Longform

Devils' Advocate

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Does it bother her to bring her son to a sex-offender yard?

"I know it's a little ironic, but I want [Billy] to know we support him and we're there for him. Sometimes you have to do things even if they make you feel uncomfortable. We don't do it a lot."

Darlene says Karl and Billy have a good relationship.

"I definitely know Karl's good for Billy. I feel bad that it's so hard on Karl. He's such a good-hearted person, he's always there for everyone, and people have taken advantage of him terribly. . . . He's there for everyone else, and very few people seem to be there for him."

Another friend is Pam Mason. She and Karl have never met; she lives in Tennessee, in a small town near Knoxville. Pam was corresponding with an Arizona inmate who happened to be Billy's first cellmate, years ago. Billy asked the cellmate to ask Pam to call Karl the first night he was in -- to let Karl know Billy was all right. Pam and Karl spoke for hours. In the following years, she's offered her friendship; Karl sends her money and toys for her kids.

Sometimes, she says, she wants to strangle Karl for being so bullheaded. "He's a man. That just says it right there, okay?" she says, laughing. "He seems to have a lot of determination about him, and when he sets his mind to something, he does it."

She's convinced Billy won't be granted furlough for Christmas. She's right. Charles Ryan, DOC's deputy director of prison operations, chuckles at Karl's request, which he's seen, saying it absolutely will not be granted.

But Pam knows Karl will keep trying.

"That is what gets Karl through this whole thing with Billy. He keeps finding some way to get a little hope with it. And I think if it just came down to a point where there was nothing else for him to do or nothing for him to have just a little shred of hope about, I don't think he could deal with it."


It's three days before Thanksgiving, and Karl is in tears. Trish and Bobby moved their stuff out last week, got their own apartment, and today they're gone for good. Trish promised she'd be home for Thanksgiving, but now that plan's scrapped, too.

"Here I am with a thawed turkey and don't know what to do, and I'm going to be alone," Karl sobs, then sniffs up the tears. "I'm a tough old fart, I'll get through it. I got too damn many cats here to keep me company."

Plus, Karl will be busy driving back and forth to Florence to see Billy. And he has Christmas to plan for. He makes greeting cards for the inmates to send to their families, and he's got presents to buy for them, too. This month, Toni asked for a Walkman. Karl sent Thunder $25 for his birthday, so he could replace the Walkman Karl gave him two years ago. Thunder also asked for $60 for new tennis shoes, but Karl wrote back and asked him if he could try to find some cheaper.

He hasn't heard back on his furlough request, but he does realize the chances are good that he'll be alone for Christmas. Karl is stuttering badly today, a side effect from an old head injury, he says. That's one of the reasons Billy is so worried about him being alone. But Karl's trying to look on the bright side. In a couple months, Toni will get out of prison. Karl's hoping he'll come stay at his house -- with Trish gone, there's no reason not to.

"He'll be here for a couple weeks to a couple months, until he finds a place of his own, or he just may stay here until Billy comes home," Karl says.

As long as, he adds quickly, that's okay with Billy.

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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.