Prison, Sweet Prison

Bill Everett thanks Jesus he's behind bars, for real.

From the counter at Mingus' only bank, the teller could see a tall skinny guy in baggy clothes, hat turned backward, eyes sunken in. His buddy looked just as scruffy, and they were banging on the glass door. "Hey! Let us in! Hey!" they hollered. The teller reached for the button that unlocked the inside door, then pulled back as if she'd touched a hot griddle. This didn't look quite right.

When the boys realized they weren't going to get past the second set of glass doors, they ran off. A post office worker saw them a while later, walking down railroad tracks with bandannas around their necks.

Meanwhile, the bank employees held a little pow-wow. What was this all about? One of them picked up the phone and called her brother, Palo Pinto County Constable Jim Roberts. "I don't know if we've had an attempted robbery," she said, "but I think so."

Bill Everett is one of the Youthful Offender Program's success stories.
Mark Graham
Bill Everett is one of the Youthful Offender Program's success stories.

And so, on October 5, 1998, the tiny municipality of Mingus, Texas, population 212, experienced its greatest excitement in some years: an attempted bank robbery. "That was a comedy of errors," says Roberts, a county constable for 13 years. "They were idiots."

As Roberts later found out, the young perpetrators, one of whom was 17-year-old William R. Everett IV, had been watching a video the night before--Heat--and got it in their heads to rob a bank. They stole a gun, and they had a motive: drug money. Mingus and Palo Pinto County are havens for methamphetamine labs, and to hear Everett tell it, you can practically park yourself in the grass on the weekend and watch the noxious fumes arise from meth tents dotting the prairie.

"They'd seen robbers leaping over the counter in movies and figured they'd do that," Roberts says. "'Bill,' I asked, 'why didn't you just go around the counter?'"

Turns out, of course, that they didn't make it that far. The boys forgot that the bank had two sets of glass doors, and the second set was always locked. So much for the perfect crime.

What might have been treated as a prank in Dallas, though, was serious business in Palo Pinto County. Everett woke up in his trailer the next morning with a gun barrel shoved in his eye, courtesy of the Palo Pinto County Sheriff's Department.

Everett confessed.

To this day, he doesn't know exactly why he told the truth. It certainly wasn't his habit; he had a long, glorious past of knitting elaborate untruths. "Attack of conscience, honesty, God, I don't know what," Everett says. But he admitted they were trying to rob the bank. And they had a gun, tucked in his buddy's waistband. No one at the bank ever saw it, and the sheriff wouldn't have known about it had he not mentioned it, but its mere existence upped the charge to attempted aggravated robbery.

Everett had recently turned 17--an adult, in the eyes of Texas. He got eight years.

It isn't difficult finding a possible origin for Everett's problems. It is his earliest memory; he was nearly 3. He can still see the little house trailer, and the middle bedroom, and his mother reaching into the curio cabinet. "I'm sittin' on that bed and she's got a bag open in front of me, and she's putting all her jewelry and knickknacks in it--little porcelain dolls, little crystal figurines. I remember I was looking in her bag, digging through everything she threw in the pack, seeing if there was anything cool in there."

Soon afterward, Mom took her three kids and unloaded them at a neighbor lady's house. She kept the bag. She never came back.

That left Dad alone with three kids in a small town north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bad, bad combination.

Dad hit the kids. Smacked them, belted them, threw things, clobbered them with whatever was handy: a dog collar, or the metal crutch he bent over Jennifer's back as she crouched in her closet, hiding her face. "He'd just go into this blind rage," says Jennifer Martinez, Everett's 27-year-old sister. "I don't even remember half the reasons. It was never something you did. He was mad about something else, and he'd just go off." One time, she says, her father got so intense during a beating that he went outside and vomited afterward.

As Everett got older, he was afraid to suit up in gym class; he was ashamed of the bruises. He and his sisters had a grim sort of drill. They'd hear the popping sound of gravel in the long driveway as their father came home from work. They knew they had about 20 seconds before Dad parked, grabbed his baseball cap from the seat next to him and walked in the front door. By then, the TV had to be off, the dishes washed, every child hidden behind a schoolbook, eyes low but dead alert.

Dad was in the house, and if anything was out of place, "it was on," Everett recalls. If you met him today, he says, "You'd think he's just the coolest old fart in the world. And he can be. That's what really made it hard growing up. He'd be smiling, telling a joke, and the next second just like a light switch he'd be throwing you out the door and kicking you. Me and my sisters used to joke about it; we called it flying lessons, because he literally threw us around."

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