William Sims

Sims—William Sims, 82, on June 26, 2015, in Syracuse, N.Y. Bill was born on September 26, 1933, in Yazoo City, Miss. He led a rich and fruitful life in spite of his long confinement in maximum security prisons, having served 43 years of a life sentence. Poplar Ridge (N.Y.) Meeting’s acceptance and welcome of him into membership was a special source of joy both for him and for the meeting.

He first attended meeting for worship in 1975 inside Auburn Prison in the first ever meeting for worship held in any New York state prison. He became a faithful attender and supporter of the worship group in Auburn Prison and served as clerk for many years. In 1978 Farmington-Scipio Regional Meeting granted preparative meeting status to the group. That same year, he attended an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop at Auburn. In subsequent years he facilitated workshops and provided the communication and trust building essential to the program’s success. Bill was a pioneer. There are active AVP programs in 18 New York state prisons and Quaker worship groups in 11 New York state prisons today. Prison administrators and guards, prisoners, and Quaker/AVP volunteers all trusted him. He developed close friendships with many outside Friends in the region.

He had no power, no resources, and limited contacts and telephone calls. But with the power suggested by the Quaker quote, “Let us see what love can do,” he earned a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and a master’s degree from University of Buffalo while in prison. He developed remarkable artistic skill and liked to send handmade greeting cards to his friends, always writing his message on an insert and leaving the inside blank so that the friend could use it as new. He met, courted, and married Dorothy Gowin, a member of Syracuse (N.Y.) Meeting.

Dorothy died before Bill. He is survived by two children, Darrell Sims (Marianne) and Anola Gowin; two grandchildren; five brothers, Robert Ratliff (Lillian), Larry Johnson, Elester Johnson, Richard Johnson, and Robert Sims; and four sisters, Clara Johnson, Artena Ahammer, Synetta Sleet, and Mary Lela Sims.

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