Earl Simmons is dressed in the black-and-white striped suit of a Maricopa County prison inmate, with the word "Unsentenced" in red on his back, talking to a photographer. It's just after 8 a.m. on a Thursday morning in December, and he's handcuffed in a downstairs courtroom of the jail.
This is Simmons's probation revocation hearing. Though he's often had bags under his eyes and stubble on his face lately, Simmons looks rested, thinner than he was a month ago.
When the proceedings start, Simmons pleads guilty to a felony probation violation. Judge Christine Mulleneaux, who presided over Simmons's previous probation violation case, accepts the plea.
But she adds, "His substance abuse issues are at the root of this problem. He's been on some type of substance since he was 14."
Simmons's probation violation report shows he admitted using cocaine on August 12, and again on October 20. Drug tests were positive for cocaine on October 12, 15, and 25. He failed to show up for his drug test on October 28. "You went on a downward spiral," Mullenueax tells Simmons. "Your criminal history goes back to 1988. It's going to continue if you don't take care of your mental health."
In the courtroom, Simmons's supporters are praying. Pastor Barbara King is here, along with a woman who's holding one hand on the Bible and the other up toward Simmons, whispering from the Book of Psalms.
The judge asks Simmons if he has anything to say. He bows his head. "I did make the effort that I could," he says. "And I appreciate any help you can give me."
Mulleneaux delivers the sentence: one year in jail, minus 113 days already served. Simmons casts a disappointed glance at his attorney, but raises his head high. Though he's received the maximum sentence for his offense, he got nearly four months shaved off right away. If he can be a model prisoner, he might get out early.
Four days after he was sentenced, Simmons was admitted to the Flamenco Mental Health ward at the Alhambra prison complex (where he remains) and denied visitors for 30 days. His mental health, particularly the long-circulated rumor that he has bipolar disorder, was not something Simmons would comment on during interviews for this story, saying only, "That's way too personal."
After the news that he'd been moved to the mental health ward, Nakia Walker issued this statement: "He is not crazy! Earl's stay inside of the Flamenco Prison Complex in Arizona, as weird as it may sound, will be beneficial. Does he deserve to be caged in a cell? No! That's why he's not! He sleeps in a dorm that is complemented with doctors, medical attention, and treatment."
Back at the sentencing, as he's being fingerprinted, Simmons turns to the handful of court spectators. He smiles at them. Walker is wiping tears from her eyes.
As he's led out the steel door, Simmons says, "Yo, I'll be out in two and a half, three months, all right?"