Gloria Williams 2

Gloria Williams, 73

Gloria "Mama Glo" Williams is Louisiana's longest-serving incarcerated woman. She is also a longtime member of the Drama Club at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, a 24-year-old program. We call her Mama because, in addition to her own five children, she has taken us and hundreds of other women under her wing during her 50 years at LCIW.

On July 22, 2019, the Pardon Board unanimously approved Mama Glo’s clemency appeal. The room was packed with Mama Glo’s loved ones, fans, mentees, Participatory Defense Movement NOLA team members, lawyers and the warden. We all rejoiced! And then we began to wait for Gov. John Bel Edwards to sign the clemency papers.

The clock ticked. Mama Glo was living in an open bunk bed gym where women slept two feet apart, and where 192 out of 195 tested positive for COVID-19. The clock ticked. Mama Glo caught the virus and was transferred to the hospital, where she nearly died. She told us that singing “Life is …” (a song by The Drama Club) gave her the strength to stay alive. The clock ticked. On Mother’s Day, still recovering, she was returned to prison.

And the clock is still ticking. Eleven months after Mama Glo was granted her freedom, she remains in jail. She is 75 years old.

Louisiana's longest serving female inmate hospitalized with coronavirus while clemency request stalls

In one of our Drama Club performances, Gloria stated, “Man can’t give life, only GOD can give life.” Out of the unfair hand she was dealt, growing up black in a state that shifted from the practice of slavery to the practice of mass incarceration, she, inside the hell of prison, found “the peace that passeth all understanding.” And she has shared it, selflessly, with every woman she has counseled. For another performance she wrote: “The spirit is the part of me that man cannot break… it is stronger than anything that can happen to it. In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

Let us bow our heads; take a knee; and breathe.

Our state, and our country are at a crossroads. Solidarity statements are flying out of institutions left and right. Mama Glo’s freedom is an opportunity to move from statement to action. Many of us have been praying for Mama Glo’s freedom for years now. Imagine how much more we can accomplish together, once that prayer has been answered?


co-directors, The LCIW Drama Club and The Graduates

New Orleans