Karl’s Story

Karl "Willy" Winsness knows first-hand the impact incarceration has on a family. In 1988 Karl was convicted and sentenced for attempted criminal homicide.

In his 17 years in the Utah Prison system, Karl had lots of time to think about the impact of his incarceration on his children. "I didn't think my daughters should be punished for my mistakes," he said. Upon his 2004 parole, Karl set a goal for himself as he worked toward righting wrongs of the past: helping the children of other inmates. "Aren’t they pretty much forgotten? Children of inmates?" said Karl. "Inmates deserve whatever they get... But the children haven’t done anything wrong."

In 2013 Karl, now the owner of a successful plumbing business, took a major step towards realizing his vision: he opened the Willy the Plumber Scholarship Fund at the Community Foundation of Utah. Since then numerous students—all children of an incarcerated parent with a desire to continue their education— have received college scholarships from the fund.

“Having my mom in prison, I just felt like I was worthless and abandoned… Nobody realized that we were the victims of her choices,” scholarship recipient Mariah Waters said in a 2016 segment on BYU-TV’s Turning Point. "[When] I got the letter from Karl Winsness saying that I had just received the $1,000 scholarship my world flipped upside down…I knew that $1,000 wasn’t a lot, but it was the fact that somebody else believed in me. And that’s when I knew that I wasn’t going to let my situation hold me back from going to college.”

We are proud to be part of Karl's story—one that illustrates that anyone with a vision and a desire to do good can make a difference.

Watch the BYU TV's Turning Point segment on Willy.

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