The following article appears in the Summer 2016 issue of Inside Journal, Prison Fellowship’s quarterly publication written specifically for incarcerated men and women. To learn more about Inside Journal, and to read or print out previous issues, click here.
William “Billy” Kidd used to live up to his outlaw name. According to his then-parole officer, Mark Goricki, he showed up at a parole appointment in the early 1990s in a black Grand Prix, wearing a black cowboy hat and a black duster down to his ankles. He liked playing the part.
Growing up in Michigan, Billy was an altar boy from a well-to-do suburban family. However, he doesn’t remember learning much from the Latin masses at the Roman Catholic church, and there was trouble at home. His father, a successful executive, traveled a lot. His mother, struggling with depression, self-medicated with alcohol.
Embarrassed by the situation at home, Billy, who was often teased about sharing a name with a legendary Wild West gunfighter, started getting into all the trouble he could find. He bounced in and out of juvenile detention and youth camp. The troubled boy unraveled even more after his mom died of a massive heart attack.
At 17, Billy caught his first adult felony charges. He wound up on a cell block with men he calls “the worst of the worst.” He remembers, “They became my mentors in crime.”
Prison became a place of belonging. “Everyone I knew was [behind bars],” he says. “I would come out to the free world to wreak havoc, run deals, and get sent back.”
Once or twice in the early days of his incarceration, Billy heard people talk about Jesus, but any “jailhouse religion” crumbled as soon as he was out. The streets, promising money and women, were too powerful a temptation.
From Dead-End to Deliverance
After years spent revolving in and out of the Michigan Department of Corrections, Billy had a body’s worth of tattoos and a rap sheet long enough to wallpaper a room. He also had a daughter that he had never met.
In November 1998, he found himself in segregation for his leadership role in a race-based prison gang. There, he says, God got his attention.
With a Bible for a companion, Billy began to read. The words made sense to him in a way they never had before. He started to reflect on the way he was living and the collateral damage of all his bad choices.
“I recognized the evil in my life,” he says. “I thought, If I died right now, people would be happy.”
Billy felt like God was giving him one more chance to get his life right. He begged for forgiveness and decided to make the most of his last shot.
When Billy got out of segregation, he stayed true to his commitment. With good behavior, he got down from Level V to Level II. He got involved in the prison church, joined Bible studies, and started counseling other men.
The first time he came up for parole after giving his life to God, he was turned down flat. “The [parole board] just saw who I had been,” Billy remembers. “Stabbings. Extortion. Robbery.” He thanked the parole board for its time and mentally prepared himself to max out. He was even happy about it; prison was still his home, but now he was learning to turn prison culture upside down by following God and leading others in that journey.
But God had other plans for the reformed outlaw.
Not long after Billy was denied parole, a counselor called Billy to his office and told him to close the door. Billy hesitated; he didn’t want to be labeled a snitch. But the counselor insisted, and when Billy sat down, the counselor slid papers across the desk to him. It was a P-61 form, designating Billy for immediate release.
Two weeks later, Billy was on the street.
Another Chance at Life
“It was scary. I didn’t know what to do,” he recalls.
But Billy found a mentor who reminded him of the truth of the Gospel and helped him overcome challenges, like getting his driver’s license and filing his taxes for the first time. He found work with a buddy who did roofing. He saved money, found a place to live, and saw his old parole officer, Mark Goricki.
“He came out with a whole new attitude,” Mark remembers. “I didn’t believe it at first, but it turned out to be the real thing. He met curfew, got involved in no relationships, and said, ‘I’m concentrating on me this time.’”
These days, Mark and Billy consider each other friends. They visit criminal justice classes and jails to give their perspective on the criminal justice system, sharing how even men like Billy, whom Mark calls “the worst guy on my caseload in 39 years,” can start over.
Released at age 42, Billy has made the most of his second chance. He is married and a family man. He gained custody of his daughter and raised her for several years. He enjoys his steady job.
In addition to the presentations he gives with Mark, he is also a volunteer who works with Prison Fellowship’s area director in Michigan, Denise Harris.
Billy Kidd’s name is still an ice-breaker, says Denise. But now, instead of being part of his criminal persona, his name is a powerful reminder of just how far God can take a person who believes in Him. “When I think of Billy,” she says, “I think of transformation.”