By: Andrew Strenio
Sometimes when you meet an inmate behind bars, you know right off the bat that they have a story to tell. Other times, you have to follow your instincts, roll the dice, and see where a subject leads you. For this episode, we had both.
Priscilla Velasquez yelled out at us from across the room. Literally. We met Priscilla in booking, where she was agitated and clearly displeased to be there. After working many nights in booking, one can sometimes get a sense for when someone is about to snap – it’s a palpable feeling. We were starting to get that vibe from Priscilla when she cut straight to the chase, refusing to obey officers’ requests to quiet down, telling them “Do what you have to do.” But, she wasn’t backing down. After the officers were obliged to comply and pull her back into a holding tank to calm down, we got a chance to speak. It was easy to think she was either high or mentally ill, talking a million miles a minute. But, she had such intensity and conviction that we had to stick around to see where her story went.
It unfolded like a whirlwind – less than 48 hours later we filmed her getting released from jail and meeting back up with her father. But, in that time, she had gotten into two fights, been sent to the medical isolation module, been seen by a judge, given a release on her own recognizance, and cleared by the medical staff at CCDC as mentally stable enough to be released to the street. In her incredibly forthright style, Priscilla held nothing back – whether it was about her treatment, her life plans, her struggles with drug use and mental health, or our choice of wardrobe. She clearly didn’t want to be in jail, but it almost seemed like she was having fun, anyway. Fun with us, at least.
Billy Kimbrell, on the other hand, took time to get to know. We also met him in booking, after he had been out on a drug binge. At first, we were intrigued by his looks – tattooed, weathered, with the eyes of a man who has seen it all. But our first interview was so-so. He’d clearly lived a hard life. But, it was hard to understand him through his slurring and difficult to predict what his path forward might be. After following him through the detox process and getting a full-blown soul-searching interview, it was clear that this was a man hungry for change, and with the potential for a powerful redemption.
Following his progress while out on house arrest was probably the greatest privilege I experienced this season. Billy, time and time again, bared his soul to us as he struggled with his inner demons and his substance addictions. His heart was in the right place, but in the end he fell short. When I was notified that he had skipped out of his sober living house, my heart sank. While I’ve been around enough convicts and inmates to know how far to trust them, I had really started believing in Billy, hoping against the odds that this was the time he’d be able to break free of his burden and move forward on the road to recovery. I believe that as long as he has hope, he’ll make it. And his story is one we can all relate to – struggling, failing, and finding the strength to get up again.
Tune in to Hard Time: Revolving Door tonight at 9P et/pt