Karl Winsness has been a tireless advocate for the children of the incarcerated. He's a gruff, friendly plumber who saw first hand the impact being imprisoned had on his own kids. That led to him setting up the Willy the Plumber scholarship fund to support the education of kids with parents behind bars.
has followed Winsness' progress and struggles to raise funds and help more children overcome the obstacles that having parents behind bars places in their way. You can read stories about him here
Now BYU TV is airing a half hour documentary from its Turning Point series on Winsness and his fund which eloquently captures the man and his dogged efforts to provide support and encouragement for these kids.
In total, over past four years, Winsness has given out $11,000 in scholarships and over $5,000 in "swag from local businesses," he says.
He has struggled to get more teens to apply for the scholarship, having only received six applications last year. The contrast with having been "overwhelmed the first two years," with teens applying for financial aid irks him. "Maybe we're falling down a bit on getting the word out," he says.
Several years ago, City Weekly published an autobiographical story
by Utah County youth Maycie Nielsen about growing up with two addicted parents. Nielsen was one of Winsness' first scholarship recipients and appears in the program.
Winsness looks to both the public and inmates to send him what money they can to help with his fund, but he's had problems getting the word out at the prison. His friend and inmate Brian Maguire died of liver cancer, while a woman inmate who organized a marathon at the prison that raised $500 has been released, leaving Winsness without any direct access to inmate populations.
One problem that he has long sought to address has been that if an inmate wishes to send $2 he has to pay 50 cents for a stamp. He wants the prison to help him bundle up the money, so dollars aren't lost to postage, but as yet that hasn't happened.
He hopes that when the documentary airs in the prison, it will generate more interest among inmates and lead to not only money dribbling in but also incarcerated parents encouraging their children to apply.