Longform

Devils' Advocate

Page 7 of 8

"Typical attorney's desk, huh?"

He keeps boxes piled in the corner of a back room, presents waiting for Billy. Trish's door is closed.

Trish and Karl only recently got to know each other. Two Christmases ago, Karl sent Trish's mom money for the two to take a Greyhound to Phoenix from Washington state. Until then, Trish had only known Karl as "Uncle Karl," through cards and gifts he sent. Mom broke the news in the bus station.

Trish was shocked at first, but eventually liked Karl enough to come live with him.

And how did a gay man come to be a father?

"How do most people come to be a father?" Karl asks. "You get naked with someone."

Karl and Wilma Helgeson were on-again-off-again years ago, working together at the golf club manufacturer.

When Karl got into a bad car accident, Wilma gave him a back rub.

"Back rubs always turn into something else, so that's how I ended up with a daughter," he says, laughing.

"Years ago, somebody asked me one time, they said, 'Well, are you straight, gay, bi?' And I thought about it not very long and I said, 'Sexually, I'm horny. I'll jump anything that turns me on. Emotionally, I'm gay.'"

For no particular reason, Karl refers to his ex as Susie. He likes his friends to call him Kevin. Trish is "The Girl."

Trish isn't in high school, she says, because she can't figure out how to get a picture ID. She's not so keen on Billy. She's only met him three or four times -- all prison visits -- and they don't really get along.

"As far as Billy goes, he's all right. He's done a couple things wrong that caught me the wrong way. That might be because I don't know him," she says.

"I went up to visit Billy for his birthday," Trish continues. "That's my mistake. I went up there thinking, 'I'll be nice.' I hate the prisons."

". . . That turned out to be a mistake because some guy who was in prison with Billy saw me, and he started writing me, saying, you know, 'We can get together when I get out,' so forth and so on. My boyfriend didn't like it."

Plus, you're only 17, she's reminded.

"Yeah, and he's a sex offender," Trish says. That's a "PV," she adds, a parole violation. Trish is a savvy 17-year-old. She says she's been in juvenile hall back home, and in and out of mental-health facilities, too. Says she was molested as a child, up in Washington.

When asked about Trish's new pen pal, Karl responds, "Billy doesn't like the way Bobby treats her." Bobby is Trish's boyfriend.

All that aside, Trish thinks Billy's sentence was way too harsh. He was the victim, she insists; he acts like he's 12.

"He needs to be home," she says. "I don't exactly get along with him, but I can make my way. But see, if he gets out before June, I have to leave. Because I'm a minor."


Aside from his name on their visitor logs, and an occasional letter, officials at the Arizona Department of Corrections say they've never heard of Karl Whitmire.

To DOC, Karl is nothing. But to some folks out there, he's special. He has a handful of friends from different walks of life, but with the same thing to say about Karl: He's a generous man, sometimes too generous, with a kind heart.

Karl met Mike Johnson at a transmission shop four years ago. The two became friends and four-wheeling buddies. When times have been lean for Mike, Karl's loaned him money to pay his electric bill. He loaned him money to start his own transmission shop.

But what about helping child molesters, Mike is asked.

"I wouldn't really lift a finger to help those people," he says. "Me, having four children, I'd be really upset if somebody touched my children that way. So there is a need for somebody to look beyond that and still be able to help those people, because they are human beings."

Darlene Doescher and her 13-year-old son, Adam, have lived down the street from Karl for more than a decade. Karl is always there for her, so when he asks her to visit Billy with him, it's hard for Darlene to say no.

"Very few people will go with him anymore," she says. "It's not a pleasant trip. I've taken Adam. We go together with Karl."

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.