In Hollywood and Criminal Justice: Blurring the Lines between Fiction and Reality
Michael K. Williams on Characters, Demons and Friendship with Jimmy Rosemond
After my role on HBO’s The Wire, I blurred the lines between Omar and Michael K. Williams, and I spiraled into the abyss of every worldly decadence. Cocaine was my choice of self-abuse. Jimmy would eventually have an exorcism and expel the demons that haunted me in these roles I played. I remember admiring him for this – I couldn’t shake the ghost of the characters I would take on, but here was a man who couldn’t shake something that he wasn’t: “Jimmy Henchman.”
I knew him when I was a kid and they just called him Jimmy Ace. But in the music business, they called him Jimmy Henchman. See, to know Jimmy you would have to have met him, talk to him, and been around him; however, the scurrilous and vitriolic rumors in the music business and on the internet ran rampant. He was characterized as some Darth Vader of the music business, dark helmet and amplified breathing. You would think he was some oversized figure draped in dark clothing and a mask.
The Jimmy I knew was soft-spoken, talked with the wisdom of some ancient sage, and wasn’t intimidating at all. I remember when I first went to his office for a meeting, I thought I would be meeting him in his bat cave, some hidden enclave, and he would be sitting behind a desk in the shadows with two burly men standing behind him while he smoked a cigar. In contrast, I was greeted by a receptionist and walked to his office and asked if I wanted anything to drink. Jimmy sat there in a button-up shirt, slacks complemented with a pair of Prada shoes, and he was on the phone handling business. Not screaming, threatening someone, or cursing. I looked around and saw a bustling office with worker bees, faxing, emailing, and answering the phone like any other office I’ve been to at Paramount or HBO. Was Jimmy really Bruce Wayne by day and something else by night? I allowed the rumors to permeate my thinking, as I’m sure it did others. No gang members, security at the door, or thugs. I was impressed by all of the plaques of success he had on the wall. He was still Jimmy from off of the block, but just doing serious business now. Jimmy got things done, he made things happen. Being misunderstood I guess made things work untraditionally. He thought outside the box. He knew everyone and everyone knew him and he consulted most of the record companies. He was what everyone called The Finisher, a guy who would get answers.
But none of those names stuck to him like the name Jimmy Henchman.
In some paradoxical way, it seems the music industry needed to make him the villain, just to keep things balanced. He managed or had something to do with many artists we all bobbed our heads to, including the Salt-N-Pepa hit “Shoop” or Toni Braxton smash “You Make Me High.” He managed Mike Tyson, Mario Winans, Akon, Game, and a slew of others. This is why I was going to see him; my career had stalled some and I was desperate to make things happen. By the end of the meeting, the only thing that was pompous or threatening were the music certificates, plaques, and autographed artifacts from legends displayed on his wall. Is Jimmy some saint being crucified? No, but show me a man without sin and let him cast the first stone.
So I ask myself, what would cause so much excitement over my friend Jimmy? People are beautifully flawed, make bad decisions, and mistakes. The hip-hop culture is much like American culture: it glorifies certain negative behavior. It is not uncommon for rappers to take on the monikers of past criminal figures. The mystique of “Jimmy Henchman” became an irresistible force. The hip-hop community was nourished off the permeating effect of its very own “boogie man.” People from all over, myself included, benefited from the slightest acquaintance with my friend Jimmy. Just the mentioning of his name in your song could get an average skilled rapper noticed. One picture or handshake, and your credibility skyrocketed. Despite popular contention, it was my friend Jimmy’s inner brightness, his undeniable aura, and sincere demeanor that made him so popular.
This can be best expressed by the tactics of prosecutor and now New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky. The legend of “Jimmy Henchman” had become so profound, so irresistibly attractive, that even someone of such standing was not immune. I’ve mentioned how entertainers and musicians reaped the benefit of Jimmy’s perceived persona, but here’s a U.S. prosecutor who also sought to gain in this “glorious folklore.” If Jimmy Rosemond was the “Dark Knight” of the music business, then Todd Kaminsky shrouded himself in his own mystique as the “White Knight,” or some sort of modern-day Van Helsing on a mission to defeat the monster. It was all smoke and mirrors. In his mind, every villain needed an opposite and he anointed himself as that person. But there was no big boss smoking a cigar laughing maniacally in the shadows. Kaminsky, however, didn’t allow this revelation to thwart him. He instead chose to fuel this false fairytale, even coercing his witnesses to implicate my friend Jimmy in certain crimes to get out from under his thumb. Trust me, I know how public perception can be inflated into quasi-reality. I was continuously called Omar after The Wire went off the air. This gravitational pull is human nature and Hollywood knows the science well.
To know my friend Jimmy Rosemond is to understand why I jumped at the chance to be an executive producer on the 10 part docuseries about him by acclaimed director Don Sikorski, rightfully called Unjust Justice: The Jimmy Rosemond Tapes. This docuseries – rumored to be hip-hop version of Netflix’s Making A Murderer – is compelling, riveting, and mind-boggling. It exposes the good and bad of our criminal justice system and how a man can get accused, prosecuted, and sentenced without evidence. It will be accompanied by a podcast similar to the Serial investigation into Adnan Syed, which allowed Mr. Syed to receive a new trial.
But this isn’t a movie set with directors and producers. I sat at Jimmy’s trials and I know the man the government portrayed him to be wasn’t the guy I, nor the music industry, knew. At best, the evidence was frail and mostly based off of testimony from the witnesses trying to get out of jail. I knew a lot of the witnesses, they were guys Jimmy tried to cultivate to be him, but never made the cut. In the movie business, we call them “extras.” Jimmy was the lead guy for his smarts and ability to organize and close business deals – not for running a criminal enterprise. This is why this docuseries is important and I’m sure will reveal a lot that should help my friend. Recently we’ve uncovered that Prosecutor Todd Kaminsky, who later ran for state senator in New York on the conviction of Jimmy Rosemond, had given favors to his witness, Henry Butler. Henry “Black” Butler is married to Leah Daniels, sister to Lee Daniels, the director of the Fox TV hit series Empire. Through an investigation in the docuseries, it was revealed that while still in jail, Mr. Butler was having conjugal visits with his wife thanks to his testimony against Mr. Rosemond. These practices are unethical and can result in a new trial for my friend. I only know him as a father, son, brother, uncle, and my mentor. Jimmy Rosemond is serving a life sentence on a drug conviction.
Here are some excerpts from an interview I did with Jimmy Rosemond recently:
How are you and where is your state of mind right now?
I’m hanging in there. My life has been full of struggles and tribulation, but this one is a heavy load. I just take one day at a time and I’m waiting on the decisions from my appeals and motions that’s been submitted by my attorneys. I’m reading my spiritual book daily and exercising – not just to stay healthy, but be prepared for anything that comes my way. I spend my days occupied with helping guys with their G.E.D and teaching some of them just how to read. You would be surprised how many people in jail are illiterate and a lot of them leave the same way they came in. At the least, you would think that they would require someone to leave jail with a chance to change, but that’s not the case. Another thing I notice is that a lot of these guys have mental health issues and get no treatment and are being thrown back into our communities. They want to ask what is wrong with economically starved minority communities, but I just named two problems that can be worked on.
How did you get the name Jimmy Henchman?
When I first got into the business, I created a company named Henchmen Productions, because Puffy had Bad Boy Records already and that was just another urban name to service the growing urban/hip-hop music that I wanted to get into. In fact, Groove Theory was under Henchmen Productions and many hits that came after that were under that umbrella. I’m not sure how it morphed into my name. I assume because I was the CEO of the company that’s how it happened, but I never told anyone to call me that. In 2004 or so, I had to put out a press release that I will not be using that name, as the connotation of it was all negative and hindered me from my natural growth as a businessman.
Do you believe this is one of the reasons you became a target for prosecution?
Well, that’s one of the reasons I believe I was. Let’s face it, Henchman has a lot of negative connotations, but when I realized the life it took on its own, I really tried to get away from it. But I truly believe that it was used as the hook in my prosecution. Todd Kaminsky bought into the name and believed that I was Dr. Evil with my pinky in my mouth trying to corrupt and destroy the world with rap music (laughs), but what he didn’t know was that it was just a name. You don’t look at wrestling after knowing that it’s part entertainment and put the same regulations you do as the UFC and boxing. Mr. Kaminsky thought just cause he was a fan of the Beastie Boys that he understood urban music and he didn’t. He believed the blogs and saw an opportunity to capitalize and advance his career by taking me down with lies. This was all about the conviction for him, nothing to do with the truth. Todd Kaminsky convicted me before my arrest and hung his career on my conviction. Mr. Kaminsky, who is now New York State Senator Kaminsky, ran his election and used my conviction to show that he took a bite out of crime, but truthfully did every unethical thing to get me convicted. Gave witnesses favors, like conjugal visits with their wife, or coerced them to lie and other things. This guy used every tactic to discredit my legitimate business and used a disgraceful writer named Chuck Phillips to maneuver and investigate so he wouldn’t have to get warrants legally, fabricating fake Daily News articles and an arsenal of jailhouse informants like Khalil Abdullah, Muhammad Stewart, Tony Martin, John Dash, and Henry Butler. Khalil Abdullah actually planted money, faxed him, and even though it was clear I was being set up, Kaminsky still used him as his star witness. No ethical prosecutor would have used this much lying witnesses. And I think director Don Sikorski will capture this in the docuseries.
What is your take on the witnesses who testified against you?
Some I considered my friends and some I was just trying to help, but the level of betrayal that I experienced from the mouth of those that I fed is atrocious. I know why Amoy Pitters was allowed to keep her hair shop on Lexington Avenue, because she was scheduled to testify. She and Khalil conspired together. The same with director Lee Daniels’ sister Leah Daniels, who was arrested with machine guns and drugs and got probation. But once Henry Butler agreed to testify, she didn’t testify. When my accountant John Dash testified and lied saying that all the cash I deposited was not from artist concerts. Me and John Dash never did any crime together, but here it is Mr. Dash was doing fake taxes for his other clients, which had nothing to do with me, and now that he’s in trouble, he tells groupie Todd Kaminsky what he wants to hear. The trial was a joke. Then you have Tony Martin that I raised in the business and all of a sudden he gets caught up and he tells them it’s me that told him to do this and that. First off, no one should be getting a life sentence for drugs in America. I’ve never seen a poppy-seed or gun factory in my neighborhood, so why is there so much of it there and the laws so stiff for those things that minorities have no control over? When Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is extradited to America, he won’t get more time than me and why is that? I wasn’t caught on wiretap nor was there any evidence, just testimony from the creeps I mentioned above. You almost can’t blame them when they was given the choice, “blame Jimmy or else.” When you see the docuseries, I think the motive will be clear. Every single informant either got no jail time or was home in less than four years, and I have six life sentences from their testimony. Most of them were arrested with evidence or incriminated themselves on the phone, etc., but with nothing I have all this time. Something don’t feel right about this.
What do you feel about the current Black Lives Matter Movement?
As you know, I was very active in the political realm. It was one of the obligations I had as a person in the community giving jobs and being a mentor. I rallied with many to change the Rockefeller Law and other issues surrounding the community and donating to various charities, including my homeland of Haiti after the earthquake. It wasn’t unusual to get a call from Al Sharpton in a rally call about some unjustified police shooting or a company discriminating. I’ve always set aside time for these issues. So I am very familiar with the frustration of Black people out there. What is being amplified now has been going on for a long time. I’m happy to see this is mobilizing the youth now, but the grim reality of our cries of injustice for centuries is being seen in real-time because of technology. Could you imagine if we had iPhones back in the early 1900s to show some Black man being lassoed and strung up as strange fruit for everyone to see? Maybe now we can have a real conversation for change. I just truly believe the system of policing and the criminal justice system is broken and so immersed in racism, that it’s called policy instead of what it is when it comes to Black people. Policing and prosecution in our community are different than that of other communities. It’s crazy that others are acting like this is new information or a revelation. There needs to be an honest conversation without anyone playing like they have amnesia. I really like what Black Lives Matter is doing and the speech of Jesse Williams. I am especially impressed with Marc Lamont Hill the way he represents the cause so eloquently. Please encourage them to keep up the pressure.
There’s a movement on Twitter and Facebook in your cause. What is the message you are trying to relate nowadays?
My job will never be done. I’m inspired by many things. It’s just like me coming from nothing and becoming something. People that know me know that giving up isn’t in my DNA. I have a God-given right to fight and to be reunited with my family and breathe freedom in the most genuine way. So there is a group of people that have set up a Twitter account that lets me express some of my thoughts, and a social justice Facebook group that exposes the movement of the people, related issues that’s current and most recently, different people write essays dealing with those issues. Teri Woods (author) and Derrick Hamilton (wrongfully convicted) wrote essays for the group and Shaka Senghor (author of Writing My Wrongs), Fab 5 Freddy, and others are writing for it. These are people that we should all know their stories when it comes to their experiences and/or dealings with police and the criminal justice system.
I helped a lot of people when I was home, but it’s time to help myself while I give wisdom to the masses as best I can. One of the things I’ve realized is: the will to be free is tantamount to the will to live.
This article originally appeared on GlobalGrind.