Outer Banks, N.C. - A startling tattoo, on the face of a man charged in an Outer Banks murder, was inked nine years ago as part of William Long's effort to survive prison by looking intimidating.
That's what the family of William Long told us in a series of emails and phone calls.
Because of these prison tattoos, Long is sick with Hepatitis C, according to his brother-in-law Steve Greene. Long is charged with the Town of Duck's first-ever murder for stabbing a fellow homeless man in this church.
Greene typed an email to NewsChannel 3, and then we spoke with him on the phone. He said Long had been released from prison just two weeks ago. In all, he's spent 39 years behind bars all over the country.
"The tattoos were his downfall," wrote Greene, a miner who lives in Alaska. Worse, Greene said, his brother-in-law keeps getting dumped out of prison without any support, without any medical help for the disease. "They released him to try or die on the streets."
First Sgt. Jeff Ackerman says Long only recently ambled into a charity program on the Outer Banks. A group of churches takes turns caring for the homeless. Ackerman said while in line to make a sandwich last week, Long argued with another homeless man, named George Provost.
“There was a drawer in the kitchen. It was labeled 'knives.' The suspect reached into the drawer and grabbed a knife, and obviously you saw what happened next,” says Ackerman.
As for the face tattoo, "It was just one of the many bad decisions he made years ago," Greene said. "We hoped and prayed Billy would turn his life around, and have many letters to remember the goodness in him."
Greene says he and his family pray for the victim. They also say Long is something of a victim himself, of a "system that focuses on punishment while caging prisoners like wild animals." Greene says because his brother-in-law never got help or support in or out of prison, he was doomed to fail. And now, once again, he's in jail, facing his most serious charges yet.
Below is the email that was sent to NewsChannel 3 from the family:
This news came as a terrible shock to Billy's family. We are all very sorry for the victim, and would like to know more about the details. We hoped and prayed Billy would turn his life around and have many letters to remember the goodness in him that was masked by the mistakes and bad decisions that led up to this. The tattoos were his downfall as they are part of the institutional setting, and though the "666" paints a terrible picture, it was just one of the bad decisions he made years ago and he would have removed it for sure.
These tattoos led to his developing Hepatitis C, and when Billy was cut loose from the penal system, he was not only desperate for medical attention but he was seeking to make peace with the Lord. The staff at the prison would not offer any assistance to Billy to transition back into society and for his Hepatitis. They told him he was on his own. Since he was diagnosed within two years of release they would not offer proper means to fight the disease before or after his release. They released him to try or die on the streets.
Though Billy had an abusive and violent father who left the family when he was very young, he had a loving mother who did the best she could to raise six children who were all very close, and she died at an early age. Billy never got to know any of his family as an adult. As a child he was always happy-go-lucky. His family is scattered to the four winds, all good families, and his oldest sister Barbara has been my loving wife here in Alaska for forty years. We all love him and were hoping he would straighten up as he knew he was in bad physical shape, and he was worried. He had tried to contact us and, we can't help but feel guilty, but he was only out two weeks.
Billy spent his early years in Los Angeles along with the rest of his family including mine. He has been in prison for 39 years, from California to Florida, then on to Indiana, Illinois and twice in North Carolina. Barbara said Billy got that 666 tattoo nine years ago. As you know, tattoos are usually nothing more than "body armor" that is part of the lifestyle of putting out an intimidating look.
Billy was not a racist in his heart though it would appear as such. He has a big heart that has been calloused by years of inmate mentality. I believe Billy chose this tattoo as a foolish decision to project an intimidating means of defense. He mentioned many times in his letters that he was struggling in his head to find redemption through Christ. All of his family are God fearing, down-to-earth people.
He has never killed anyone before, but he was very hardened and reactive as anyone who spent their whole life as an adult in prison. He spent most of his later years in the N.C. prison infirmary for his Hepatitis and had difficulty walking.
We pray for the victim and his family's loss. And Billy, also a victim of a failed system that focuses on punishment while caging prisoners like wild animals only to be released back into freedom with "skill sets" to fail. We do not know what precipitated this stabbing, but it does take two people acting foolish in most cases, but not all.