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

Comments

  1. S.H.H.
    Knoxville, TN
    October 3, 2012, 12:49 am

    It was indeed a privilege to watch Billy Kimbrell struggle to try and maintain sobriety and as an impaired professional who is a recovering addict myself, sober now for over ten year from an addiction to opiates, I totally understand what he meant when he talked about the mental anguish he was experiencing, which was so clearly visible behind his hardened yet soulful eyes.
    For a recovering addict like me, it is so easy to see how his use of drugs have enabled Mr. Kimbrell to cope with all of the pain and anguish he says he was experiencing. I fervently hope that he takes the advice of the home arrest officer assigned to his case, who suggested that perhaps it was going to take some in depth counseling and addiction treatment before Mr. Kimbrell will ever be able to answer his own question – what is wrong with him – and be able to maintain any kind of successful and meaningful sobriety for any considerable length of time. I desperately hope Billy does seek the help of a strong treatment and long term counseling program because I know from personal experience that it is virtually impossible to successfully quit using drugs and alcohol long term on a person’s own.
    Also, while watching Mr. Kimbrell was an inspiration, an even bigger inspiration was watching the house arrest officer who was assigned to Billy’s case. While watching him work, it was easy to forget he was actually a police officer and not a highly trained and dedicated drug and alcohol counselor. I am so sorry I was unable to catch his name because this officer treated Mr. Kimbrell with professionalism, respect, compassion and tough love. In a world that often misunderstands the true nature and causes behind substance abuse, most addicts and alcoholics are often treated with disrespect and a total lack of understanding that substance abuse is a medical disease of the body, mind and spirit. Not only did this officer show an understanding of the nature of the disease, he also understood that despite this, Mr. Kimbrell was still responsible for his actions and did not hesitate to arrest him when Billy had violated the rules of his house arrest; however, despite the fact he was taking Mr. Kimbrell into custody, he still treated him with respect, compassion and understanding, even being supportive and positive toward Billy for the long number of days he was able to be sober and compliant, and best of all, when Billy asked the officer if he could continue to call him, the officer replied, “absolutely.” The disease of addiction is beyond horrible and unless a person has been through it, he or she cannot judge what it is like for an addict or alcoholic who is struggling. After all, no one ever wakes up one morning and says to him or herself, “I think I will go out into the world today and become an active drug addict.” fortunately, I think this home arrest police officer gets that and from what I saw, he was an incredibly awesome and supportive force for any addict to have in his or her corner, and it warmed my heart to see him in action. I hope he continues to keep up the awesome work and is someday rewarded for his efforts. As a recovering professional who now works with other addicts and alcoholics attempting to obtain a successful long term recovery, the house arrest officer appeared to be a true professional and it cannot be stressed enough just exactly how vital an individual like him is to a system that is frequently broken and filled with struggling individuals who needs someone who will treat them with the respect and care they need and will be willing to give them a chance.

  2. S.H.H.
    Knoxville, Tennessee
    October 3, 2012, 1:07 am

    One more thing – as I previosly stated in the above comment, I was sincerely impressed with the attitude and actions of the house arrest officer assigned to monitor the house arrest compliance of Billy Kimbrell, but unfortunately, was unable to get his name, despite attempting to look it up in several internet searches. I would very much like to be able to write a letter of positive recognition to the department in which hen works, but cannot properly identify his name. If Mr. Andrew Strenio or someone else from the production staff of “Hard Time” would be willing to provide me with the name of this officer and send it to me via my email address, I provided, I would greatly appreciate it. I believe in bringing positive attention and recognition to individuals who deserve it and all too often, it is far easier and seemingly more satisfying for individuals to recognize others only for something negative and I would very much like to be able to do the right thing here and recognize this officer for his awesome work!
    Thank you so much!

    Sincerely,
    S.H.H.
    Knoxville, Tennessee

  3. Angee
    milwaukee
    October 3, 2012, 8:09 am

    So many shows on convicts and addicts. Billy really made an impression. I hope he can get a grip on it. If he needs any support I would let him know he has made a difference in this world by telling his story and being himself. Maybe that’s his purpose that he has not seemed to find. Billy if you see this. Thank you and my sincere best wishes.
    Angee

  4. Feekie
    United States
    October 6, 2012, 8:08 pm

    I just watched the story of Billy Kimbrell on the National Geographic Channel. It brought tears to my eyes. I wanted so much for him to succeed. I hope he takes the giant step and goes for counseling. There is so much pain inside him that, if he can’t find the courage to face it and deal with it, I fear he won’t be able to stay off drugs. So many people believe the best way to deal with painful pasts is to push it down and try not to think about it. This never works. It just eats away at the person causing him to seek relief in risky behavior like drugs. I retired from social work a few years ago, and I saw this pattern over and over again. I want so much for Billy to succeed. It isn’t too late for him to live a peaceful rewarding life. I’m rooting for you Billy!

  5. Heather Elliott
    Fort Wayne, in
    October 9, 2012, 6:17 pm

    I’m so sad to see this. This is my blood uncle. Breaks my heart to see him going through this.

  6. Lj
    London
    March 15, 2013, 9:13 pm

    Does anybody know what happened to Billy? My heart went out out to him as he struggled with his addiction. I truly hope he manages to live a sober life, it is so clear he has a lot to give in life.