Keeping it Real with Willie Aikens


Willie Aikens has always fascinated me.

My Kings of Kauffman bio mentions me watching Willie Aikens hit two home runs, in two games of the 1980 World Series.  Well, my first memory of any ball game on television is of Aikens doing just that.  My dad and grand dad loved George Brett and Frank White, but they seemed to love railing on Aikens and Willie Wilson.  That made me really like Willie Aikens and Willie Wilson

In 1983, Willie Aikens, Willie Wilson, Jerry Martin, and Vida Blue were busted for cocaine.  My young mind, shaped by my environment’s stigmas, equated cocaine with a violent crime.  (It may as well been murder in my mind) Needless to say, my ten-year old heart was royally bruised.

He left the Royals soon there after, and he went to Toronto for a short stint.  Willie landed in the Mexican Pacific League’s Yaquis de Obregon, where he hit a bunch more home runs, and a bunch of free base pipes.  Aikens returned to Kansas City, a desperate drug addict.

Buying large quantities of cocaine and being famous, he placed himself on the police department’s radar.  In 1994, an undercover cop repeatedly bought drugs from Aikens.  Each time, the undercover cop asked Willie to make the soft cocaine into crack.  She, and her handlers, wanted the crack, not the cocaine conviction.  All in all, he sold her a little over 2 ounces of crack, and was promptly busted.

In 1994, our country had severe punishments for crack cocaine related offenses, despite the fact that no evidence exists to prove that crack was anymore addictive or dangerous than soft cocaine.  Because Aikens was busted for a crack, he received the same jail sentence as someone who would have sold fifteen pounds of cocaine.  Go ahead and read that sentence again.

He got the maximum 15 years for the drug offense, and an extra five because he had a loaded gun in his house.

These “crack” laws, later found to be unfair, baseless, and flat-out racist, were eventually over turned.  However, not all victims of this over zealous law received new, lighter prison time.

Sam Mellinger has done a great job informing people about Aikens.  A few years ago, I emailed Sam for Willie’s address.  I wanted to send him a letter or card of support.  The next day, I got an email from one of my boyhood heroes, Willie Aikens.  We had a brief chat, and he still sends me holiday e-cards and inspirational emails.

I recently finished his book, Safe at Home.

His vivid stories about those Royals teams of the early 80’s were thrilling.  His repetitive, dark stories of drug abuse and family neglect were frustrating.  His stories of his entrapment and imprisonment were heart breaking.  His stories about his life after prison were inspiring. They were inspiring in their own, sincere, realistic way.

There are many books about struggle and glorious redemption.  It’s the classic hero’s journey.  What sets this one apart from most, is this book’s redemption is humble, subtle, and fragile.

It’s real.  He doesn’t tie a nice, pretty bow around his story.  He let’s the reader know he is still vulnerable and still has so much work to do.

I am glad I read Safe at Home around the New Year.  I, like many people, set goals and resolutions.  This New Year, Willie Aikens helped remind me that goals are great, but a commitment to a process and system is even better.  He provided me a reminder that progress is the goal, not perfection.  He reminded me that he is still a hero, just a very different type of one.