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Army Veteran Serving Life Without Parole for Taking $9

by Douglas Ankney

Willie Simmons became addicted to drugs while in the Army and stationed abroad. In 1982, he was in Alabama and “in need of a quick fix.”

Simmons wrestled a man to the ground and took his wallet that contained nine dollars. Police arrested him a few blocks away. Simmons was charged with robbery. His trial lasted 25 minutes, and his court-appointed attorney called no witnesses. No plea deal was offered.

Because Simmons had three prior convictions — all nonviolent felonies — he was sentenced to life without parole under Alabama’s Habitual Offender Law. He was 25 years old.

Today he is studying for his GED at Holman, one of the most violent prisons in the U.S. There had been drugs all around him, but he still tries “to stay away from the wild bunch,” Beth Shelburne tweeted. Simmons got sober in prison 18 years ago.

“I just talked to God about it,” he said. Simmons’ sister died in 2005, and he hasn’t had a visitor since. “In a place like this, it can feel like you’re standing all alone,” he told WBRC-TV News, Birmingham. “Sometimes I feel like I’m lost in outer space.” 



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