Willie Simmons was convicted when he was only 25. Now 61, he only hopes to leave prison and settle down.
Journalist Beth Shelburne recently took to Twitter to share the story of Willie Simmons, a man who is currently serving a lifelong jail sentence without parole for mugging a man and stealing nine dollars from him about 38 years ago. Since her Twitter thread was first posted, it has gone viral. Thousands of people from across the world have expressed their shock. Many have agreed that the time clearly does not fit the crime; the American justice system failed Simmons and evidently requires some tweaking in order to be truly just. Though his story has moved several people, it is unlikely that his sentence will be revoked, News One reports.
THREAD: Today I talked to Willie Simmons, who has spent the last 38 years in prison for stealing $9. He was convicted of 1st degree robbery & sentenced to life without parole in 1982, prosecuted under Alabama's habitual offender law because he had 3 prior convictions. 1/12 pic.twitter.com/s5BNK2Ejyd— Beth Shelburne (@bshelburne) December 22, 2019
Simmons was convicted of first-degree robbery in 1982 and prosecuted under Alabama's habitual offender law. This is because he had three prior convictions, including one of grand larceny and two of receiving stolen property. However, journalist Shelburne could locate only the grand larceny from 1979. Simmons was only 25 years old when first convicted; he is now 62 and has been on his own since 2005. He is serving time in a prison called Holman, which is known as one of the most violent prisons in the United States. When he was first convicted, Simmons was addicted to drugs, but overcame his addiction and became sober while in prison 18 years ago. Now, he says he simply "tries to stay away from the wild bunch."
In an interview with Shelburne, he explained what happened the day he stole nine dollars. He explained, "I was just trying to get me a quick fix." He had wrestled a man to the ground and taken the money from him, before police officers a block away arrested him. His trial lasted only 25 minutes and the attorney who was appointed to him did not call on any witnesses. Furthermore, though all of his prior violations were non-violent, the prosecutors did not offer him a plea deal. He shared, "They kept saying we'll do our best to keep you off the streets for good." The law was simply dead set against him from the beginning.
Additionally, Simmons has attempted to file appeal after appeal - all of his requests were denied. "In a place like this, it can feel like you're standing all alone," he told Shelburne. "I ain't got nobody on the outside to call and talk to. Sometimes I feel like I'm lost in outer space... My hope is to get out of here, settle down with a woman and do God's will. I'd like to tell people about how bad drugs are." Since he was first convicted, Alabama has reconsidered the state's habitual felony offender laws, but these changes do not have a retroactive impact. Shelburne affirmed, "When tough on crime people say everyone in prison deserves to be there, think of Mr. Simmons. We should be ashamed of laws that categorically throw people away in the name of safety. We should question anyone who supports Alabama's habitual offender law. It needs to go." There is little hope for Simmons now, but if enough people raise their voices loudly in support of him and others like him, Alabama lawmakers will be forced to reconsider the law.