Caught in a Revolving Prison Door

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


  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!

    Knoxville, Tennessee

  3. Angee
    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.

  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
    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.

  7. joseph the greek
    September 3, 2014, 6:00 am

    Ut aired 2012.Where is Billy now? Goid chance in jail. I hope he is free and sober or some what sober.I pray he is happy.He definitely has potential. To do what I dont know.If you ever read this Billy you inspired many . Definitely myself.You made me love my freedom more than I loved it a hr ago before watching hardtime.I respect you buddy and many others do to daddio.Im now goin to ask the good lord to give you whatever it is you need or want . bless you Billy bless you.You have that motha f***kin potential. Please some how find it in you and go hard with it . love you buddy. A lot of people do .you probably don’t even know it. My man Billy. My man

  8. M
    March 13, 2015, 11:19 am

    Billy unfortunately passed away. I had the privilege of knowing him personally and spending time with him for the last few weeks of his life. He would have loved to see all these comments of love and support. He made some really bad choices, but all in all, he would’ve done anything for anybody. He was a gentle giant. RIP Billy…

  9. JC
    March 23, 2015, 6:55 am

    That is so sad. I only just saw it on TV tonight and was in awe of his will to try and change for the better. I was trying to a way of letting him know but after reading the above comment, it seems my words are a little too late 🙁
    Rest In Peace brother…….

  10. Sharon
    March 23, 2015, 6:58 am

    Bully Kimbrell deserves a break hopefully you will take the time to reflect and if you sincerely want to be there you will Straight Is the New Bent. Give it another go. All the best

  11. Jan Taylor
    London UK
    April 4, 2015, 12:17 am

    Aired here this week and I somehow felt in my soul I was already too late to offer help. At peace now. No more devil on your shoulder, ‘C’mon, one time…’ So sad. You never got off first base, bless you, though secretly you knew you could’ve done ANYTHING. In your eyes. Crying now, and life has made me a hard faced bitch so you got me, Billy!! I’ll never forget you. Any information as to how/where I can visit Billy’s grave gratefully received. Thanks for reading x

  12. qK
    June 2, 2016, 9:07 am

    Seems like yesterday
    It was an amazing beautiful day in May
    The last bbq with you was a glorious day I must say
    There you were so excited to go see the Ocean Bay
    With your brother A.J. on Memorial Day
    You smiled ,waved goodbye and walked away
    There you were Knockin on Heavens Door as you planned in your own way
    Angels looking down at you through the clouds of grey
    Smiling and whispering to you that your pain will go away
    There you were in the hospital looking so fray
    Then God came and took you away to that beautiful paradise on Heavens sleigh.
    Just thinking of our special day
    With Love Your Sis

  13. qK
    June 2, 2016, 9:14 am

    Dedicated to Billy Kimbrell Memory.
    He may have had a period of his life that was hard, troubled,difficult, and dark. He also has had a childhood of great memories and precious moments that will never be forgotten. He will always be remembered as my Big Brother who cared for many. Enjoy the video.

  14. chantal
    June 30, 2016, 12:28 pm

    i feel in love with billy. i am in shock to happened his dead. too sad

  15. Hugo
    February 27, 3:27 pm

    great video tribute to william Billy kimbrell…i saw him on Nat geo revolving door episode, and he never left my conscious ..the man was hurting and you can see that. He said it himself it was like he had and Angel on one shoulder and devil in the other..i just hope he’s chilling in heaven feeling great now…no more pain, anguish,..every now and then I come visit this webpage just to enlighten myself when I feel bad…but you know what william Kimbrells spirit helps me become impervious to such negative thoughts or concepts…rip billy…