Released from San Quentin, Troy Williams Builds a New Life in Video Production


Left to right: Publisher Paul Cobb and Troy Williams hold up a Post edition of Cobb's visit with San Quentin News at the Post offices. Photos by Ashley Chambers.

Left to right: Publisher Paul Cobb and Troy Williams hold up a Post edition of Cobb’s visit with San Quentin News at the Post offices. Photos by Ashley Chambers.

Just two months after being released from San Quentin for model behavior, Troy Williams sits in the offices of The Post newspapers eager to share his story and spread a positive message to young men on the streets.

A former gang member, Williams was raised in Southern California, often resorting to violence to resolve his conflicts. Since then, however, he has evolved.

After serving 18 years of a life sentence in prison, he has reached a new level of consciousness, gained skills in many different trades, and found his niche behind the lens doing film.

Two months ago, he was sitting next to Paul Cobb in prison as the Post publisher talked with staff from the San Quentin News. He and Cobb exchanged family histories and how they both had family roots in Mississippi. He told Cobb he wanted to connect to the Private Industry Council’s Re-Entry Program to find gainful employment.

Now Williams is free to pursue his dream.

Cobb asked him to video the swearing-in ceremony of the Oakland Mayor, councilmembers and school board members.

While in San Quentin, Williams often read the Hollywood Reporter. He attended film school classes offered at the prison offered by the Discovery Channel and award-winning documentarian Bruce Sinofsky, Pepe Urquijo, David Arquette, Joe Berlinger, Tim Mack, and Delroy Lindo.

The six-week class taught nine inmates how to use video cameras to tell stories through film. The story of this class was highlighted in a documentary, “San Quentin Film School.”

When they left, the film crew donated equipment to the prison so inmates to continue to practice their new skills.

That experience helped spark Williams’ desire to produce a show.

“I’ve always had a passion and desire to do film,” he said. “I realized how much work actually goes into trying to produce a show.”

After learning the basics of video editing and how to film a short movie, Williams started to cover events inside the prison. In 2010, he founded “The San Quentin Prison Report,” a video and radio show that aired inside the prison.

Initially starting as a one-man production team, he covered self-help groups as well as other events and interviewed many people including Judge Thelton Henderson, Gavin Newsom, as well as Warden Robert L. Ayers, who supported Williams’ project.

“My whole goal was to figure out a way to reach the outside world. I was trying to use media as a tool for change to get people to see a different side of who we were, and to see that people can change,” Williams said.

“A lot of the guys in there are not the same person that they were 20-plus years ago, but that’s all you see in mainstream media – the horror stories,” he said.

Williams started teaching other inmates how to tell stories first through radio, with the help of Nigel Poor, associate professor of the Department of Design at Sacramento State, and Holly Kernan, news director at KALW 91.7FM.

“We had to figure out tactful ways to get the message out,” said Williams. “They don’t have a right to know, they have a duty to know what’s going on in prison,” he added, recounting what Warden Ayers told him while in prison.

Producing the show in an effort to shift the perception of inmates also had the effect of changing Williams in the process.

“I live, eat and breathe video. It gave me a voice,” Williams explained, having started his own company, 4 North 22, this year.

“If I want to be heard and I want my message to be received, I had to tailor my message differently, and that had to translate into everything that I do in life. Communication is not just what I’m saying, but how it’s being received.”

“That means that I have to understand my audience,” he said. “My audience was not only the men in blue inside the prison, but I’m speaking to the youngster on the street and, ultimately, I’m speaking to the prison administration that has approved these messages.”

Williams currently works as a production assistant with a Hill & Company Communications and is currently working on a documentary film, “Crying Sideways.” The film profiles 17 young men in prison who were sentenced to life as juveniles, with the goal of saving other young men walking down the wrong path.

Visit to support the film.

Williams says he is looking for the following equipment for his company: a Macbook Pro laptop and Apple desktop computer, a 5D Canon camera, tripod, zoom recorder, lavalier set, microphones, lighting kit, video editing and audio editing software.

“Imagine sitting in a cell for 20 years just holding onto a dream, that when I get out I can build my own company, and I can speak these messages that I want to speak to the world. You wait so long to be able to have a voice. Now, I’m here,” said Williams.

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