Willie Lloyd died last week at the age of 64.
Unless you were a gangbanger on the West Side of Chicago or a police officer or federal agent tracking him, his name won’t ring a bell.
But if you were some poor soul who got in his way when he was climbing the ladder of the Vice Lords and lived, you quake at the memory.
Small, tightly wound and messianic, Willie Lloyd was dangerous at an early age.
When I heard he was dead, I dialed an old friend.
“I was working as a prison guard at the Illinois Youth Department of Corrections in Joliet back in the ’60s,” remembered Richard English. “He was approximately 15 and I was in my 20s. . . . He was always standoffish, created a lot of problems for me. He was a tough little guy. . . . Tougher than most.”
Lloyd would graduate from juvenile incarceration to Cook County Jail.Richard English would rise to warden of Division One, the toughest section of that jail.
English has known thousands of would-be tough guys in his 78 years. But Lloyd, for all the wrong reasons, stood out.
Back in 1992, after doing time for killing an Iowa state trooper and a weapons charge, Lloyd strutted out of prison like a rock star. A gang caravan of limousines met the self-proclaimed “King of Kings” at the Logan Correctional Center. He wore new clothes for the ride home: leather pants and a fur coat.
Back in Chicago, he was back in business until prison called again. After a couple of assassination attempts, Lloyd claimed to have had an epiphany. Renounced violence. Spoke to student groups.
And then in 2003, he was gunned down walking his dogs in Garfield Park. In his last 12 years, he lived his life as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, unable to move his arms or legs.
While I believe in redemption, I’ve never quite been convinced of his.
Nor has Warden English.
“Once a guy is shot and he’s old and he’s been through what Lloyd has been through, it’s kind of late,” said the warden.
And yet, if there is a funeral, the warden tells me he’s likely to go.
“Not to honor anybody,” he answers firmly. “I don’t give them honor because they haven’t earned it. But to keep in touch with ex-offenders. A lot of them out here are like my children.”
And a lot of those “children” are now broken down, busted out old men. I’ve watched the warden, over the years, quietly hand burned out gangbangers a few bucks for a hamburger.
They have no skills, no jobs, no education. And now, no young years left to rebound.
As the City Council Finance committee meets on Monday to denounce Spike Lee’s movie, “Chirac,” for making Chicago look bad, it might be useful to consider why, like Iraq, some of our neighborhoods resemble failed states.
No matter what name we call them.
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