, heard, and respected. Still, through art, poetry, and music, I started to unpack, address and process core issues with my identity. I co-created a now award-winning podcast, Ear Hustle, towards the end of my sentence. The podcast covers the nuanced daily lives of incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated, involved, or impacted by the carceral system, reaching over 50 million downloads worldwide. After my release from prison, I continued to create art and music, performing locally around the Bay Area. I made an art exhibition at USF and still work as a sound designer and sound engineer for the podcast.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
My journey has not been smooth. Change is challenging, but it is necessary for growth. Some of my struggles came when I desired agency. After 13 years in prison, where your everything and everyday life are controlled by someone else, your need for freedom and control is exacerbated. I struggled with finding my voice as an artist, my role as a man, and a path that’s best to take to become successful. I struggled secretly and quietly. But my commitment to my authentic self and my family is stronger than the traumas that follow me.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am most proud of co-creating the podcast Ear Hustle. The show has done so much good for people who have served time. It has brought created conversation around incarceration, it has brought insight into the reality of some prisons. The podcast has created a platform for the voiceless. It will forever be something I am most proud of. I don’t think anything I have done sets me apart. Simply because I am not the exception, I am the reflection. I am like so many others who come from LA.
What matters most to you? Why?
The thing that matters most to me is being grounded. I grew up so unsure of what the future would look like; I was so unsure of who I was or who I wanted to be; I was in prison and uncertain if I would live to see my release date; I was so unsure of my value and placement so much that I had no real foundation. Being grounded is so important because it makes me in tune with who I am. When I am grounded, I don’t question my worth and value; I don’t seek or need external validation. I’m not enticed by worldly recognition or driven by outside influences. Being grounded makes me present in every blessing that I’m afforded; being grounded makes me appreciate all I am and all I have been through.
Antwan Williams, Eddie Herena