William Wilder is no kingpin. In fact, he did not even sell drugs. In 2018, he bought 14.3 grams of methamphetamine from a confidential informant. And now he’s in prison for a first-degree felony for trafficking. There is a very, very long distance between Pablo Escobar and William Wilder. Yet because of .4 grams, in the eyes of the criminal justice system, William is a “drug trafficker.”
If he had bought just .4 grams less (13.9 grams), William would have been charged with a third-degree felony for drug possession. With that charge, in all likelihood he would not be in prison today; he would have been diverted to drug treatment, drug court, or probation. Instead, his charge was “trafficking in methamphetamine (14 grams or more),” and this first-time offender is now in prison, in the middle of a pandemic, for three years.
William was born in Madisonville, Kentucky, in 1995, the youngest of five kids. He was the only boy, and as one of his sisters puts it, “the baby.” “I always had good grades in school and was a pretty quiet kid,” William says now. His sister Amanda says he has always been “a thoughtful person who brings a great energy to those around him … He has a love of animals that we have connected over and he would take in every last one in the world if he could because he has such a big heart.”
When he was a toddler, his parents divorced. He homeschooled for high school, living with his dad. “I worked hard and thought about joining the military all my life. I always wanted to serve my country. When I was 21, I signed up for the Navy alongside my then wife.”
It was then that William badly injured his back and became hooked on pain medication. He was relieved of duty, started physical therapy and hurt his back further, and his marriage deteriorated. He fell into a deep depression, and his promising future narrowed to managing his pain with increasing amounts of drugs. As the doctors stopped prescribing pills, in desperation, William turned to buying them illegally.
He ending up connecting with a dealer, who he later found out was an undercover officer. “When I got in his car to exchange the money, I was immediately met with 15 guys in ski masks, with guns pointed at me as they dragged me out of the car.”
Law enforcement special interest groups often claim that only repeat offenders go to prison, that first-time offenders are diverted to drug treatment. Nobody, they say, goes to prison unless they have a long record. But that’s just not what happened here.
He was free for almost two years on bond, and he got sober and stayed that way, managing his pain as best he could with the support of his family and his girlfriend. He worked making phone calls for a veterans’ charity.
Law enforcement special interest groups often claim that only repeat offenders go to prison, that first-time offenders are diverted to drug treatment. Nobody, they say, goes to prison unless they have a long record. But that’s just not what happened here. William was an excellent candidate for diversion and treatment; instead he got prison time, after pleading no contest to a three-year mandatory minimum and taking a plea deal for three years.
Prison life is pretty bleak, William says. “Life in prison is simply boring. Too much down time, not much to do. The people I’m around are a mixed bag. Lockdown happens a lot. Stabbings are plentiful here. Sometimes it can be worrisome. My family and my girlfriend are keeping me sane and hopeful in a time like this.”
His mother, Mary, lives in Tennessee. “I’m upset all the time. I stress about something happening while he’s in there, either by another inmate or by himself because I hear all kinds of things.” Fortunately, she has channeled much of her anger and despair into advocacy. Mary joined the FAMMilies in Action Facebook group and has been an active member, encouraging her other kids to join and take part. “I saw that you could fight to change the laws, and that sounded good to me. I understand in the beginning the intentions of the war on drugs – to get the big drug dealers. But it’s so blanketed that they’re getting the people that have the drug addictions, like my son. He was only buying, not selling.”
William tries to stay positive, too. “I stay out of trouble by keeping mostly to myself and focusing on what I’m supposed to do and reminding myself this isn’t forever.”
When he is released, he plans to go to college for information technology and computer science, and return to working for the veterans’ charity he was with before.
“This will sound silly but I’m mostly looking forward to doing simple things like going to the grocery store, driving, and watching a movie all the way through and being able to actually hear it. And peace and quiet.”
Meanwhile, Mary has some good advice. “I would tell other families going through the same thing: Be there for your loved one, even though you may not like or understand what it is that they’ve done. You still need to be there for them and do what you can to fight for them. They’re helpless in there. We’re out here where we can do something.”
Think it’s unfair that William is a “drug trafficker” in the eyes of the law? Join FAMM and help us work for reform.
NAME: William Wilder
SENTENCE: three-year mandatory minimum
OFFENSES: trafficking methamphetamine 14 grams or over
YEAR SENTENCED: 2020
AGE AT SENTENCING: 24
PROJECTED RELEASE: 11/21/2022