In fact, Willie's father, Butch, was not very happy to hear the Willie was trying to follow in his footsteps. Although he had escaped from prison in Wisconsin, he had been recaptured after robbing several banks in New York. He was sent to the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Butch had tried very hard to find opportunities in prison to better himself so he could show the parole board that he was worth another look. He had a cellmate who was an intellectual and who supported Butch's efforts to get educated. In Wisconsin, he had finished his high school courses and earned a diploma. Then in Kansas, he took forty courses and graduated from college at the University of Kansas with a nearly perfect GPA. He was in the top three per cent of his class. He was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa ( a controversial event). When Kansas finally released him, he had to return to Wisconsin to see about getting his sentenced reduced there. No such luck. Butch ended up back in prison.
Willie read about him in the newspaper. The Daily News had dug up information on Willie's background, noting that this "baby-faced killer's" father was also doing time for murder. Willie was thrilled. It was the first independent proof, apart from what his mother and grandmother had told him, of his father's criminal exploits. Willie sat down and wrote his father a letter.
Butch had tried to distance himself from his family, particularly his father, and he was not pleased to discover that his own son was now in prison for murder. He understood the boy's rage from neglect and living on the streets, but he tried to counsel him not to keep taking this road. Instead, he urged Willie to return to school.
This is not what Willie had expected and the letter disappointed him. They had one phone conversation and Butch sent Willie some books to help him with grammar and vocabulary.
Willie turned away from this advice. Instead, he broke out of the Goshen Center for Boys with several other boys. Two hours later he was recaptured. What he had overlooked was that while in Goshen he had turned sixteen. Escaping from a penal institution was a felony for an adult, even a youth facility. He was sentenced to four years in a state prison. That was strike one.
In prison, he fell in with some Black Muslims who gave Willie an idealistic context for his rage, particularly against whites. At this point, his relationship with Butch fell apart. He had his own way to go and his father, a fallen idol, was not going to be part of it.
After serving four years, Willie was returned to the Division of Youth and placed in another facility for boys. When he turned twenty-one, he was released. He wanted to try to stay out of prison. He met a girl, Sharon Hayward, who had a child, and they decided to get married. He also enrolled in a community college and began to think about having a real future. He even started looking for a job.
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. While visiting his sister one day, a man in her building had an encounter with Willie that ended up in a complaint that Willie had tried to rob him. When Willie explained that this was a misunderstanding, he was arrested. The whole thing seemed absurd but smelled of politics: Willie had gotten off too easy and the governor was taking the heat for his release. One way or another, Willie was going down.
The system that had worked for so long in his favor was now reversing itself. His record now stayed with him and any little thing accumulated force. Although his juvenile record had been erased, he had developed a bad reputation with the law enforcement personnel. He was not getting off easy any longer. Willie's bail was too high for his family, so he stayed in jail pending his trial.
While in court, an officer put his hand on Willie to get him to move, and when he resisted, three officers started to push him. Willie responded with obscenities and they pushed him against the defense table, which cracked under their weight, and the legs splintered off. One officer clubbed him with a table leg. Willie's lawyer joined the fray, and when it was all over, Willie was charged with assault, resisting arrest, and criminal contempt of court.
Willie got a felony conviction out of the trial, on the charge of attempted assault. With his escape attempt from Goshen, that was a second felony for him. Strike two. He was looking at three and a half to seven years. A third felony, no matter what it was, could get him twenty-five to life under the 1965 persistent felony offender law. Willie had only been free for one hundred days.
That was another turning point for him. Since going straight had gotten him nowhere, he decided to take on the system, become even more reckless. Once again, he felt he had nothing left to lose. He was destined for incarceration.
At his sentencing hearing, Willie dismissed his lawyer and said he did not recognize the court's jurisdiction over him. He also said that he was not Willie Bosket, but Bobby Reed. The judge let him have his day in court, as preposterous as his claims were. In the end, the judge told him that he was a ticking time bomb, and gave him the maximum sentence, adding thirty days for court histrionics.
Yet he still had to stand trial for his assault on the court officers. He demanded once again to be his own lawyer. He put on such a show that the jury found him not guilty. He had beaten a third felony conviction. For the moment.
In the meantime, Butch finally got out of prison and started on a new life. It was not long, however, before he molested a child in his care. He was arrested again. Desperate to get free, he tried to escape and died in a shoot-out with the police, taking his own life and killing his girlfriend before they could capture him.
Willie heard about this and his belief was restored that his father was in fact a "bad man." To his mind, Butch had gone out in a blaze of glory.
Now Willie was convinced he would never got out of prison alive. They would keep him here forever if they could. He embarked on an all-out war against the system, targeting guards as symbols. Once of his many altercations resulted in further felony charges. Once again, he went pro se as his own defense. He had learned a lot about law and he knew he could win the jury. He did manage to elude many of the multiple charges, but was found guilty of arson and assault. Strike three.
The three felony charges were all fairly minor: escape, attempted assault, and assault/arson. He could not understand how they added up to the same sentence someone got for murder. Nevertheless, that's what he got. He viewed that as a license to go to an extreme in everything he did. He was at war. At once point he stabbed a guard with a home-made knife, just barely missing the man's heart. For that he was tried for attempted murder and given another life sentence. Willie was in jail for good.