‘Hard to believe’: Freed KC man speaks out after 80-year prison sentence is commuted

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A Kansas City native who served an 80-year prison sentence for burglary is now a free man.

On June 1, Alvis Williams got a call in prison that he’ll never forget. On the line was then Gov. Eric Greitens informing Williams that his sentence had been commuted, and he was going to be a free man after serving 24 years of his 80-year prison term.

“I’m glad I’m here. It’s hard to believe still,” Williams said.

He was locked up at Crossroads Correctional Facility in Cameron, Missouri, since 1994. Jackson County Judge William Peters sentenced Williams to four consecutive 20-year terms for stealing a Walkman, VCR and other small electronics from a home. That's 70 years longer than the maximum possible sentence for the same crime today.

Alvis Williams

“It hurts because you know you’re going to go down a dark alley where you’re expected to let go. But how do you accept that?” Williams said.

During his 24 years in prison, Williams said he met dozens of others who were improperly sentenced or serving time for crimes they didn’t commit.

“Leonard Strickland was a friend of mine," Williams said. "Driving without a licence and getting locked up, the first time ever being in prison, he got a 20-year prison sentence. No different from mine. We had the same type of treatment."

Williams said he now wants to find a way to fight for other victims of injustice.

“Today is what I got to do to change yesterday. Today is what I got to do to stand up against the nights before,” he said.

Latahra Smith has been advocating for Williams’ freedom for years.

“These harsh punishments, these severe sentencing -- it has to stop. To me personally, it’s an abuse of power,” Smith said.

She said unjust sentences are not uncommon, and often times offenders don’t have the resources to get their case reconsidered.

“It would mean they would have to go back into court, and maybe to get back into court, they would have to have legal representation to do that," Smith said. "That costs money. Many times people don’t have the money, so we have people that go to prison. Laws change in the process, and those people are just forgot about."

She said Williams walking free gives her a push to keep going, and she hopes it will send a message of encouragement to others working to achieve freedom, too.

“It gave me hope. As someone that advocates for people who are innocent or wrongly convicted, it gave me hope,” Smith said.

Greitens issued the following statement Friday after commuting Williams and several other people's sentences:

“The ability to make wrong things right for Missourians who have not gotten fair treatment from our criminal justice system is one of the most solemn and precious abilities of a governor. I believe in justice, and I believe that with these actions today, justice will be done."

Williams said his faith in God and the support he’s received from his wife and other advocates on his case, including KC Freedom Project, kept him going all these years.

A Go Fund Me page has been set up to help Williams. You can find it here.