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Passenger: Subduing shoe bomber changed life

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

Kwame James helped subdue confessed shoe bomber Richard Reid  on a trans-Atlantic flight.
Kwame James helped subdue confessed shoe bomber Richard Reid on a trans-Atlantic flight.

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• Interactive: The hunt for al Qaeda
• Audio slide show: Bin Laden's audio message, 2/03
• Special report: Terror on tape
• Special report: War against terror
• Government's sentencing memo (U.S. v. Reid) external link
Superseding indictment  (FindLaw, PDF)external link

(CNN) -- A judge sentenced confessed shoe bomber Richard Reid to life in prison Thursday.

Reid pleaded guilty in October to trying to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris, France, to Miami, Florida, in December 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes.

Before the sentencing, Kwame James, a passenger who helped subdue Reid, spoke Thursday with CNN Anchor Paula Zahn about how that experience changed his life.

ZAHN: As you know, Richard Reid will be sentenced in a Boston courtroom [Thursday]. He faces 60 years to life in prison. Does he deserve it?

JAMES: Most definitely. I mean, anybody who even thinks he doesn't deserve it is crazy. But he definitely deserves anything that comes his way.

ZAHN: If you would, take us back to the day of that flight, when Richard Reid was discovered in December of 2001. As I understand it, you were sleeping, and then a flight attendant asked you for your help. Describe what happened from that point on.

JAMES: Everybody kind of knows the story by now, but I kind of got up and [was] kind of dumbfounded like from when you just wake up, and I was surprised to see that everybody was standing up on the flight, and I looked back and saw maybe one or two guys on Richard Reid already, and she kept on telling me, "I need your help," so I ran back there and joined the struggle. We kind of subdued him and started tying him up really.

And at that point, I really didn't know what was going on, but you could smell the sulfur in the air and smoke and stuff, and I kind of put it altogether.

ZAHN: Were you scared?

JAMES: Definitely. I was very scared once I figured out what was going on. But ... I realized we have to be the ones to stay calm in order to keep the situation under control.

ZAHN: Now I understand that once you actually helped subdue Richard Reid, you spoke with him.

JAMES: Yes. I mean, once the initial shock wore off. We had 3 1/2 [hours] to get to any airport, so you know, just standing up over him, guarding him, I just decided to offer him a couple of questions, and I just kind of asked him, "Why? I'm innocent. Everybody else on this flight is [an] innocent bystander pretty much for what you want to do. Why are you trying to do this?" And he was pretty arrogant, in saying, "You'll see," and just trying to make us scared and adding more drama to the situation.

ZAHN: So he was almost taunting you, wasn't he?

JAMES: Definitely, definitely. I think he knew that we were all a bit terrified, and he tried to make the most of his upper hand on us not knowing what he had planned.

ZAHN: Now you actually noticed Richard Reid on this flight before this point, didn't you? What stood out?

JAMES: Yes, I mean, he looked quite different. It's obvious by all of the photos everyone has seen, and everyone on that flight who was in the check-in line before you got on the flight -- if you saw him, you would notice him.

ZAHN: And what about his appearance that made him stand out?

JAMES: Just his long, scraggly hair, just his appearance in general. I mean, usually, Paris is a very fashion-conscious city, and usually when you're flying on those longer flights from Paris to Miami or to New York whatever, everybody is pretty well-dressed, and he definitely wasn't.

ZAHN: Kwame, a final thought on how this experience has impacted your life. Do you live any differently today?

JAMES: Definitely. I mean, I appreciate every day a lot more, and I've just learned to take it day by day. You never know what's going to happen. I try to make the best of every situation, and I try to make changes in people's lives and just be positive because amazingly this story has touched a lot of people in a positive way. ... Usually when a story is big, it's usually a negative ending, but we were lucky to survive, and I'm happy to be here to tell you the story.

ZAHN: I think I speak for all of the country who salute you and the other brave men and women who took this man on, and best of luck to you, Kwame James.

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