Escambia County, AL — Willie Simmons, a 62-year old Black man from Alabama, has been behind bars for the last 38 years for stealing $9. He was convicted of 1st-degree robbery and was sentenced to life without parole in 1982 due to Alabama’s Habitual Offender law. He already had 3 prior convictions.
Beth Shelburne, a reporter from WBRC, shared Simmons’ ordeals in a thread on Twitter after having a conversation with him.
Shelburne said Simmons, an Army veteran who became addicted to drugs while assigned overseas, was 25-years old when the state “said he should die in prison.” Since 2005, he hasn’t had a visitor after his sister passed away.
Now at the age of 62, he has been incarcerated in Holman Correctional Facility in Escambia County, Alabama which is considered one of the “most violent prisons in the country.” Despite that, he is studying for his GED, trying to “stay away from the wild bunch.”
Simmons is not denying the crime he committed that landed him in prison for life. He admitted he was “high on drugs” when he wrestled a man to the ground and stole his wallet that contained $9, as he said he was “trying to get a quick fix.”
Simmons recalled his trial which lasted about 25 minutes. He said his appointed attorney didn’t call on any witness and the prosecutors didn’t offer a plea deal although his prior offenses were non-violent. “They kept saying we’ll do our best to keep you off the streets for good,” he said.
Over the years, he has filed for several appeals even without an attorney and those were all denied. He said, “In a place like this, it can feel like you’re standing all alone. I ain’t got nobody on the outside to call and talk to. Sometimes I feel like I’m lost in outer space.”
Lawmakers in 2014 have since removed the last avenue of appeal for those serving life without parole under the habitual offender law like Simmons. However, Simmons is hoping his cruel sentence could be reconsidered. “Yes, I’ve been hoping and praying on it,” he said. “I ain’t giving up.”
Moreover, Simmons still dreams someday he will be free and live a normal life. “My hope is to get out of here, settle down with a woman and do God’s will,” he said. “I’d like to tell people about how bad drugs are.”