Paying the price

Daniela Caride | 10/29/2008, 4:20 a.m.

“It got to the point where I was smoking [crack] before I went to work, and I was smoking after I came home from work,” he said.

“And over the years it got to the point where, after a failed marriage, I was drinking more. And after I drank, I wanted cocaine. And after I did the cocaine, I wanted a drink. Cocaine would take me up and I wanted a drink to bring me down.”

Williams’ life became unmanageable. He can’t count the number of times he took the train from Lawrence into Boston to smoke hundreds of dollars worth of crack, returning home only when he’d run out of money.

“I realized I wasn’t handling my business, I was no longer following through on interviews,” he said. “I’d promise to write a song for somebody and forget about it.”

In the 1980s, Williams quit the entertainment business and started working in different jobs, looking for a way out of his addiction. He worked as an engineering inspector, raised funds for the Special Olympics and attended several substance abuse programs, with no success.

“It was not that the program didn’t fix me — I didn’t fix me,” he said. “I came to the programs and it was in my head already — what I was gonna do when I get out of there … I wasn’t trying to help myself. You have to be ready.”

More personal and health problems piled up for Williams in the 1990s. His second marriage ended, he suffered injuries sustained in a fall from the icy stairs of a bus and experienced frequent seizures, the result of undiagnosed epilepsy.

And he kept drinking. Sometimes Williams would wake up naked or with no shoes. Sometimes he would be on the floor, in a shelter, or in jail.

“During the time when they kept putting me in the nuthouse, I started thinking, ‘Well, maybe I am crazy,’” he said. “So I drank even more.”

From drinking half a pint of vodka daily, Williams went to a pint, then a fifth, and then a half-gallon. By that time, he was rarely eating and hardly ever changed his clothes.

“It seems like I was always in bed, and the jug would be sitting by the bed,” he said. “I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t have to think of anything. I didn’t feel sad or hurt when I was drunk.”

Looking back, he knows that was “the wrong way to try to solve” his problems, and that entering counseling would have been the best thing for him. But at the time, he “knew nothing about that.”

What Williams did know about was getting high, regardless of the risks involved. The pursuit taught him something else: Where there are drugs, there’s violence.

One day, he remembered, he was “getting high in a crack house” when a bullet darted through the wall.

“We looked, and went on doing what we were doing — getting high,” he said. “We just didn’t care.”