Her mother died in childbirth. Her father was sentenced to die in the electric chair. And her grandmother, her primary caregiver, died when she was 10.
For little Tracy Williams, the world was a place where the worst could happen – and did.
“I remember going to visit him on death row,” she said. “I would watch him go back to his dorm just to wave to him through the fence. He’d holler, ‘I love you baby!’ And I’d tell him I love him back.”
Seated inside her church in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami, Tracy Williams-Magwood recalls those visits with a small smile. Awful as the circumstances were, they were the only moments she had with her father, and she remembers them with nostalgia.
“But now,” she said, brushing away the past -- “now we don’t have a fence."
In fact, the two sit close together, hands clasped, as they do much of the day. Clifford Williams is celebrating his daughter’s 48th birthday – the first birthday party he’s been able to attend since she turned 4.
Three weeks ago, Clifford Williams left prison a free man, his 43-year wrongful conviction overturned.
The decades he spent in prison were made up of thousands of missed moments – not just for him, but for his children.
“Every girl dreams of their father being there on your wedding day, being there for your graduation day, being there to see your children come into the world,” Williams-Magwood said.
Some of those moments are lost forever. But Sunday, they were able to reclaim one – a father-daughter dance. At a special service celebrating Williams-Magwood’s birthday, as well as her 28 years with the FLE Ministry in Liberty City, her father held her close as she cried. “My baby,” he sighed into her hair. “It’s gonna be all right. I’m here.”
Williams-Magwood's son said afterward, the dance meant a lot to mom. He seemed somewhat surprised how deeply it also affected him.
“It was moving moment, even for me,” Micah Magwood said. “I was like, ‘wow.’ Yes, one dance may not make up for [lost years], but it definitely puts a dent in it.”
Clifford Williams was too overcome to say what it meant to him.
“I can’t even describe it, because it’s something we never did do -- dance with my daughter," he said.
For Williams-Magwood, the small steps are part of her father’s long road back home. The last few weeks have been devoted to getting her father the simplest things – a haircut, a bank account, new glasses – and scheduling doctor visits.
“He’s been in good health, thank God,” she said of the 76-year-old. “They still tell me he got all his teeth.” At this, Williams *chomps* -- and grins.
“We’re excited about the next few years we have together,” she said. “We’re just glad to be here today together, right?”
“Yeah,” he said.