This 62-Year-Old Man Is Currently 38 Years into the Life Sentence He Received After Stealing $9

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One man’s story of spending 38 years in prison is the perfect illustration of just how unfair the U.S. criminal justice system can be.

Willie Simmons of Enterprise, Alabama, was sentenced to life without parole in 1982 — for stealing $9. He had three prior convictions at the time, so he was prosecuted under Alabama’s Habitual Offender Act, passed in 1977 to crack down on repeat criminals. The prison population has skyrocketed by 840 percent since that law was passed, from 3,455 to over 30,000 prisoners.

Willie was only 25 at the time of his life-changing arrest. Why did he take the money? He was high on drugs and “trying to get me a quick fix.” His trial lasted all of 25 minutes, with no witnesses called and no plea deal offered.

He’s now at Holman, one of the most notoriously violent prisons in the country. Incredibly, he got sober 18 years ago, despite the prison being absolutely filled with drugs and drug use.

Investigative journalist Beth Shelburne shared Willie’s story on Twitter recently.

“Mr. Simmons was 25 when the state said he should die in prison,” Beth wrote. “Today he’s 62. When I asked his age he paused &  laughed. ‘Been so long since somebody asked me that,’ he said. He hasn’t had a visitor since 2005 after his sister died. ‘Haven’t heard from nobody since then.'”

Beth added that Willie is studying for his GED. He “tries to stay away from the wild bunch,” he says. He hasn’t gotten a disciplinary citation in 10 years.

“My hope is to get out of here, settle down with a woman and do God’s will,” he told Beth. “I’d like to tell people about how bad drugs are.”

But after filing appeal after appeal, Willie still has no end in sight. With no lawyer, every one of his appeals has been denied. And in 2014, Beth says, lawmakers removed the last avenue of appeal for “habitual offenders” like Willie. Still, he says: “I ain’t giving up.”

Beth shared the story to demonstrate why Alabama’s habitual offender law “needs to go.”

What do you think? Does it need to go?