illie Simmons is a 62-year-old man from Alabama. He has spent the last 38 years of his life in prison for stealing $9 due to Alabama’s Habitual Offender law. Beth Shelburne of WBRC shared a thread on Twitter, detailing her conversation with Simmons and what landed him behind bars for more than three decades.
Shelburne said that Simmons was 25 when the state “said he should die in prison.” He was convicted of first-degree robbery and sentenced to life without parole in 1982. The Alabama man was prosecuted under Alabama’s Habitual Offender law because he had three prior convictions. These convictions, according to Shelburne, were grand larceny and receiving stolen property. However, she said she was only able to locate the grand larceny conviction from 1979, which Simmons served a year in prison for. Simmons, who was uncertain, says “he did about the same for the other crimes,” but he couldn’t really remember how much time he had served for the offenses.
Simmons is incarcerated in Holman Correctional Facility in Escambia County, Alabama. He hasn’t had a visitor since 2005 after his sister passed away, but he is managing to keep his head above water. Shelburne said that the 62-year-old, who is serving time at one of the “most violent prisons in the country,” is studying for his GED and tries to “stay away from the wild bunch.”
Simmons takes accountability for the actions that landed him in prison. He told Shelburne that he was “high on drugs” when he committed the crime that put him behind bars for life, without parole. He said he wrestled a man to the ground and stole his wallet, which contained $9. He says he was trying to “get a quick fix.”
He was able to recount his trial, which he says lasted about 25 minutes. Simmons said he was appointed an attorney, who didn’t call on any witnesses. Nor was he offered 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.
Simmons says he grew up poor in Enterprise, Alabama – a small city in the southeastern part of the state that has a population of 28,269, according to Census records. His drug use began in high school and he dropped out at 16. He also admitted to using hard drugs when he committed all of his crimes. “It was all stupid. I was messed up,” he told Shelburne.
Simmons says he has filed for several appeals over the years, but he hasn’t had an attorney. The appeals have all been denied. “In a place like this, it can feel like you’re standing all alone,” he said. “I ain’t got nobody on the outside to call and talk to. Sometimes I feel like I’m lost in outer space.”
Simmons hopes to be released so he can return to a life of normality. “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.”
Shelburne asked Simmons about lawmakers removing the last avenue of appeal for people like himself who are serving life in prison without parole under the state’s Habitual Offender law. When asked if he hopes legislators would reconsider their decision, Simmons said, “Yes, I’ve been hoping and praying on it.”
He added, “I ain’t giving up.”
Alabama’s Habitual Offender law has been criticized for being overly harsh, according to AL.com. In fact, it has been reported that the law contributes to overcrowding at facilities. The Habitual Offender law has also resulted in 27 percent of inmates serving longer sentences.
Overall, the law results in longer prison sentences for a wide range of criminal offenses. For example, a person who commits a Class C offense (IE: stalking, custodial interference, criminally negligent homicide) with no prior felonies can face 1-10 years. However, if that person were to have one prior felony, they can possibly go to prison for anywhere between 2 years to life.
Meanwhile, committing a Class A offense (IE: murder, first-degree robbery, trafficking) with zero prior felonies is 10 years to life, one prior felony is 5 years to life, two prior felonies is 99 years or life and three prior felonies is life or life without parole, which is the sentence Simmons was given.
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