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She talked about it all, however, with a smile and a genuine appreciation for the small things she could carry in her pack, and the people she met on the road.

Matilda spent one night in Hutchinson, and by early afternoon the next day, she was walking along U.S. 50 toward Dodge City, where she planned to catch a train south for the winter.

The story of Matilda and the impression she left on the people who met her lasted longer than her stay in Hutchinson. And it will remain with them far longer than the span of Matilda's life, which ended in December 2010 at age 29 in a Texas county jail cell.

"She comes up from time to time," Smith said of Matilda. "Even people in here (Fraese) wonder how she's doing and where she went."

To that, Brawner added: "She was so polite, very, very polite. And so well-mannered."

Matilda was really Patulla Williams, originally of Missoula, Mont.

A story written by Missoulian reporter Chelsi Moy revealed Matilda's true name when it chronicled Williams' death, which occurred Dec. 11, 2010, in the Uvalde County Jail. Williams was arrested on outstanding warrants when U.S. Border Patrol agents found her illegally riding a freight train.

According to the Missoulian, Williams was found with a television cord wrapped around her neck. Family members quoted in the Missoulian story believe that Williams was trying to find a way out of jail - who wouldn't? The jail staff, however, failed to regularly check up on Williams, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, which cited jail officials for that failure.

Williams was born to a woman diagnosed with schizophrenia, who also used a host of aliases, The Missoulian reported. Her real name was Marina Martin, and she forfeited custody of her four children, including 3-year-old Patulla, in 1982.

From there, the children were placed in a foster home in Turah, Mont. The father, a local minister named James Hoppe, sexually abused young Patulla until the children were removed from the home in 1994, the Missoulian story noted.

Williams was 13 at the time.

"What that girl had to go through was something no person should ever have to go through," said Kathy Farnes, who with her husband, Bob, later provided a home to Williams and her sisters.

"We just figured that with a safe home, the kids would do fine," Bob Farnes said.

Hoppe later pleaded guilty to felony sexual assault and was sentenced to probation, according to the Missoulian.

Williams filed a lawsuit in which she claimed to have repeatedly told social workers about the abuse. The agency reached a settlement with Williams for an undisclosed amount, according to the Missoulian.

Later, Williams was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and disassociate disorder while at a Yellowstone County, Mont., treatment facility, the Missoulian reported. She ran away from the facility with a sex offender, who raped her.

At 18, Williams released herself from a Colorado treatment center and married a man named Mike Moore. He was 20 years older than Williams, and family members told the Missoulian he was a "monster" who physically and emotionally abused her.

Moore taught Williams how to catch freight trains, the Missoulian reported.

Eventually she left Moore and married a San Antonio police officer. They had a baby together, the Missoulian reported, and moved to a farm in Nebraska. It was one of the times Williams settled down and lived a somewhat normal life, her family said.

She sometimes modeled semi-professionally, but other times she left for the safety and security that she found in a life riding trains.

Kathy Farnes says now that Williams' story has emerged and the scope of her abuse has become more known, people have come forward to confess that they either knew or suspected that the abuse had occurred.

"If one of those people had stepped up, life for all of these kids could've been better," Farnes said. "People need to take that stand. If we see someone kicking a dog, we're real quick to call the humane society. But if it's a kid, we don't want to get involved."

MaryRuth and Wade Greenwood, along with their daughter, Marigail Thomas, met "Matilda" at a corner store in Hugoton after The News' story last November about Williams' stop in Hutchinson. "Our family, Wade, Marigail and MaryRuth, took Matilda, Ashes and the gear to Guymon (Okla.) and Highway 54 on Wednesday the 10th (November). We are concerned for her and hope we did enough for her and that she is on her way south before the bad weather." MaryRuth said Williams had taken refuge in a church entryway when the pastor found her while he was checking the doors. He took her to the Flamingo Motel, and the Greenwoods later saw her in front of a convenience store.

"We talked with her, and she said she was trying to get to Texas," MaryRuth said last week. "We told her we'd meet her at 1 p.m. and take her to Guymon."

Williams was very conversant, MaryRuth said, wore nice jewelry and seemed educated. They talked on the ride to Guymon, with Williams and MaryRuth's daughter riding in the back of the cab, and Ashes riding up front.

MaryRuth said she was drawn to the woman almost immediately.

"I felt a connection with her," the 84-year-old said. "I guess it's just sort of a soul thing."

The Greenwoods were heartbroken last week, MaryRuth said, when told about Williams' death.

"She seemed like such a lost little soul," MaryRuth said. "We certainly wondered about her."

The Greenwoods weren't the first drawn to Williams. Last April, documentary filmmaker Martin Tucker passed Williams while walking down the street in Winston-Salem, N.C. The initial meeting was brief - a quick glance and a smile. The light changed and both Tucker and Williams continued walking in opposite directions. There was something about the young woman, though, that Tucker couldn't shake from his mind.

"She was going one way, and I was going the other," he said last week. "She had an enormous smile, and something told me that she had a story."

He turned around and found her three blocks later, sitting under a tree, pouring out some water for Ashes. She told him her name was Patty.

He asked if he could meet her the next day with his film equipment and spend a little time with her. She met him right on time, and the two spent four hours together, talking about her travels and her life as a hobo.

"She was friendly, open and charming," Tucker said. "It seemed like she was happy with her life."

Their time together resulted in a 22-minute documentary about Williams' life: "Patty - This is My Normal." The movie screened late last year at a local film festival to a sold-out crowd.

Tucker said he's working on turning the film into a full-length documentary, which will include additional stories of Williams' life, as well as scenes from Missoula and possibly Texas.

"I wanted to follow up with her," Tucker said. "I wanted to show her riding a train and pitching her tent. … When we parted ways, I felt like I had met this genuine hobo who was living so far out of what we know as comfortable. I was enamored with her, just who she was as a person."

Tucker said he wants the film to serve as a celebration of a woman who was dealt a bad hand during her childhood, who struggled against incomprehensible pain and recreated herself as a vagabond.

"She seemed to have made a conscious decision to live that way," Tucker said. "And you find that you keep comparing yourself to her."

The people who met Williams during her travels saw both the truth and the fiction that was her life.

The tale of being a Gypsy, whose mom taught her to survive on the streets was fiction. The stories about preferring the woods to the city, of hunting for her food, appreciating the small things in life and of catching trains across the country were all true.

Perhaps most importantly, her smile, gratitude and spirit were all real.

"She loved the simple things, she learned to appreciate that," Williams' older sister, Mylantha Williams, said. "She wasn't necessarily homeless; she chose this path. It was her therapy."

Williams' foster mother, Kathy Farnes, said she didn't think Williams "had a mean bone in her body."

"There are some people you meet and say they have an old soul," she said. "I would describe her as having a child's soul - there was an innocence that she always had."

The reasons for the stories Williams created, however, might never be fully understood. Both Mylantha Williams and Kathy Farnes say that it could've been a way for her to escape the painful memories of her childhood - or as a way to control what had previously been an uncontrollable life.

"She had a lot of problems, but none of it was her doing." Kathy Farnes said. "She was a really neat gal, and it would've been neat to see what she could've done if she had a better chance."

Mylantha Williams and Kathy Farnes said the memories of Williams' past sometimes emerged, and everyone understood that she needed time with only herself.

It was difficult for Williams' family to know that she was traveling alone, without a connection to anyone from her past. From time to time, she'd call from a pay phone - and for a while she had a cell phone, until she lost it.

"A lot of this train stuff would stress me out," Mylantha said. "She was in danger. … She had talked about buying a house, or at least keeping her stuff here. But she didn't feel comfortable staying in one place for very long."

Bob Farnes said he couldn't understand some of Williams' decisions in her life, but that he also couldn't understand the pain Williams had endured.

"Abuse does strange things to people," he said. "She had to come up with some way to cope with the things that had been done to her.

"She lived quite a life for a 29-year-old."

When choosing clothes for Williams' funeral service, her family purchased their clothes at a Goodwill store.

"That's what she would do," Mylantha said. "It was a tribute to her."

Williams' husband picked up her belongings from the Uvalde County Jail, and Ashes now lives in Louisville with Williams' younger sister, Toscha. With five children in the home, Ashes now enjoys being the center of the family's attention, Mylantha said.

There was more to Patulla Williams than the memories of her childhood.

She was a beautiful woman, who could spend a month on the road and then clean up well enough for a modeling photo shoot. She was an artist, with a knack for drawing. She wrote poetry and could pick up new skills with ease.

She had a circle of people who loved her, and people she loved in return.

She smiled at nearly everyone she met and had a way of making those she talked with feel important and valued.

Despite having every reason to be distrustful and angry, she trusted most people and readily offered her kindness.

"She wasn't panhandling. She'd just be there trying to figure out how to pay for something and people would come up to her and offer to pay," Mylantha said. "All these people helped her, and maybe by doing this she was able to see the good in the world."

That is one lesson Kathy Farnes hopes comes from the story of Patulla Williams' life.

"I want people to know that when you see someone on the streets, not living the life you think is normal, you need to think of them as a person, not some thing on the road. There's a story behind each person.

"We're so critical today, and it's easy to be critical - you can shut yourself off. I'm glad people took the time to talk with her, and help her. It doesn't hurt to take that minute and smile and reach out to someone."

In the end, Matilda became a victim of the Prison-Industrial Complex, she was murdered by this !


Copyright 2011



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