In 1982, Willie Simmons, an Army veteran from Alabama, was charged with first-degree robbery for stealing $9. Despite being only 25 years old at the time, he was sentenced to life imprisonment without bail under Alabama’s habitual offender law due to his three prior convictions. He was told he would likely spend the rest of his life in jail. After spending the last 38 years behind bars, now at the age of 62, Simmons spoke to a journalist who shared his story on Twitter.
According to the journalist’s tweets, Simmons was incarcerated at Holman, which is considered one of the most violent prisons in the country. Despite being surrounded by drugs, Simmons informed the journalist that he had been drug-free for the past 18 years while in prison. Simmons recounted his trial from years ago to the journalist, stating that his fate was sealed in a matter of minutes.
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
He remembered his trial lasting only 25 minutes and his appointed attorney failing to call any witnesses. Although all of his prior crimes were nonviolent, the prosecuting attorney did not offer him a plea deal, and Simmons recalled being repeatedly told that they would do everything in their power to keep him off the streets for good.
Despite his situation, Simmons’ circumstances have remained unchanged, and he has been surrounded by dangerous inmates for years, with only occasional visits from his sister, who unfortunately passed away in 2005. Simmons stated that he has appealed his case numerous times, only to receive repeated denials. In a place like prison, it can feel as though you are completely alone, and Simmons has no one on the outside to call and talk to, which makes him feel lost and isolated.
Despite these challenges, Simmons remains hopeful for a better tomorrow and continues to fight against the injustice he has faced. He stated that he is holding onto hope and faith, and he won’t give up.
Despite holding onto hope, it may not be possible for Simmons to fulfill his dream of leaving prison. In 2014, policymakers removed the last avenue for appeal for those sentenced under the habitual offender law.
However, the journalist clarified that she was not arguing for Simmons’ innocence, but rather highlighting the fact that he has paid for his crimes with his entire adult life, and has been cast away without the possibility of redemption. She urged people to consider Simmons when proponents of “tough on crime” policies claim that everyone in prison deserves to be there.
She called for a reexamination of laws such as Alabama’s habitual offender law, which categorically condemn people without the possibility of rehabilitation, and for people to question anyone who supports such laws.