Ted Williams, a former radio DJ, became famous as “the homeless man with the golden voice” when a YouTube video of him talking with a commuter alongside a Columbus, Ohio highway exit ramp went viral. I thought, This is an opportunity to get people talking about homelessness. This will work—as long as Ted is honest about his life.
And boy was he honest. Ted lost everything to crack—his wife, his children, his job, his morality and sense of self—in 1989. (1989!) For the next twenty years, he descended to an almost unimaginable life of stealing, pimping, begging, scrounging and doing anything and everything to feed his addiction. This was brutal stuff, from literally taking food out of his child’s mouth so he could sell it for crack to almost destroying the life of a lonely hotel clerk who made one mistake. At first, I thought it might be too dark. That people might end up hating a man who had disappointed and betrayed everyone who ever cared about him.
But there was something right about Ted, too, even as he told those stories. He was a flawed human being, but he wasn’t unkind. I found pretty quickly that I cared about him and his girlfriend Kathy (another homeless crack addict), and I wanted them to succeed.
And Ted was trying. That was the most important thing I learned: Six months before his discovery on that roadside, Ted had found his Higher Power, and he had been trying to live right. He wasn’t stealing as much. He wasn’t smoking as much crack. He was working on his relationship with Kathy and trying to save her, too.
He wasn’t perfect. Far from it. By normal standards, he was still living wrong. Very wrong. But he was trying. And in the effort, he had rediscovered the joy of life. That’s what people heard in that YouTube video: a joyous noise. Ted had found God. And that’s why, despite years of self-abuse, he was able to embrace his miraculous second chance.
Ted’s story isn’t for everyone, but I think it is necessary. It’s the only explicitly Christian book I’ve written, and it’s the only one that challenges you to follow Jesus’ most important teaching: Love your neighbor. Don’t judge. Give. Even if you are disgusted by that person’s life or choices, give. Are you up to that challenge?
Ted’s story shows that anyone can lose their way, some more so than others. But more importantly, it proves that nobody is too lost to be found.