Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that only Marcus Simmons slept on park benches and in bathrooms, not his mother or younger siblings, and that he was sentenced to prison for murder and attempted murder after someone tried to rob him.
A mother’s love turned Marcus Simmons’ life around.
Her letters, combined with Simmons’ own self-reflection, helped him change his heart and ultimately his life.
Simmons, 49, of Lafayette, Louisiana, will share his story of resilience and grace as part of a live storytelling show about fresh starts produced by the USA TODAY Network’s Storytellers Project on Aug. 6.
“People love stories about fresh starts because we all feel like we need one from time to time,” said show emcee and Storytellers Project founder Megan Finnerty. “Hearing how other people got themselves out of an overwhelming situation can be powerfully helpful.”
In 2018, Simmons told his story on stage in Lafayette, talking about growing up in violence, experiencing homelessness, turning to drug dealing and being sentenced to prison. Storytellers Project leaders selected it as one of the best stories from the last three years and he’ll tell it with four other Americans during the show.
The hour-long event will stream on the Storytellers Project’s Facebook Page and YouTube channel at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET. Other tellers will share stories about recovery from gambling, about launching a podcast, motherhood, and about moving forward after a husband’s death.
Simmons, who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, said he never knew his dad, and as a young boy, he saw his mom shot twice. One of the shootings paralyzed her from the waist down. The family couldn’t afford rent, so Simmons’ mother and younger siblings stayed in a homeless shelter and Simmons slept on park benches and in public restrooms.
WATCH: Americans share entertaining and illuminating personal stories
Determined to protect and provide for his mother and siblings, Simmons said he made the “horrible decision” to sell drugs and shot two men who he said were trying to rob him. He was sent to prison for murder and attempted murder.
“I want to send the message to people in my similar shoes because they need to see that hard work and perseverance are tools — tools that you can use to propel yourself and fix your situation,” Simmons told USA TODAY in an email exchange about the show.
Simmons will join Lee Rood, 53, of Des Moines, Iowa; Carly Davis, 39, Phoenix; Shannon Cason, 44, of Detroit; and Anjeanette Damon, 44, of Reno, Nevada.
The Reader’s Watchdog columnist at the Des Moines Register since 2012, Rood first told her story on stage in her home city. Rood’s is about a fresh start she unknowingly helped give someone else.
“I love everything about the Storytellers Project and this story involving my husband, who died in 2013, is quirky but entirely true,” she says of her reasons to tell it again.
“We’re living in a very judgmental era. But everyone who ever did wrong hopes for, and often deserves, a second chance.”
Davis, who has done storytelling coaching, first wrote her story about becoming a mother a few years ago.
“I felt so alone and adrift in this new world of motherhood. I made a lot of weird promises I couldn’t keep and finally realized that the best part is, we get to try again tomorrow,” she said.
“As I have revisited it to prepare for this virtual show, I think my theme of ‘we (parents) get to try again tomorrow’ is relevant to our lives in this pandemic,” she said. “Parenting little children right now feels like the same thing over and over, but every day is a chance to take care of each other and be proud of how we got through this together, and forgive ourselves because this is hard.”
Cason, who is a Motor City podcaster who produces ”In Good Co. Detroit” and “Homemade Stories,” said he agreed to share his “Fresh Starts” story because he wanted to reach more people.
“Fresh starts can be scary, but when you really examine them, many times, that fear is excitement. Instead of it being fear of the unknown, turn it into excitement about all the possibilities,” he said.
Anjeanette Damon, a journalist at the Reno Gazette-Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, and a reporter on “The City” podcast’s second season, also will be telling her story for the first time with Storytellers.
Her story will convey that “contrary to what the term suggests, fresh starts can often take a fair amount of care and work to do right.”
READ: Storytellers Project cancels in-person shows, extends virtual season
The Storytellers Project’s virtual series, called “LIVE, In Your House!,” has been drawing hundreds of thousands of views since debuting April 2, when the COVID-19 pandemic started closing down venues where in-person shows had been held. Viewers can now tune in to the Storytellers Project’s Facebook page or YouTube channel to watch and comment live.
The line-up Aug. 6
- Marcus Simmons, 49, of Lafayette, Louisiana
- Lee Rood, 53, of Des Moines, Iowa
- Carly Davis, 39, Phoenix, Arizona
- Shannon Cason, 44, of Detroit, Michigan
- Anjeanette Damon, 44, of Reno, Nevada
- Aug. 20: Lessons Learned
- Sept. 3: Stories About Stories
- Sept. 17: School Stories
- Sept. 24: Uprisings: Stories of the Struggle for Civil Rights
- Oct. 1: Entrepreneurship and Hustle
- Oct. 15: Far from Alone
- Oct. 29: I Am An American
- Nov. 12: Food & Family
Need to know
What: Storytellers Project LIVE, In Your House!, “Fresh Starts”
When: 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on Thursday, Aug. 6
Where: Storytellers Project Facebook and YouTube channel
More: Check out the Storytellers Project’s past shows
Tell a Story: Click here to apply to tell a story at one of our virtual shows