Willie Simmons Jr is a 63-year-old African-American who was sentenced to life without parole when he was 25 for stealing $9. He has been in jail in Alabama for 39 years.
Mr. Simmons grew up poor in Enterprise, Alabama. He got involved with drugs while still in school and dropped out of High School when he was 16.
Willi was 17 years old when he was first arrested and convicted in 1975 for Grand Larceny. He was released after 18 months but it didn't take long until his drug addiction and another arrest for Grand Larceny brought him back to prison. By the time Willie was 25 he had been in jail three times. None of the crimes were violent.
In 1982 Willie Simmons wrestled down a man on a street and stole the man's wallet, which contained $9. Willie was arrested, but this time he was prosecuted under Alabama's Habitual Felony Offenders Act (HFOA). It was passed in the 1970s to crack down on repeat criminals. HFOA is also known as Alabama's "three-strike" law. If someone had been previously convicted of three felony crimes the punishment is "imprisonment for life without parole".
In an interview with investigative reporter Beth Shelburne Willie said that his trial lasted 25 minutes. The prosecutors did not offer him a plea deal. Instead he was repeatedly told that they will do everything "to keep you off the streets for good."
"I ain't got nobody on the outside to call and talk to. Sometimes I feel like I'm lost in outer space." - Willie Simmons Jr.
Alabama's Habitual Felony Offenders Act is a particularly cruel law which disproportionately targets people of color. There are currently around 500 prisoners incarcerated for life in Alabama's prisons for multiple - yet often very minor convictions - 75% of them are Black, although African-Americans only make up 26% of Alabama's population. In an interview with NPR, Beth Shelburne talks about the effects of Alabama's Habitual Felony Offender Act.
Willie Simmons Jr. is one of those human beings who Alabama is warehousing and wants to be forgotten. The state of Alabama is denying them the chance to re-enter society and lead a dignified life.
Mr. Simmons has not had a visitor since 2005 when his sister passed away. He has overcome the drug addiction which brought him to prison and has been sober for 18 years now. He has not had a disciplinary infraction in over a decade.
He is now 62 years old - put away by the State of Alabama for 38 years in the William C. Holman Correctional Facility, one of the state's most violent prisons. 38 years for a $9 robbery.
Although all of his petitions for review and reconsideration of his sentence were denied he has not given up hope that he may still become a free man before he dies.
A podcast from Ashes Ashes features an interview with two of a group of people who are trying to help get Willie out of prison.
What you can do
Please sign the petition. A web page has been created for Willie Simmons' case at Justice for Willie Simmons. The page has links to various articles and lists ways on how you can help Willie Simmons, by writing to the Governor of Alabama or simply by sending Willie a card to let him know that he has not been forgotten.
There are also several petitions which were created in order to bring attention to Willie's cruel and unfair treatment. Almost 3 million people have signed these petitions. Please add your name.
Donate at the Willie Simmons GoFundMe page to help get Willie a proper legal counselor.