An Alabama man has served 38 years and counting of a life sentence (without eligibility for parole) due to a robbery he committed in 1982 at the age of 25.
He stole $9.
Journalist Beth Shelburne brought Willie Simmons’ shocking and unconscionable story to Twitter on Saturday, in a thread that has since gone viral.
According to Shelburne, Simmons, who had three prior, nonviolent convictions, was prosecuted under Alabama’s controversial habitual offender law, with the Court deciding that he should be imprisoned for life.
Simmons told Shelburne that when he committed the crime that resulted in his life sentence, he was high on drugs, and only looking to secure his next fix.
He wrestled a man to the ground and took the man’s wallet, which had $9 in it. He was arrested a few blocks away.
His trial, he remembers after all this time, lasted all of 25 minutes. His appointed attorney didn’t bother to call forth any witnesses. No plea deal was offered.
“They kept saying we’ll do our best to keep you off the streets for good,” Simmons told Shelburne.
Now 62, Simmons is still being held at Holman Correctional Facility in Escambia County, Alabama. He hasn’t had any visitors since 2005, when his sister passed away.
He spends his time studying for his GED and trying to “stay away from the wild bunch” at what Shelburne describes as one of the “most violent prisons in the country.
Simmons, who never denied his crimes, has tried to appeal his case repeatedly over the year, without a lawyer, and all his appeals were denied.
However, even though he has spent the last 38 years behind bars, Simmons is still hoping to one day be free, telling Shelburne, “I ain’t giving up.”
“My hope is to get out of here, settle down with a woman and do God’s will,” he told the reporter. “I’d like to tell people about how bad drugs are.”
The law has been widely criticized as being too harsh.
Under the law, if someone commits a Class C offense (such as stalking, custodial interference and criminally negligent homicide) they can serve anywhere between 1 to 10 years (if they have no prior felonies) and 15 years to life (if they have three prior felonies).
For Class B offenses, such as first-degree assault, and second-degree kidnapping, that range increases from 2-20 years (with no prior felonies) and 20 years to life (with three prior felonies.)
Class A offenses, such as first-degree robbery, murder and trafficking mandates that if an individual has three prior felonies, they should be sentenced to life or life without parole. If at least one prior was a Class A felony, life without parole is mandatory.