“Only now is the child finally divested of all that he had been.”—Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
William Quintana’s story begins before there is a William Quintana, back in San Jose, Costa Rica, when the Sanchez-Gutierrez children, Willie, Jorge, Giovanni, and Alexis, are taken from their mother and placed in an orphanage. Quintana still doesn’t know why. “I think they saw my mother as unfit. I don’t know. I think we were taken and trafficked. I don’t know.” Such beginnings demand an explanation. Alas, Quintana can only orbit one, within sight but out of reach, in taunting proximity.
“I was told she was dead,” says Quintana, who learned otherwise when one of his brothers found their mother after being deported to Costa Rica. Once he knew she was alive, Quintana wanted to see her, to know what she looked like, to see if he could see himself in her, to know “Well, why am I not with you?’”
They speak on Facebook, Quintana and his mother, but a language barrier impairs their conversations. His mother’s friend translates, but those translations lack the nuance and intimacy required. They are a line of defense too. When Quintana digs too doggedly, when he pushes to understand what kind of person his mother is, he senses evasion and half-truths. But he is trying, trying to repair a relationship cut short for reasons unknown. “I feel like the love of a mother has been lacking my whole life,” he says, “I saw how other kids’ moms treated them: hugs, kisses, squeezing them, loving them, and I mean, I just never got that.” So what did he get?
Only five years old, Quintana (then going by Rockford or “Rocky,” the name given to him by his foster parents) settled with his siblings in Hershey, a village of approximately six hundred people in Lincoln County, Nebraska. His stay was short-lived: “It’s a lot to ask a family to take on four kids,” says Quintana, “I guess it was too much for them, so we were driven away.”
The children were moved to Lincoln and “tossed around between three different foster homes.” Eventually, a family expressed interest in fostering them all. A child untethered from his mother, set adrift in the foster system of a foreign country, is bound to suffer. But the possibility that Quintana (now called William again) could at least stay with his brothers and sister, that they could navigate this new world together, offered some precious stability.
Then he met his new family.
“I remember from the first time I saw them I was terrified. I don’t know why, I just was. The way they looked at us, I was scared.”
Quintana now has a theory about what motivated that adoption: the family, who already had three children of their own, lived on a farm and saw him and his siblings as cheap labor. “We felt like we’d been bought more than adopted,” he says. And so the tiny commodities were rarely treated as equal members of the family. “The abuse started within the first few months,” says Quintana, “I got my ass whupped so bad I went to school and I couldn’t sit down. I was only in the second grade. My teacher asked me what was wrong, they took me to the kitchen, pulled down my pants and I had welts.” That was for lying.
Another time, Quintana’s adopted father hauled the little boy up and shook him by the skin of his chest, digging his nails in and daring him to tell anyone about the abuse. Quintana told his school counselors, who in turn alerted the police. But his foster parents lied their way out of it (ironic, considering what the father did to Quintana for lying). “They tried to justify it, what they did. It wasn’t okay.” That tortured little boy is in those words somewhere. No, what that family subjected Quintana to was many things, but it was not okay.
Quintana’s siblings hardly fared better. “They whupped my brother so bad he got taken out of the home and placed in a foster home.” The eldest Sanchez-Gutierrez child, Giovanni, (going by Derrick in the United States) died of liver cancer at twenty-five. “He took care of us,” says Quintana of his oldest brother, “he knew we were in a foreign place that we didn’t understand, and it was kind of sad because he kind of let us know what was going on.” Giovanni recognized the horrors of the D—— family residence, why he and his siblings were there, why they suffered such cruelty. “So they beat the shit out of him for it. I remember watching them whup my brother. I was a nine-year-old old kid, I couldn’t do anything. There’s nothing I wanted worse than to grow up and go back and give that man a whuppin’.” So why didn’t he? Why not return with his educated fists and teach the D—— family patriarch about vendettas? “I don’t know,” says Quintana, “I was afraid I would do more than whup him.”
Where does the fallout of such abuse reveal itself? Because like an abscess, childhood suffering finds the surface.
Quintana eventually escaped the farm, the beatings, the manipulation, for the Youth Rehabilitation Treatment Center in Kearney, Nebraska. Part of the YRTC mission is to give youth “the chance to become law-abiding citizens.” But Quintana wasn’t interested in abiding by the law: “I was shoplifting, stealing, getting in fights. I had a real problem with shoplifting when I was younger because I wasn’t given anything—I was bribed, not loved.”
His behavior was no better inside. Good behavior threatened to return him to the people that left him unable to sit, the people who broke his brother and broke up his family. If a locked door is locked only to a person who wishes to open it, the front gate of the YRTC might as well have been open for Quintana. Whenever freedom loomed, Quintana caused enough trouble to extend his stay. His strategy worked. Eventually the D—— family abandoned him. Quintana became a state ward, moving between group and foster homes, Boys & Girls homes, shelters. “I kept getting kicked out because, you know, I had a lot of trust issues. Every time someone took me in they gave up on me or mistreated me or my siblings.”
Two or three visits to the YRTC and “two or three more years” in the system as a state ward left Quintana rudderless. A life in crisis blurs the future, hides it behind the perils of the present; indeed, it can be dangerous to focus on the horizon when your immediate surroundings are so menacing. Quintana had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. That changed when he ran into his friend Nate’s father, Ernie. Ernie ran the Quintana Boxing Gym in Kearney. “I thought boxing was so cool; I wanted to learn how to fight, to learn how to hit back.”
Ernie appreciated Quintana’s dedication and said he would do what he could to help him. Recently kicked out of his foster home, Quintana, cleverly, charmingly, said Ernie could help him find a place to live. Ernie agreed, adding a sixth kid to the two-bedroom Quintana residence.
Why did the Quintana family welcome a wayward and angry young man into their home? “I think Ernie heard about a kid who had a rough story, a kid searching for something and wanted to help him.” To show his gratitude, Quintana swore he’d do whatever Ernie wanted. In the Quintana Boxing Gym, Ernie held him to his word.
For a time, Quintana and the man whose name he now uses as his own, the man he still calls dad, found something special in the ring, a bond in a common pursuit. “My dad put me into the Golden Gloves tournament at seventeen and I won the Midwest,” remembers Quintana. “That meant we were going to Las Vegas. I remember how happy he was. It felt so good to make someone proud instead of making them mad. I took a trip to the Olympic Training Center to represent Region Six. I was a two-time Midwest Golden Gloves champion, a two-time state champion, a regional champion. I felt appreciated for my hard work. It was a good time in my life, man.”
Struggling to find his son competition in the amateurs, Ernie started matching Quintana tough, conceding weight to opponents. That tough matchmaking persisted into Quintana’s professional career. But the fighter never blinked—if Ernie thought he could do it, Quintana would prove him right. His professional debut was in 2006, against Deandre Lattimore, who was 6-0 with a string of first-round knockouts. While he lost, Quintana became the first Lattimore opponent to hear the final bell. “I should have never fought that fight,” says Quintana, “I wasn’t ready. If my dad could start my career over again knowing what he knows now, he would manage me ten times better.” Quintana says this without a hint of bitterness. The man who committed to being his manager had already committed to being so much more. “And if I had remained as disciplined in my pro career as my amateur one, there’s no saying how far we could’ve made it. But I loved to party, I loved women. When I chose boxing, I won. When I chose the party life, I lost. Period.”
Quintana started 2009 by scoring his second win, a decision over Tim Taggert at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Back in Lincoln, Quintana threw a party to celebrate. Police were at his apartment the following morning; they asked him about drugs and wanted to take Quintana to the station. He thought it had to do with a fight that broke out at the party. If only.
Police arrested Quintana on suspicion of raping a twenty-year-old woman when her friend left her at his house after the party. But Quintana wasn’t charged until a second woman came forward saying Quintana raped her the following November. Two weeks after Quintana was incarcerated two more women came forward with similar claims. He remains anguished by the ordeal. Still, he speaks openly of it, a man with nothing to hide. He knows this ugly period of his life was made public, and he knows the version made public suppresses the truth.
“I sat there for nineteen months,” says Quintana, his weary speech becoming crisp. “Why do you think I sat in county jail for nineteen months on two felony charges? Because I wouldn’t accept any of the plea deals offered. They wanted me to go to prison and they wanted me to register as a sex offender. I wouldn’t do either for crimes I didn’t commit. I said, ‘I’m not gonna take any deal where I have to register or change my life. I know what the truth is.”
“If they [his accusers] were telling the truth, then all they’d have to do is tell the truth. But when you lie, you have to remember the lie. It’s easy to remember the truth. I had no problem writing to the judge because what I told her was the truth.” What did he tell her? Quintana remembers clearly: “I can’t tell you what’s going on in my life right now,” he began, “but I can tell you I’m disrespectful to women, I call them names, I‘m a womanizer. But I’m not a rapist. I have nothing to do with what these girls say. I can’t face four accusers at one time. But I can show you one-by-one how they’re lying.”
Seventeen months into his stay in county jail, pretrial motions began. Quintana finally had a chance to face his accusers. Bitterly he recalls how their testimonies fell apart, how he produced five hundred pages worth of text messages, including video messages, showing his correspondence with the women, how damning that evidence was to the case against him, how none of what he revealed was printed in the paper.
Quintana’s lawyer called him after pretrial motions to tell him the good news: the judge was going to allow all the motions in Quintana’s favor. The bad news was that the prosecution intended to appeal that ruling, a process that could take six to eight months.
“I can’t do any more time like this,” Quintana told his lawyer, “Do you know what it’s like to be in jail on this kind of charge? They’re sentencing me to death—and I didn’t do it!” Quintana was targeted in jail; his prowess as a fighter intimidated some, but he was under constant threat of violence. Worse still, in jail fighting was a felony, which meant that even if Quintana acted in self-defense, he would prolong his time behind bars—time already stolen for crimes he didn’t commit.
Finally, Quintana’s charges were dropped to third-degree assault. Judge Karen Flowers told Quintana he had “a low regard for women” but that that wasn’t illegal and she didn’t want him punished for it. So she gave him a year for each charge, the maximum penalty permitted by law, and Quintana got time served.
Reflecting on his time in the justice system, Quintana becomes indignant. “You [the prosecution] don’t go from two 1-50s to two misdemeanor assaults because someone’s guilty,” says Quintana, “you do it to justify keeping an innocent man behind bars.” But even the plea deal was bitter to swallow. Quintana didn’t want to take it but he had no real choice. “When you’re in jail for nineteen months for something you didn’t do,” he explains, “and you get a chance to move on with your life without having to register as a sex offender, you take the deal and you’re done with it.”
There was further insult in Quintana’s depiction in the press. When the case was made public, his side of the story, laid bare in the legal proceedings that eventually freed him, was never given appropriate coverage. “I wanted the truth to come out,” said Quintana, “and I believe it did, just not to the public.”
Quintana was finally free, but he was branded. The stories about his charges were haunting him, being weaponized by people who wished him ill. “The police would harass me, follow me, call me names. I had to go to Internal Affairs because I recorded one police officer bad-mouthing me.” In Lincoln, “if you do something wrong they don’t forget about it, they don’t let you move on. No one got to see my story and no one asked to see my story. The paper printed the ugly story, the news broadcast that ugly story, but nobody shared what happened in the courtroom.”
In 2013, Quintana was arrested for domestic assault after kicking his pregnant girlfriend in the buttocks, “I didn’t beat up a pregnant woman,” he stresses. Their relationship, mutually abusive, never recovered and the two have not spoken since. Quintana makes no excuses for his behavior and shares this transgression willfully, accepting it as part of an honest telling of his story. He recognizes a sort of cosmic injustice conspired against him, his inauspicious start in life was not his fault. But he also accepts his agency in his undoing.
He posted bond the next day and moved out. “I was so depressed and angry with life. I was coming off a knockout win in North Dakota, only to learn I had a detached retina and that my boxing days might be over, that I might go blind in my right eye.” Broke again, purposeless again, Quintana robbed a gas station. That crime and the domestic assault returned him to the one place that never turned him away. Quintana spent the next four years and seven months between Nebraska State Prison and Tecumseh State Correctional Institution.
In prison, Quintana changed his middle name back to Antonio (his middle name at birth) and his last name from D—— to Quintana. “Because that was the name I wanted to fight under,” he says, “the name I wanted to start a better life with.” What’s in a name? For William Antonio Quintana, a past and a future.
Released on May 27, 2018, Quintana returned to boxing and soon scored the signature win of his career. January 26, 2019, on the undercard of the Keith Thurman–Josesito Lopez card from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Quintana stopped Marsellos Wilder, brother of former WBC champion Deontay Wilder, in four rounds. Wilder’s team sought out the journeyman, expecting the 6-12 fighter to perform according to his record. But Quintana’s pressure was too much. After he won, Quintana pointed at Deontay, “I’m a big fan, bro,” he shouted, “but I just knocked your bother the fuck out!” The elder Wilder “thumped on his chest and nodded his head. Respect.”
Respect because Quintana admittedly, proudly, took a beating in that fight. But he stayed poised, stayed focused, and, with 25 seconds remaining, clobbered Wilder with an overhand right. There are few happy moments in Quintana’s life, but his knockout of Wilder and the good wins and tough losses that comprise his career come immediately to mind. Boxing gave Quintana something he hasn’t found elsewhere (as it does for many young men, something abolitionists too rarely consider). His life has been harrowing, but it would be so much worse had he not found joy, purpose, and family via the ring. Imagine if he’d found it sooner and had a chance to exorcise the demons that haunt him still.
Quintana fought three more times, going 1-2, but boxing was still there for him, as was personal training, something he enjoyed. “Where there is a ‘Will’ there’s a way,” he told his clients, “they just needed the WILLPOWER.” He found fulfillment in helping people reach their fitness goals, recognized himself as a person doing a little good in the lives of others.
During this relatively stable period, Quintana visited Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park. Looking to impress his son, Chase, Quintana attempted a backflip.
“I knew things were immediately different. I knew I fucked up. I was on the trampoline still; it bounced me and rolled me over. I tried to lift my arms, but they felt weird. I tried to lift my legs, my body. I was not trying to believe it at first.” But the severity of his injuries was undeniable: “Fuck dude, what did I do?” he asked himself, “What did I do? What did I do?”
Quintana broke his neck. In front of his son.
He spent the next five weeks in the hospital, three days in a medically-induced coma. In the first week, he had three surgeries, including a tracheotomy; the nightmares found him every night, the hallucinations too, thanks to the medication. This once exceptionally physical man left inert, tortured by the stillness of his new body. He’d never been so emotional in his life. “I cried when I thought about my son, how he spoke proudly about how strong his daddy was.” That guy was gone.
But Quintana isn’t, and his new life is one riddled with fits of helplessness and humiliation, with complete strangers providing the most intimate care. How could his life unfold this way?
Quintana has an answer.
“It’s easy to say it’s because of this bad thing or that bad thing, or because I hurt this person or that person. It sucks because sometimes you torture yourself over figuring out why something bad happens. But I came to realize that there is no why. It just happened. Now there’s a journey that has to begin.”
While currently paraplegic, Quintana has an “incomplete injury.” He has feeling in his legs and toes, muscle spasms that he can enhance; he participates in as much therapy as his insurance will allow, he exercises throughout the day. With care and support, Quintana believes his chances of walking would increase significantly. But care and support are hard to come by. They always have been for Quintana. “I’ve received some help from staffing agencies, but nobody wants to do this forever, and I’m a lot of work. I think people want to believe I’m stronger than I am so that those people don’t have to help me. I am strong. But I’m not strong enough yet. I’m paralyzed from the nipples down. I wasn’t supposed to talk, I wasn’t supposed to drink water. Here we are two years later, eating, drinking, talking, working. But I have so much further to go.”
Did you catch it? The dream buried and hardened under the crushing weight of his reality? Quintana believes his life could be better than it is and has been. No wonder—look at what he’s survived.
“When I was in the hospital, I cried about everything, about all the things I could no longer do. And now, I think about the things I can do. I don’t have the time, I don’t have the energy for negativity. It takes a lot out of you and I’m not in the shape I used to be in,” he jokes. Perhaps not. But he’ll get there. It just takes a little willpower.