Free Lance: Hearing Today on Sentencing

In San Francisco, Judge Jeffrey White will decide today if Lance Williams (Claire's dad) and partner Mark Fainaru-Wada (who walks and talks like Nicholas Cage) have to go to jail for eighteen months. This is what the prosecution is asking the judge for. Mark, Lance, the SF Chronicle and the Hearst Corporation will be asking for a lesser sentence including weekend incarceration and house arrest. Please be thinking of this today and send positive energy to all involved.

To be informed, there are four articles today in the SF Chronicle . We do not have words for the dissapointment in this unexpected turn of events from out here in Cambodia, but suffice it say that today's front pages also included articles about the All American Doper's latest homeruns.

If you only read one thing, let it be the Letter from the Editor of the SF Chronicle, Phil Bronstein (yes, the same former husband of Sharon Stone), in which he makes the excellent point that: " Isn't the world slightly upside down when illegal drug users are heroes, but reporters are sent to jail for work that curtails that drug use?"

Finally, all the big important people, and Lance's kids, wrote letters to Judge Jeffrey White. They give insight into who Lance is as a person, and why we want to keep him around. Here are a couple of them - Claire's letter and Court's letter. (These letters are actually in the comments section - because Cambodia also blocks us from this blog and life is limited.)


Claire and Lara said...

Letter from Claire

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

Courtney Fairbanks said...

Judge Jeffrey S. White
United States District Court
Re: Grand Jury Subpoenas to Mark Fainaru-Wada and
Lance Williams, Case # CR06-90225MISC JSW

Dear Judge White:

I sincerely appreciate your attention concerning Lance
Williams, Mark Fainaru-Wada, and BALCO. This case has
certainly captured the interest of millions of people
in our country, and beyond; however, few of those
people know Lance Williams for his unique humor,
gentle kindness, brilliant storytelling, and
adventurous outdoorsmanship.

Technically speaking, Lance has been in my life even
before I was born. The earliest story I remember
hearing of Lance was while my mother was studying
abroad in Italy during college. At that point, my
mother was already best friends with Barbara, who a
few years later would become Lance’s wife. Lance
visited my mother in Italy, providing endless
entertainment and laughs, and in return, my mother
gave Lance hard-boiled eggs, and lots of them.
Because, you see, hard-boiled eggs were easy to
confiscate from my mother’s dormitory cafeteria, and
Lance was hungry, or so I have been told.

Lance and his wife Barbara were my parents’ best
friends. And every year my family and Lance’s family
took backpacking trips together in the summer, and
skiing trips together in the winter. Instead of a
skiing trip in late 1995, Lance spoke at my mother,
father, and younger sister’s funeral, after their
sudden death in a car accident. But even before that
day, Lance was a second father to me, and today he
continues to be an endless provider of support and
love, particularly when I recently got my first job as
a family therapist at The Starting Place, Inc. in
Plantation, Florida.

The most practical thing Lance taught me was how to
play Capture the Flag during backpacking trips to Joe
Crane Lake. Capture the Flag consisted of, well, lots
of running until you captured the flag from the other
team. The flag was not any flag, but one of Lance’s
hankies. Lance is very environmental, and using
Kleenex was, and still is, according to Lance, an
inappropriate waste of paper. During breaks from our
endless Capture the Flag games, Lance told stories.
Stories about lost cowboys, and bears eating horses,
and hikers finding their way through severe

There were numerous occasions that Lance woke us up
with a “the water is getting cold,” meaning if we did
not emerge from our tent momentarily, we would not get
any hot oatmeal cereal for breakfast. Lance is smart,
and we were young and did not realize that the propane
stove could have easily been turned back on for two
minutes to re-heat the water. Lance liked to educate
us, but I think we were too young to realize it. One
thing he taught us was how to build rock toilets, and
the building of those rock toilets provided an
opportunity for Lance to talk to us about our
responsibility to maintain the wilderness’s magic and

One backpacking trip to Joe Crane Lake, Lance forgot
his pants. But he didn’t care. He wore thermal
underwear under a pair of shorts when it got cold.
Lance is just like this, a unique, intelligent, and
funny man who can always find a way to make a great
story and educate others. Please do not send Lance to
jail for telling an educational story.


Courtney Fairbanks

Lana said...

wow girls, aaaaawesome letters. they both got me teary eyed. i'm going to wear my save lance tshirt tomorrow FOR SURE! and this time i'll really send the pic clarita.

good luck everyone. i'm sending soooo many prayers and positive thoughts your way. LOVE YOU!

Julie said...

My thoughts are with you and your father at this awful time. Very nice letters.

Tim said...

I am praying for them.

Red Tea said...

My support to Claire's father.

Anonymous said...

Lara, I was on myspace and stalked my old winsor friends and foudn you and found this blog and I am having fun reading about your travels!! I will write more later, I have a meeting to get to... (Huh?! how old are we?)

I never met you but my sincere love and best wishes go out today to your family, you and and your father and everyone who this situation effects. Will be sending love and prayers for you guys!

You guys take care and continue having fun, what a great idea this was!
xo, liz hamilton

Justin Smith said...

I'm very sorry to hear the news.

Nick Russell said...

NPR covered the story today and noted how the law in question is a federal law and not a state law; state law apparently shields reporters from such penalties and coercion while the federal government does not.

I mention that factoid because while your father is being treated poorly and unfairly, he is going to prison for a very important reason and for a very important principle.

As the daughter, you and your mother and siblings are sure to be distraught. Imprisonment of any type is unfortunate and painful on all involved. My own father went to prison years ago and regardless of the reasons, assurances of fair treatment and all the other buttresses given, prison f*cking sucks and my heart goes out to you.

However, I spent time with an Indian activist group in India last year and one point they returned to many times was that change and integrity involves standing up for what an individual believes. Simply because a law exists does not mean that law is correct; a verdict or court order is not justice as a flawed system as its most efficient is still flawed. Thus, the activists said, people of conviction may have to go to jail.

The fact that this law is a federal statute is highly relevant because a federal government filled with signing statements and illegal acts of aggression is spending copious energy attacking one of the pillars of a democratic society and that is the transparency of a free press and the anonymity required by their sources. In a perfect world, the transparency of the press would extend to their sources however in our world, anonymity is paradoxically required to maintain transparency of a different measure. There is a sense of irony that the government of Dick Cheney prosecuting individuals for excessive secrecy.

I found this blog by some happenstance and have since kept up out of traveler's envy and admiration of the quality of the writing. At first the connection between BALCO and Claire was a bit vague and amorphous.

Today however, the connection is clear in that your father is a hero for those of us who appreciate good, free journalism. Communication is essential to peace and democracy, to civilization itself. By choosing prison over compromising his ethics, your father is the best illustration of a man standing up. Reading your letter, your father has a great friend in his daughter.

As said, prison is not an easy place for a man and my heart goes out to your family. I was relieved to hear of a stay placed on incarceration until the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals can make a more definitive ruling.

If the court finds in favor of the government, your father's ideals only grow in strength for this case is a mirror in into the state of journalism in this country. While I do not know him nor can I pretend to, a man weak of constitution would have buckled a long time before.

Keep your heads up and get through this together.


diana said...

Sending positive energy and a lot of love over!!! In other news ESPN has a piece on it.

Keep your head up!

SavvySunshine said...


My heart goes out to you and your family. Sending you positive energy (with di!).

That whole incarceration thing sucks (also have a personal experience like Nick's, though on a much smaller level). Hang in there!



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