A mother's love is a powerful thing.
I was reminded of just how much on Friday afternoon after Imelda Williams, the ailing mother of disgraced former Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams, let me know in no uncertain terms that she wants her son released from jail to visit her for what could well be the last time.
"I just want to see my son," she told me.
I got to chat with Imelda by phone after a woman who described herself as a Williams family "insider" called to complain about a recent column in which I wrote that Seth Williams shouldn't be let out of the Federal Detention Center where he is being held in solitary confinement to see his mother and get his affairs in order, as his attorney recently requested. Insisting I was wrong, the caller, who asked not to be identified, said, "This isn't about Seth" but about an 85-year-old woman who probably wouldn't live to see her son complete his five-year federal prison term.
Williams is entitled to one visitor a week, but his mother can't visit him, the friend said, because she lacks the required government identification. Imelda, who has Parkinson's disease and is confined to a nursing home, reportedly can't find her birth certificate or her Social Security card, and she doesn't have a driver's license. At my request, the friend used three-way calling to loop Imelda in on our conversation. We spoke only briefly, but she made her desires perfectly clear.
"I'd like to see my son," Imelda said. "If I don't do nothing but see him, that's all right,"
She couldn't recall the last time the son she had adopted as a toddler had visited her. "I don't remember when it was. It was in the past six months. … I don't know exactly when it was. I don't remember anymore, really."
In June, Williams' bail was revoked and he was abruptly taken into custody after unexpectedly pleading guilty during his federal bribery and corruption trial.
On Tuesday, Williams was back in court, where U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond gave the city's first African American DA the maximum sentence of five years and called him a "criminal" who "fed his face at the trough" of public money. He also slammed Williams for dumping his mother "like a sack of potatoes" and stealing money intended for her nursing-home care.
Diamond also addressed Williams' recent request, made through his attorney Thomas Burke, to be released so he could see his mother and also take care of some personal business before being assigned to the federal prison camp where he'll serve out his sentence.
"The English language doesn't have the words to capture the outrageousness of that request," the judge railed. "The defendant stole from his mother, and now he wants to visit her?"
Imelda told me that she'd taken it upon herself to write to the judge in advance of the sentencing.
"I don't remember what I said, but I sent a letter to him and so did other people. The pastor from my church did the same thing. They are well-aware of what's going on," she said, referring to court officials. "I'd like to see [Seth]. … He didn't do anything to me."
At that I stopped Imelda, noting court testimony that her son took some of her money.
"I don't know anything about that," Imelda said firmly. "I don't have nothing to say about that. Seth has never been a problem for me. He's never been a problem child for me."
I asked, "He was a good son?"
"You've got that right," Imelda said.
"You miss him?"
"Of course I do," she replied. "And I'm going to get off this telephone."
I wished her good health and she hung up.