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Ex-inmate now offers scholarships to kids of incarcerated parents

SALT LAKE CITY — A man convicted of the attempted murder of a Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy in 1988 has turned his life around in an unlikely way.

Karl Winsness spent more than 15 years in prison. Ten years after being released, he's helping shape the lives of youth, and his story is getting national attention. This week People magazine picked up his story.

Life for Winsness looks a lot different than it did about 30 years ago.

"I like challenging jobs a little better than easy jobs," he said. "I feel pretty blessed all-in-all after being locked up for that long."

He called Utah State Prison home for 17 years before his release in 2004. He realized that his two daughters were also victims in his case.

"Doing time wasn't real hard for some people," he said. "It's harder for the people you leave behind."

Winsness owns Karl’s Affordable Plumbing. He wanted to help other children like his own, so in 2010 he started the Willy the Plumber Scholarship for children with incarcerated parents. Since then he's been helping people like Mariah Waters build a better future.

"She's always been in and out. She's never been there (for me)," Water said of her mother. "It's hard without parents."

She never dreamed she'd be studying to become a social worker.

"I never thought I would go to college, and the fact that I'm going into my third year at the U. is phenomenal," she said.

She thanks Winsness for that.

"He decided to make a change and to change not only his life, but other people's lives as well," she said.

The Willy the Plumber Scholarship helps about four students each year. Winsness has awarded nearly $10,000 to students in Utah so far. Most of that money comes straight from him through his plumbing business. The scholarships are managed and administered by the nonprofit organization The Community Foundation of Utah.

Email: nvowell@deseretnews.com