On September 2, 2001, Willie Campbell came to the Star Gospel Mission upon release from serving 5 years at Lieber Correctional Institution. Willie was in his mid-50’s when he arrived and had already served over half his lifetime behind bars. Willie’s life story is not unlike that of other men who have resided at the Mission. What follows is Willie’s story, in his own words.
“It all began when I was 11 years old and stole an apple. Then I stole candy bars and cakes and other things from grocery stores. When I was 12 I was locked up as a juvenile. It was ‘ON’ then; I liked the excitement and the adrenaline rush. Even before I went to prison I was referred to as: Willie Monster. I didn’t take no trash from anyone. I always started trouble and it always ended in trouble. I went from stealing, to strong armed robbery with no weapon, and then I got together with some guys and started doing armed robbery. One guy ratted on me and I got 2 years. I was on a chain gang when I was 15 years old. Six hours after my release I went over to King Street, beat up a guy, stole his watch, and was back in jail the very same day. My step-father paid the bond and bailed me out. I got a job and one year later lost it.
I went back to burglary and got put away for 12 years; that was from 1969-1981. I did what I had to do to survive in prison. In 1975 I got in a riot against some guys from Greenville. I got stabbed in the back. For that incident I got an extra five years. My younger brother got incarcerated in ‘75 and I chilled out. My brother got out before me, but he messed with drugs and ended up getting killed on the streets.”
Willie told me that the name Monster made him do the things he did, he felt that he had to live up to that name. “I asked myself, am I really that bad? Men feared me, especially if there was any trouble. When a guy got in trouble; I took up the challenge. I put a blade in ‘em or took a pipe to ‘em. I lived in fear everyday I was in prison! Six months before I got out in ‘81, workin’ in the storage room of the cafeteria, one man started talkin’ crazy talk, so I walked off, but the man slapped me. I forgave him. I didn’t retaliate because I wanted to go home. This man wanted me to retaliate because he was serving a life-sentence with no parole. “When I did get out, I got a good job with Rucon Construction. We built the College of Charleston gymnasium and the pier on Morrison Drive. 18 months later I went out one night and started drinkin’. I went to a club, then to a gamblin’ house and lost everything. I just started walkin’. At the corner of Ashley and Bee Street I forced myself into a house. I went through a first floor window. I stole a stereo, a TV and a gun, which I sold. I started gamblin’ again. I walked home with the TV in my arms and the police stopped me. I made the mistake of telling them my REAL name. One week later I was arrested at work, was eventually tried, and got a 25 year sentence. That was in 1982.
I finally got out in 1994. I was now in my 40’s. I worked at MUSC from 94-96. I was a floor specialist. I got my own place and worked the graveyard shift. I met a guy named Hammer who had some drugs and a real nice place. A week later I was selling drugs out of his house on Felix Street. I was doin’ drugs and drinkin’ every night. One night my boss asked me to do two additional floors, plus the floors in the OR. I told him that I wouldn’t do it, so he asked me to go home. I found out later that I hadn’t been fired but I guess I thought I was, so I never returned.”
“From January ‘96 through July ‘96, the police kicked the door of our house in three times. One time two guys came to the door and I wouldn’t let them in. They pushed the barrel of a rifle through the crack in the door; the rifle wasn’t loaded. I got out my 44 Magnum, threatened them, and they left. Two weeks later the police slipped in and hid under the stairs. I was upstairs where people were partying and doin’ lots of drugs. I had an ounce of crack cocaine in my pocket when the house got raided.”
Following that incident, Willie went to county jail and lost everything in the process. He was in county jail for 9 months. Scarlett Wilson was the prosecutor at the time and wanted to give him 20 years. His lawyer told him that he could get that reduced to 10 years. When he appeared in court he admitted everything. He said that he was done lying. He told the judge that he couldn’t do the 20 years because it would just kill him. The judge gave him 10 years plus five years for additional charges. He only had to serve 5 years before being released. Willie said, “God just had to be lookin’ out for me.”
While at Lieber Correctional Institution Willie realized that “something was missin’. A guy named Stacey Ford talked me into going to a Bible study. I got involved with Kairos and His Way Ministry. The road to destruction had to come to an end. I knew God had other plans for me. On September 2, 2001, I came to the Star Gospel Mission. I got a job at Labor Ready and shortly thereafter got a job at Glasco Roofing Company. I worked there for six years before they shut down and I lost my job. By me stayin’ at the Star Gospel Mission I was able to save money and I had the time to think about how I wanted to live the rest of my life. I thank God that He gave me another chance to start over again. This time I was determined to get things right!”
At the conclusion of our conversation, Willie told me that “There are no troubles in my life right now because I’ve got God in my life. I feel His presence with me every day. When I left the Mission I got my own place and started going to church. I met a wonderful Christian woman, Wilhamena, at Springfield Baptist Church. In November of 2002 we were married. In 2007 I lost my job again. Thanks to you (Pastor Christian) and Jack Abbott, I got a new job at the Meeting Street Days Inn. I believe that when one door closes, God always opens another. I do my best to be a man of my word, and my word is my bond. By the grace of God I’m a new person now. What I want to tell everyone, especially the men at the Mission, is this: Just find out who God is! When you find God and He finds you, He will make things right in your life. He sure did in mine!”
Based on a conversation Willie had with Pastor Christian on August 5, 2008.