Claire's Letter to Judge White

Judge Jeffrey White
U.S. District Court
Philip Burton Federal Building
San Francisco, CA

Dear Judge White,

I am writing this letter to you from Cambodia, in hopes of extending some insight into all that my father means for those who know him. I sincerely hope you will consider some of these thoughts in your decision about Lance Williams and the BALCO case.

I work as an anthropologist and travel writer, and have been traveling since completing my undergraduate and graduate degrees at Stanford University several years ago. However, during the spring of 2006, the planets collided and I found myself sharing the log cabin – the loving nickname for the Berkeley slip of a house I was born and raised in – with my father and mother for five months. I had not spent that much time at home in seven years, and was thrilled to be present when people became interested in Game of Shadows, and then began to even buy the thing.

As the firstborn, my entire life has been a long series of questions from my father’s friends and colleagues about how it is to be the child of such an unusual specimen. Indeed, my father succeeds at becoming a character in the lives of anyone he truly befriends, and those who love him say that there never will be another quite the same. This is true, of course.

At the age of ten, Lance Williams named his younger brother-to-be after the cartoon character of a cowboy he loved. That same year, he met my mother, another Cincinnatian. Ten years later, after first discovering the mountains of California, they married. My father, today, is a man who makes his journalism students take the life histories of Berkeley’s homeless on their first day of class, and a man who plants redwood trees in empty lots and makes his adult children visit them with him because he actually believes this to be entertaining.

Because people are complicated, and he is one of them, there are many stories to tell about Lance. Here is one, and it is about the gifts he gives.

Lance Williams is particularly known for his presents. They are never wrapped, they are usually used, and they are hard pressed to explain themselves. The only thing that ties them together is that they might make the recipient smile. But he spends more hours creating presents for people than anyone I have ever known. And, similar to the way it feels when Lance is genuinely impressed with you, it feels marvelous to receive.

There are many examples of this. At Christmas, my father hosts a game he calls “Furno Swap,” in which he varnishes pieces of pathetic old furniture he finds on the street, and each family member is allowed to pick one – a magazine stand, a new night table, a coat rack. It’s nutty, and no one wants the furniture of course, even though he tells us it has been given new life. He regularly gives homemade beer, jam, yogurt, or mystery sauces to the neighbors. They come with personalized labels on them that make no sense, and no one ever understands. On a regular basis, he buys my mother new Neon Tetras for the kitchen aquarium, even though no one in the house cares about the aquarium, because we decided long ago that fish are boring. Most importantly, though, my father keeps such a detailed daily diary of his children’s lives that no major occasion passes without reading the entry of the same birthday or graduation or holiday some five, ten, or fifteen years before.

In return, I give my father a paper bag of twenty books on his birthday each year. I find them at used book stores, and garage sales, and the twenty five cent tables at the library. The books cover a wide range of topics, but all fall under the main category of Esoterica, because he will read anything. And we sit there, with the angel food cake that my mother has made, and the bag of books, and I watch him look at each one and pretend they are worth something. Because he says you can find something in value in all of them.

When I was living at home in the spring of 2006, I watched my father do all these types of things; wake up at five in the morning to garden, circle and make notes on the most ridiculous articles in the day’s paper, and read his endless books. Then he would go to work, and I would watch the news shows he appeared on, reminding him when possible to take off the wristwatch he used to measure the altitude when we went backpacking. He traveled a lot as well, and I got to go with him at times. Most notably, I was there in New York City before the David Letterman appearance for Game of Shadows, when, to my shock, he swallowed ten entire pieces of gum in close succession. He was nervous, I suppose, and later said he thought it was candy.

Being in the Bay Area last year was an exciting chance to share in something that was entirely unexpected for my family. To have a father so passionate about his work has always been inspiring, and to see the rewards of such efforts could not have been more wonderful. Now, though, my family faces a more sobering reality.

With the decision before you, I am reminded of a poem that I carry with me. My father gave it to me seven years ago, the night before I went to college, when he took the family out to dinner at a typically bizarre Lance favorite in San Francisco. The present that night was a book of poems by Richard Brautigan, The Pill Versus the Springfield Mine Disaster. The book was old, and ratty, and it looked like he had found it on the sidewalk, which is entirely possible.

This is poem he had circled, in his off balance left handed reporter’s script:

Boo, Forever

Spinning like a ghost
on the bottom of a

I'm haunted by all
the space that I
will live without

It stays with me always, and so, in Cambodia, it is here as I write this. In this life, I know I will be lucky if I can become like him. A person who is kind, a person who plants things in the garden every day, a person who always remembers the details of those close to him, and a person who writes so that people will hear him.

Sometimes, I dream that I am getting there. That remains to be seen, of course, as I am young and life is long. Please do not send him to prison for the work he loves.

I thank you for reading this.


Claire A. Williams

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