Prison, Sweet Prison

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

In school, Everett, a bright student, conjured up a range of distractions. He started drinking at 12, and soon he was smoking pot heavily. He'd steal stuff, skip school. That made his father feel even more out of control, Martinez says.

Today, Everett's father makes an unusual admission on the phone. "There was physical abuse," he says. "I have nothing to hide. I was accused of child abuse a number of times with the other kids, too. I considered them all serious discipline problems. I had no control over them. They never took those kids and took them to a doctor. It was all a bunch of social workers deciding they'd been abused."

It's not exactly total surrender, but "Bud" Everett, 46, admits his behavior had an ill effect on Bill, the youngest child. "Things started going downhill when he was 9," the father says. "I'm sure that has something to do with the way I handled the discipline. It snowballed. He got worse. I got worse."

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.

The elder Everett, however, dismisses his son's last recollection of life with Dad. They do agree on the time frame: July 25, 1995, the day a lady from social services rolled up in her Honda and took 14-year-old Bill away for good.

The night before, Bill says, his father beat him with a dog collar, then grabbed him by the neck and choked him till he passed out on the front lawn. As is often the case, Bill has forgotten why. He came to a few moments later with his father splashing cold water on his face. (Bud Everett says he never choked his son and calls Bill's recollections "totally untrue.")

Martinez remembers that her brother called her, hysterical. He knew he had to get out. "I packed a backpack full of clothes and burned," Everett says.

His next few years were spent shuttling around between foster homes, doing drugs and getting into trouble--like the time he burglarized his dad's house. One day, when he figured he was about to get arrested for another misdeed, he bought a bus ticket and headed to Mingus. He'd heard his mother was in the area.

Oh, he found his mom. Like it mattered. She had a new life, a new husband and didn't want her son's presence lurking over her. "I felt like I'd been abandoned a second time," Everett says. The 20-year-old is sitting today in a rec room at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Clemens Unit in Brazoria, dressed in prison whites. He's just been turned down for parole, and the exact words are burned in his mind: "a vicious, brutal criminal with no thought to the rights of others and society." He laughs it off. The parole board has its own pressures, he figures. What do they know?

Everett and his mentor in TDCJ's Youthful Offender Program, Diana Coates, know better. They know that nearly a year after his graduation from the program, he has a spotless record in the general population at the Clemens Unit. That he's learned to put up with the taunts of cellies who have contempt for him, who look down on his goody-goody record and his newfound commitment to Christianity--something he adopted the night of the robbery, when his girlfriend's father took him aside and told him it was time to get his life straightened out. Everett knew it was time. "I was relieved," he says. "But I knew in my heart that I was still going to the penitentiary."

Everett credits three things for his apparent turnabout: his faith, "Miss Coates" and the fact he's in prison at all, which he considers a good thing. "I've been running all my life; I'm tired of running," he says. "I even called my dad when I was locked up, and I told him, 'Don't even bail me out; don't do nothing. I'm going to sit this one out.'"

The Youthful Offender Program is the typical destination of young, low-security inmates, including several kids under 17. It's set up as a "therapeutic community," and its staff ushers the young men (and women, at the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville) through a packed schedule of school, therapy and trade instruction. Constant motion keeps the kids focused. The program, led in Brazoria by Coates, a psychologist, has a personal touch and a hopeful attitude not found in the wider prison system. Coates, in fact, got all over Everett for his lying, manipulative ways. Even though she found out about Everett's brutal upbringing, she refused to let him play the victim and shunt the blame. "She has helped me in ways you could never imagine," Everett says. "She has been, to me, a mother figure I could respect and learn from when I needed just that in my life. There's still things I've got to work on, like I have a bad attitude sometimes. But I really think I hold a record in the penitentiary, 'cause I've been locked up three years and I haven't been in a fight yet."

At the Clemens Unit, he admits he's stepped on some toes. A big guy, some 200 pounds, he's stood between a sexual predator and his intended prey, he says. He tries to do right, and he's spent his time learning a trade--plumbing--that he hopes to parlay into a useful life if he gets out as expected in early 2003.

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