American Culture

Dear Judge Adams: No, it was worse than it looked

“He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes.” (Proverbs 13:24)

“Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.” (Proverbs 23:13-14)

By now, you’ve probably heard about the video of Texas judge William Adams beating his disabled, then-16 year-old daughter, Hillary, with a belt. You may even have seen the video. If not, a caution: it’s every bit as disturbing as reports would lead you to believe. We’re not used to seeing this kind of domestic brutality on YouTube, especially when it’s punctuated by lines like “lay down or I’ll spank you in your fucking face.”

I initially ignored this story. I heard the headlines, made the same assumptions as a lot of people probably did and moved along. But today the story hooked me back in when I saw that Adams, in the process of blaming the victim (she only released the tape because he was cutting her off and taking away her Mercedes, he says), suggesting that the footage looked “worse than it was.”

What we see on the tape is prima facie evidence of a crime. It’s either child abuse or assault, depending on the victim’s age, and it sounds like the facts in this case are that she was old enough to make it assault, but the statute of limitations has run out. I would say lucky him, but I suspect that the worst the law could possibly do to him pales to what YouTube has in store.

I don’t know Adams. I don’t know his daughter. I have no first-hand evidence whatsoever of the internal dynamics of the family, of whether or not she’s acting out of concern or spite. There’s one thing I’m pretty sure I do know, however: no, Judge, it’s worse than it looked.

I have some experience with what Hillary suffered that night, because it’s similar to what I endured growing up. I was routinely subjected to whippings, either with a belt or a hickory switch, that if they happened to a child today would result in the child’s immediate removal from the home by protective services and the arrest of the offending parent. On multiple occasions I was beaten as badly, or worse than, Hillary Adams.

But – and here’s the sticky part – it wasn’t child abuse. Not by the standards of the day, and not by the standards of nearly all of human history. I was taken in by my paternal grandparents when I was three. My parents split and, well, I’ll spare you that part. It was deemed best for me if I went to live with them. In many respects this was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

My grandparents, though, were old school Southern working class Baptist, born and bred to the wisdom of the Old Testament. To the modern ear, the idea of beating a child because you love him sounds counter-intuitive, but to people of their generation (born in 1913 and 1914, respectively) you had to administer corporal punishment if you loved a child. Failing to do so was to fail as a parent and to literally risk the child’s eternal soul. The swats with their hands were no big deal. Call those attention-getters, if you like. But when I’d do something they deemed serious, the results could leave welts for days.

There is no question that they loved me. Totally and unconditionally. And I loved them just as completely. I have published poetry honoring my grandfather and in 1989 I took the step of changing my name to his legally (I was not born Samuel) because he was the only real father I had ever had. And just the other day, I described my grandmother as the single most important person in my entire life. I have said many times, and I mean it, that without them I have no idea where I’d be today, but it’s not likely I’d ever have amounted to much. A big part of me feels like I’m betraying their memories in writing this, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that if I can say something that helps, then it’s worth it. I also do not blame them. I’m 100% convinced that my grandparents were purely the products of their context, and that if they were young parents today they’d die before they’d hurt their children.

All that said, violent physical discipline leaves psychic and emotional scars that may never heal. For starters, one comes to accept that love and pain are inextricably connected. One also can’t help seeing violence as a logical and normal solution to problems. Rationally speaking, I know that violence is sometimes necessary and perhaps even appropriate, but if you grew up like I did there’s the uncomfortable tendency to see it as a first resort instead of the last resort.

Those who know me the best probably wonder where this streak of mine comes from. I’m not a violent man, but I suppose you might say there is a great deal of turbulence in my soul. To the consternation of many of my more enlightened friends (and in truth, most of my friends are more enlightened than I am) I have no issue with the death penalty in principle. I have been known to find satisfaction when brutal justice catches up to genuinely bad human beings. I’ve never said this before, but I’m disturbed when I reflect on the kinds of fate I wish for people like Michael Vick. There’s an irony in it, I suppose: in my mind, the worst criminals are those who abuse the helpless. The retribution: render them helpless and visit upon them the same abuse they inflicted.

I hate abusers and always will, but I cannot stand the feelings they arouse in me. Even in pondering justice, the abuse I suffered as a boy fosters an enduring rage that thrives at a deep, inescapable emotional level.

Of course, it isn’t just me. How many millions of people across this country and beyond would read this and understand exactly what I’m saying? How many people think, as did one friend of mine some years ago, that he owes who he is as a human being to the fact that his father beat the hell out of him? And what implications does this have for his children?

I don’t have anything to say here that a legion of child psychologists haven’t said more compellingly, I suppose, but I find myself wishing I could talk to Judge Adams. While those watching the video linked above are absolutely seeing what they’re seeing and I’m hardly absolving the man, I find it perfectly plausible that he loves his daughter and that he was genuinely, honestly doing what he thought was best for her. He doesn’t act like it’s hurting him more than it is her (that line may well have been my earliest education in the art of irony), but part of me suspects that you simply have to slam the door on the part of you that empathizes with your loved one in order to “do what’s best for them.”

It’s pathological in the extreme, but maybe his generation, and some of mine, and certainly every generation that came before suffers from a sort of collective post-traumatic stress disorder. To note that this particular beast is self-replicating seems almost too obvious to mention.

William Adams says his daughter released the video to get even with him. Hillary Adams says she did it so that he would get help. I don’t think the rest of us have any way of knowing who’s right. Regardless, my advice to Judge Adams is to get help. Also, I hope Hillary Adams gets help, because the beast is alive in her. Probably always will be.

This is an ugly case that nobody would ever have known about before the advent of social media. And as banal and pointless as channels like YouTube can be, today it presents millions of American families with an opportunity to learn and heal, and most importantly, to begin putting the wisdom of the Old Testament behind us for good.

40 replies »

  1. The man ,if you can call him that deserves to be in jail..He is the very essence of a women beater and abuser. He is not a father he is an idiot……

  2. The Judge is a coward and feels like a man to beat a woman…I wish he would try that on someone his own size.

  3. This is not about, how it was back in the day, This is not the same as saying, “everybody drank and drove back then” This is not about Bible script. This is about violence against women. This man is a criminal, he has no defence, not ignorance, not prejudice, not parenthood. He is a con man of the highest order and the internet, the illegal downloading of music itself was a red herring tossed as the angry and violent man will , to give credibility and reason to his actions. I wonder if the guys from Metallica are happy now? And by the way,, By the way, i have never heard of someone saying “I wish my father had beaten me and anyone who disagreed with him ,for us all to see and know, so that I could have turned out to be a better person, things would be working out for me far better if i had that history. Instead I am left with two parents who just loved me and eachother and any other recpetive person as well. sucks to be me.”


    About the rage one carries with them, I am sure this offender had the same treatment as he is dishing out or had the same experience growing up. I applaud anyone fighting that battle within them and not taking it out on ANYONE else. If you cant, then get help and admit it.; Thats all this poor girl wants for her abuser. She still wants to have a loving Father. She is a Saint. Every article i have read , barely broaches this fact

  4. Maybe someone should take up a belt and beat this so called judge idiot accross the legs and0then see if it is a bad as it looks. Should you feel the need to beat your child then do it on the backside you moron.

  5. Did you hear how he swore while he was beating her… and the come-backs for more? It looked like sexual perversion to me. Nothing to do with sparing the rod or overusing the rod. This is one demented fellow. He just could not get enough. The mother too. Those people seemed utterly perversive.

    • Thanks for the comments. I should probably take a second to clarify one thing.

      My initial take was that this guy is everything some of you are saying he is, and even now my best guess is that you’re right. I certainly don’t intend anything I’ve said as a defense of Adams.

      But as I told a friend earlier this morning, I can’t know what he thinks he’s doing. He can be every bad thing in the world and believe he’s doing right. But whether he’s a sociopath or whether deep down he’s a fine man, the lesson I’m after in the post is more or less the same. What we see is almost certainly, at some level, a function of his cultural upbringing, and if we as a society can fix that part, then I’m guessing all forms of abuse will decline significantly.

      That said, the statutes don’t say that assault is okay if you think you’re doing the right thing. You’re still responsible for your actions, and I’m hoping that Adams is held accountable.

  6. I usually share things my brother sends on fb but after watching, I thought I would throw up. This man shoud be held 100% accountable for child abuse. He has anger issues and is a danger to society. I am absolutely sick after watching and listening to this. His wife should be in jail or seeking proffessional help along with him.

  7. You think it’s plausible that he thought he was doing the right thing for his daughter for her own good??? Bullshit. He allowed anger to get the best of himself and was doing it for the beast within.

  8. what the man does in the video hurts me. it truly hurts me to view the video and i completley disagree with the author of the article above. there is a fine line between abuse and a spanking but as a JUDGE OF THE LAW HE SHOULD UNDERSTAND RIGHT AND WRONG! THIS HAPPENED 7 YEARS AGO NOT 90 YEARS. no offence but aplying your grand parents is completely iralvent

  9. they were born almost 100 years ago not in the 1960s,and don’t forget HE STUDIED LAW AND WAS ATTORNEY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE THIS MAN SHOULDN’T BE PUNISHED!

  10. what i’m saying is his generation isn’t your grandparents’. i don’t see how in his mind he saw it o.k. to punish his daughter this way and cant see how your grandparents who truly knew that to be the only way.and he knew it was wrong he studied law and became a judge and i disagree with what you said about “I find it perfectly plausible that he loves his daughter and that he was genuinely, honestly doing what he thought was best for her. “

    • As I said in a previous comment, my suspicion is that you’re right. And under NO circumstances is it acceptable.

      I’m just saying that millions of other people have thought the exact same way that my grandparents did and I have no reason to regard certain places in the US as being much more enlightened than they were on religious and parenting issues.

      Further, it doesn’t matter from a policy perspective. The point I’m after is that this kind of abuse is caused or condoned by cultural factors and I hope that this case helps us address it so that it happens less often. Musch less often.

  11. LOVED it, Samuel Smith. All the while:

    I hate to see us placing further stigma on Baptists when some religions (cultures?) of today hang their rebellious daughters in a public square or have them stoned;

    Before others than us (I was whipped too) place too much judgment on past generations, let’s see how this next generation does, which will be the first generation with no hitting. Let’s see if they behave better than we did or worse.

    Thank you again. Your words are humane.

  12. I am conflicted. The girl has issues to do what she did, and how she did it. And, she stole after her dad said not too. She probably pushed his buttons once to often, and her wimpering was probably for the camera she set up. I think society has failed.. to discipline our children, and we have given the kids too much control. So we have set up a system of failure for our future descendents, this is a perfect example. The whole world sides with a disobedient girl, who ended up using video footage for emotional blackmail on her father. The wife was sick as well.

  13. We often hear from those who fight to uphold this practice for those under the age of 18 (even to the blaming of the social maladies of the day on a supposed “lack” of it), but we rarely, if ever, find advocates for the return of corporal punishment to the general adult community, college campuses, inmate population, or military. Why is that?

    Ask ten unyielding proponents of child/adolescent/teenage-only “spanking” about the “right” way to do it, and what would be abusive, indecent, or obscene, and you will get ten different answers.

    These proponents should consider making their own video-recording of the “right way” to do it.

    Visit Unlimited Justice or Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education to learn more and add your voice.

  14. In 31 nations, child corporal punishment is prohibited by law (with more in process). In fact, the US was the only UN member that did not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The US also has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

    The US states with the highest crime rates, poorest academic performance, highest obesity rates and health problems, and largest public welfare burdens are also the ones with the highest rates of child corporal punishment.

    Of all the things prison inmates lacked in their upbringing, “spanking” certainly wasn’t one of them.

    There is simply no evidence to suggest that child/adolescent/teenage-only “spanking” instills virtue.

  15. Very well said Samuel, and MMead. Thank you. I understand that we must forgive past generations for their brutality, I get that this behavior begets similar behavior, but I think that in 2011 there simply is no excuse for this. Read the research on what this does to children, study up on child development – everyone should have to take at least one parenting course anyway, or if you are illiterate, get someone to read it for you. Don’t hide behind religion to explain abuse. I’m not referring to any particular Christian religion, but MANY keep parading around this idea that it is okay to hit children. The Bible says you shouldn’t eat shell fish, or hooved animals for that matter, and yet these Christians just keep on doing that! It is 2011. It is time to act like it. So while I find this article compassionate and more Christ like than what many have been saying and I do believe that getting this man help is more admirable than threatening to kill him, I feel very strongly that this man suffer consequences and not be on the bench any longer. I’m feeling like even that is going to happen.

  16. Thank you Samuel for your thoughtful and well written article.
    I have a few comments but will limit myself to mentioning just 1.
    You said, ” I find it perfectly plausible that he loves his daughter and that he was genuinely, honestly doing what he thought was best for her”

    My wife (and her sisters) were abused as children with beatings like this and worse. I am no expert, and make no claims in that direction. In my opinion, when a person is doing something wrong, they know its wrong. In the judges case I feel he knew he was doing wrong, because the first thing he did was switch the light off in the bedroom, so no-one outside could see him. If he thought in his own mind that he was not doing anything wrong, then why switch off the light? His yelling, his swearing and his anger disqualify him from the notion that he was acting in his daughters best interests. That behavior is a habit and all habits are hard to break.

    And now to digress. I find it interesting and amusing that there have been a number of people quoting scripture in defense of this particular act (on FaceBook). Its amusing to me that people are using the Bible in support of an incident that is so blatantly un-Christian. Definitely not a good advert for “Christians”.


  17. Here is food for thought from an eyewitness of the issues of Judge Adams.

    Judge Adams did not abuse his disabled daughter in a vacuum. The daugher has ataxic cerebral palsy.

    And, there are beginning to be discussions in the mental health community of the sexual nature of the abuse of this disabled child.

    There is a link, on the blog page provided above, to a transcipt of Judge Adams working to cover up his handing a child over to a babysitter regularly hospitalized for the safety of the public by the State of Texas. The babysitter is monitored by the State to make sure she stays heavily medicated with prescriptions that preclude her ability to drive. The judge sanctions the mother and her attorney with fees to be paid to the judge’s attorney who was not the attorney for the father.

    In the transcript there is also a discussion about another judge working with Judge Adams attorney in an effort to intimidate the young 6 year old child into making false child sex abuse allegations against the mother and her attorney who was helping the mother. I have a video interview of the child testifying in a third judge’s chambers about the effort to witness tamper by Adams attorney and another judge in the case in Adams court.

    The “addiction” to which the judge’s wife refers in a cryptic manner is believed by courthouse employees and acqaintances to be an addiction to prescription pain killers. It is coming out that the court house employees have been calling him Schizo Bill for quite a few years in private because of his wild emotioinal swings and occasional rages.

  18. I appreciate what you have written. I, too, was beaten (and worse) like Hillary. My mother would beat me until she became exhausted and left me bleading from the switch. Yes, it takes a lot of work to live above (and forgive) experiences such as that. I am reminded of Scott Peck’s book People of the Lie. He does a very good job of explaining people like Hillary’s father. Also, I can related to Hillary’s mother. I know what it is like to be beaten down and controlled by my husband. I was married to a Baptist minster for 22 years and experienced similar control. I believe there is healing. I believe people can change. My hope is that not just the judge (and Hillary’s mother) will get help because of this video, but also those who are currently treating their children in similar ways will stop and get the help they need. Good can come out of this tragic event.

  19. Here is a comment left on

    “Judge Adams harassed the former County Attorney out of office. The former county attorney was severely disabled. Judge Adam,s was heard to say that the County didn’t need a crippled county attorney and he was there based on “sympathy vote.”

    This is just one of many ugly realities of a judge known as “Schizo Bill.””

  20. Here is an August 2011 criminal complaint to the Texas Rangers alleging Judge Adams was making false reports to a law enforcement officer in retaliation. The Judge was retaliating for complaints made against him in a case where the judge ignored facts and law in order to turn a child over to a favored attorney’s client. That client was placing the child with the homicidal baby sitter mentioned in earlier blog pages.

    The copy of the complaint with witness names redacted can be found at:

    I expect more retaliation from the lawyers befriending Judge Adams, as well as from the District Judge alleged to have been assisting in other efforts to create false allegations against Mr. Sibley and a pro bono client, a single mother impoverished by Adams attorney friends in a divorce.

    It will not be the first time we have successfully addressed efforts to harm and retaliate.

  21. As a Southen Baptist kid who got the crap beat out of him with regularity, and am a little ambivalent about corporal punishment although we didnt use it with our kids, I still don’t remember my parents or grandmother enjoying it, losing control during it, or cursing me. Also, the rule, at least in our house, was that spankings stopped when the kid reached a certain size, because inflicting a whipping on a kid that is too large to hold so you can direct the blows to their bottom is likely to degenerate into this type of brutality. Nah, this is out of bounds, no matter what bounds you personally ascribe to.

  22. The man is a scum bag, plain and simple. He should be removed from his position, and needs to show a little remorse. As part of his punishment, he needs to spend time advocating against abuse, or be on the receiving end of his type of punishment as he thinks he did nothing wrong.

  23. Look all anger aside this man and woman do not deseve to have the loving responsibility of raising children. He should pay for his violence the same way that you or i would have to ie: jail beating anyone is against the law and HE is a judge? wow. As a martial artist for 45 years i would just love and i mean really love to get him into the ring for a taste of his own medicine,but cowards like him never stand like a real man.I have raised my kids and both are in university and not ONCE did i feel the need to hit them and our family went through all the things that families do and we all would sit and talk about the issue at hand untill it was resolved. I leave NO memory of so called spankings for my children,only memory’s of understanding and resect.

  24. keep one thing in mind – the daughter said the father knew she kept doing these things, and each time he would beat her. but he never actually took the computer away. that tells me he wanted to have an excuse to beat her. I read this somewhere: “my father didn’t beat me because he drank; he drank so that he could beat me.” I believe this man is the same. If he wanted her to stop, he would have simply taken the computer away.

    A person who abuses defenseless children is weak and cowardly and a bully. A grownup who cannot does not have the brain power to discipline a child constructively should not have children at all.

  25. Hay adams, I won’t call you a judge, Your not a judge, your a punk.
    I see how you are with a little girl, Why don’t you try that with me? I beat you just like I used to in high school.