'It Made Me Appreciate Life': Keak Da Sneak Celebrates Prison Release at Rolling Loud

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Keak Da Sneak performs with G-Eazy at Rolling Loud on Sept. 28, 2019. (Phil @ Nug)

Just days after Keak Da Sneak was released from California state prison, he took the stage in Oakland in front of 40,000 cheering fans at the rap festival Rolling Loud, performing his Bay Area anthem "Super Hyphy" during headliner G-Eazy's set.

"I don't think no drug can amount to that feeling of being on stage and thousands of people wanting to see you and happy that you're up there. It's a feeling that I try to describe in words, but it's just like—wow," says the rapper, whose real name is Charles Williams.

It marked a triumphant comeback from a situation that seemed dire six months ago, when Williams was sentenced to 16 months in state custody despite requiring ongoing medical care for various physical disabilities. After turning himself in on April 11, he was released on probation on Sept. 24 thanks to Prop 57, a recent California law that allowed him to earn 66.6% credit on his sentence as a minimum security inmate.

Williams' two-year legal battle stemmed from a 2017 charge of firearm possession as a convicted felon. As he told KQED in January, he carried a gun for protection after surviving a shooting. A police officer in Amador County discovered the firearm after searching his car in a situation Williams described as "racial profiling at an all-time high." During the course of the trial, he survived yet another shooting that left him in a wheelchair and in need of medical care and physical therapy multiple times a week. His sentencing was delayed multiple times to give him time to complete medical procedures.

After KQED broke the story of his sentencing, high-profile music publications like XXL, HipHopDX and Okayplayer as well as various cable news channels across Northern California covered Williams' plight. Williams credits the media attention and the Change.org petition started by his wife, Dee Bowens—which amassed over 70,200 signatures—with pressuring state prison officials to send him to a state facility with quality medical care.

"Big shout out to y'all, I want to thank KQED," he says. "I want to thank the people who signed my petition on Change.org. If it wasn't for y'all, I don't think it would have went as smooth for me, you know? I don't know if they would have sent me where they sent me, because I made a big deal of the level of care I needed, so they made sure that was there for me."

After turning himself in, Williams served his term at the California Health Care Facility (CHCF) in Stockton, which has round-the-clock medical care. Before he knew where he was headed, he feared the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would send him to a facility that couldn't meet his medical needs. Indeed, disability rights advocates say that quality of medical care and ADA accessibility varies greatly from facility to facility, even within the same state. The office of the California Inspector General rated medical care at CHCF "inadequate" in an April 2019 report.

"For the most part, man, it wasn't as bad as I thought it was gonna be," Williams says. "But for the other part—that jail shit ain't where it's at. There's people in there that are never coming home, they don't have a release date at all. So, God works in mysterious ways. I just know I was supposed to see that, and how fast your freedom can be taken from you, you know? It made me appreciate life and appreciate my freedom." 

Still, Williams says that not all of his medical needs were met. For instance, after spending a month on a waiting list, he says he was only able to attend an hour of physical therapy once a week rather than several times a week—which slowed down his progress on relearning to stand up and eventually walk again.

"I don't need someone to get me in and get me out of there," he says. "I need someone to work with me on my therapy. In there, it was overcrowded with inmates."

Nonetheless, Williams' mood was optimistic during our interview. He's now back home with his wife and kids, and his mom came over to treat him to a home cooked meal of oxtails, collard greens, macaroni and cheese and cornbread. "I ate three plates of it, too," he says.

After hanging out with family and getting a pedicure, he hit the headlining stage at Rolling Loud on Sept. 28. This week, he's busy reestablishing his medical care routine with the help of his doctor, and is already back in the studio working on two new mixtapes and searching for new talent for his label, AllnFallnDoe.

"I'm still blessed with opportunities," he says.