Hassan Hills and Chip Simmons used to be somewhat of a professional acquaintance. Hills was a teen drug dealer, and Simmons was a young police officer. They each had a job to do, in their eyes, and over the years, their professions brought them into contact with one another several times.
Simmons was a member of the federal drug task force that assisted in putting Hills in jail on charges related to conspiring to possess crack cocaine and powder cocaine as well as nearly 200 pounds of marijuana. Simmons either investigated or arrested Hills on numerous occasions.
But Simmons was one of the first people Hills called after being released from federal custody last year. And Simmons, currently the sheriff of Escambia County, did more than answer the call. Simmons agreed to support Hills in fulfilling his new mission to improve the communities that drug dealing had weakened as a young man.
Less than two years after being released from federal custody, Hills established the Youths Left Behind Corp., a brand-new nonprofit organization with headquarters in Pensacola and a mission to support and mentor kids whose parents are behind bars. Simmons stated that the man “feels like he owes the community a debt, and he has set out to repay that debt.” “I’m happy to be able to assist him in any way I can, and I’m incredibly proud of him,” the speaker said.
Police, drugs, and drug policy Hills, 42, has firsthand experience with having a non-resident parent. At the height of the crack epidemic in the 1980s, when she and her children were still residing in Camden, New Jersey, his mother battled addiction. Hills and his siblings were almost split up by the state when they took her into custody.
But Hills’ mother eventually escaped jail and moved her family to Pensacola in 1992 to start over. This is done through New Jersey’s Intensive Supervision Program. Due to her criminal record, she struggled to find employment in Florida, leaving her and her children to survive on $364 per month in welfare payments. Hills said, “Unfortunately, I started selling crack because of our financial situation.
Hills claimed that at 14, he made his first crack rock sale in Pensacola on the corner of A and Jackson Streets. He said to put food on the table and provide for himself and his family, “I had to do what I had to do.” “What began as just a way to support my family turned into a heart of greed, and I became addicted. Most people are unaware that it’s an addiction, though. It’s an addiction to the cash, the fame, and the adrenaline you experience.
He first met the future sheriff at about that time. Before being named the city’s chief of police and later elected sheriff of Escambia County in 2020, Simmons started his decades-long career as a Pensacola police officer. Hills and Simmons ran into each other while walking down the street. Simmons was present to arrest on occasion, but not always.
We discussed a lot of things. You must realize that we frequently spoke with one another when he wasn’t in custody, Simmons said. “We pulled over and spoke with them. They knew we were carrying out our duties, and we had some idea of what he was planning. There should be some respect there if you don’t mistreat people and work hard for the right reasons.
Hills’ first juvenile case involved the felony offense of sale and delivery, which he acquired from selling crack to a confidential informant. Hills stated, “I was arrested, jailed, released, caught with more damage, and sent back to jail. Hills rose through the ranks quickly as well; by the time he was 17, he was dealing in large quantities of drugs coming into the city from other cities.
He recalled when he was 20 years old and received a federal indictment. Hills’ defense lawyer, Randall Lockhart, submitted a federal motion in which he claimed: “At sentencing, the Court found that Mr.
Hills was responsible for 20.25 kilograms of powder cocaine and 196 pounds of marijuana; they converted the powder cocaine to crack cocaine using a “multiplier” because it was the co-defendants’ “practice” in the conspiracy “to sell cocaine base,” and this resulted in Mr.
Hills was held responsible for 16.2 kilograms of crack cocaine Hills was convicted despite having two prior felonies. Hills received a life sentence on December 19, 2001, due to a federal enhancement code.
‘Matured’ from previous habits When a staff member informed Simmons that “Hassan Hills” had made a phone call twenty years later, Simmons immediately recognized the name. Simmons said, “I never really thought that he would be angry or violent… and I was curious about what he wanted.” He added, “I recognize the name because he was a pretty big target for us back in the day.”
Hills never imagined he would be released from prison. But he was given a reprieve by what seemed to him to be a string of extraordinarily “fortunate” occurrences. First, between 2001 and 2021, federal sentencing guidelines changed, eliminating the type of mandatory life sentence Hills had previously received for having three drug-related, nonviolent felonies.
Then Hills’ sentence was commuted from life in prison to 30 years in jail with credit for time served, making him one of the 330 people former President Barak Obama released from prison on his final day in office. Hills had the chance to apply for the benefits when former President Donald Trump signed the Fair Sentencing Act’s updated provisions into law in 2019. When he did, he approved. Is the request for an earlier release?
Hills’ prison record showed “several infractions.” Still, Senior U.S. District Judge Lacey A. Collier noted in her order for release that since 2013, Hills’ description had been clean, indicating that “he has matured away from the sort of behavior that got him in prison.”
Hill’s debut was on February 5, 2021. out of all of the thousands of people in federal prison, I was able to escape, and I always told myself that if I ever got out, I would return to the communities I had once destroyed and try to build them from the inside out while collaborating with our young people, Hills said.
Hills knew he needed help to carry out his ambitious plans for mentoring young people. I had just returned home when I learned that (Simmons) had been appointed sheriff, Hills recalled. This is what I want to do, ” I thought. Then questioned, “Would Sheriff Chip Simmons talk to me? Assan Hills, I believe in you,” the sheriff told the recently released prisoner after inviting him to his office and hearing about his goals.
It was imperative to Hills. A person of my background, of what I’ve been through, doesn’t stand a chance,” Hills later reflected. I’m a drug dealer, a convicted felon, and I’ve been in prison for 20 years.” “All I needed to know that I can make a difference in the city of Pensacola, the state of Florida, and the United States was to get out and hear that from someone we put in office — that they ‘believed in me. Hose’s four words encouraged me to get up and move. This is the cause of my current situation.
Working diligently Speaking with him now, one detects no trace of Hills’ troubled past but his resolve and sincerity as he outlines his goals for Pensacola’s youth. Ills think he has transformed into a better man than the teenager he was after the federal government declared him to be rehabilitated.
AMIkids Pensacola – Escambia Boys Base is a moderate-risk residential halfway house at Corry Station that offers young men mental health services, vocational and academic training, and mentoring. Ills started volunteering there after speaking with Simmons.
When I went there, I saw the children’s eyes and the need for some mentoring, Hills said. I was in the juvenile facility growing up,” Hills said. e established a “mentorship session” at the group, which runs from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Sundays.
The meetings are intended to be informal settings where Hills can share his experiences with the boys and guide them in thinking about issues like where they want to be in three to five years. Most people are unaware that their lives today are entirely the result of choices they made three to five years ago. According to Hillier, eer pressure and other topics are discussed in the group. Hills says, “we discuss what they have learned from their earlier mistakes.”
The sessions are entirely optional. Hen Hills first started, and there were only eight boys present. Ore than 20 boys now frequently attend the sessions. Ills meet with the teenagers detained at the Academy of Growth and Development. His building houses a secure residential treatment program for the duration of an entire Saturday once a month in DeFuniak Springs.
Hill claimed that every week, he mentors 15 boys “from the inner city” who are not connected to either of the Department of Juvenile Justice facilities. e took two of them last week for them to obtain their first driver’s licenses at the Escambia County Tax Collector’s Office.
describes his mentoring program and instructional approach as fostering “peer group empowerment diligently.” “At Youths Left Behind, our mission is to help and support youth who a parent, guardian have impacted, or loved one who is involved in the mass incarceration or drug addiction system, as well as to provide comprehensive mentorship,” Hills said.
His ultimate goal is to afford a brick-and-mortar location for his nonprofit that will be close to the low-income areas where he once dealt drugs so that kids who now live there can ride their bikes or walk there. n the future, he hopes to negotiate with state and federal organizations to install computers in the nonprofit’s facility so kids can use Skype or Zoom to talk to their imprisoned parents.
It has a psychological impact whenever a child is kept apart from their parents for an extended period, according to Hills, whether due to parental misconduct or other reasons. Ills have recently started going to the Sheriff’s Blazer Academy at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and bringing some of his mentees along. Ills and Simmons both spoke in front of the small group of attendees.
When he speaks, people pay close attention, according to Simmons. Ills and Simmons have also conversed with one another at the Boys Base. It’s like a professional friendship, but both men now work to improve and protect the community. immons said, “You’re crazy if you told me twenty or so years ago that we’d be sharing a stage, talking about the evils of drug trafficking.