At age 17, Kimberly Simmons was an expectant mother who was charged with first degree felony murder and was later sentenced to serve her the rest of her life in prison. Today, at 47, Kimberly is a free woman who is a member of ICAN, and is discovering what it is like to live as an adult in free society and preparing to be the kind of mother she wasn’t allowed to be the first time.
When Kim was a child, she experienced trauma and neglect in many forms. Her parents separated when she was young, and her mother was paralyzed in an incident of extreme domestic violence when Kim was just 9 years old. Kim was also sexually abused by relatives, and slowly but surely she became angry and disconnected, isolating herself both in school, at home, and from her peers. At 16, she dropped out, and learned too late that she could not earn her GED until she was 18. She found herself alone in a new city, Cleveland, met a man, and became pregnant.
After a dispute with the father of her child over someone else he was seeing, some of Kim’s friends retaliated by throwing a Molotov cocktail into the house of his other love interest. Tragically, an elderly woman in the house was killed. Although Kim was not the one to throw the device, she was charged with and convicted of first degree felony murder and arson and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Kim gave birth while incarcerated, and her mother took her child in to raise her.
Like so many young people who enter the system, Kim says being locked up was incredibly difficult, particularly at first. “I was sexually harassed in prison, and I did a lot of things I’m not proud of. I was really trying to do the right things in a negative environment without proper guidance,” she says. “They say prison is supposed to rehabilitate you but they don’t give you the tools to grow. They don’t tell you how. They say you need to get rid of your anger but they never take you through the steps on how to deal with it.”
Over time, however, Kim transformed from a disenchanted teenager into a mature and remorseful adult, and was able to find herself, even within the confines of a prison. She earned her GED, her associate’s degree in applied arts and sciences, and her bachelor’s degree in behavioral science. She excelled academically, grew spiritually, and dreamed of someday being free.
Today, Kimberly is one of two female juvenile lifers who have been released in Michigan in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana (10 more remain incarcerated). Simmons, a native of Detroit, came home on May 3, 2017, after serving 29 years. Now 47, she is living with her family and expecting her second child, a girl, due in the summer.
But being home is not without its challenges, like finding work and learning how to drive. Still, Kim is more than determined to succeed, particularly when it comes to having her new baby. “While I have a 29-year-old daughter, I have never been a full-time mom because I had my first child in prison,” she says. “It’s going to take a lot of prayer and patience. I’ll have to stay humble.”
But on most days, Kim’s new surroundings still feel wonderfully surreal to her. “I still have my days where I wake up and the first thing I do is look around, and think, ‘Ok, it’s really here. I’m really here,” she says. “It wasn’t a dream. I really am home.”