July 5, 2015
By Spencer Kent
Bill “El Wingador” Simmons was released in May of 2015 after spending 2 years in prison on cocaine charges, Thursday, July 2, 2015. He is now writing a book while working on getting his life back together. (Tim Hawk | For NJ.com)
When Bill “El Wingador” Simmons left prison, there was no entourage waiting for him, no scheduled television appearances, no line of fans seeking his signature — there was just his mother, a friend and the daunting reality of starting his life completely over.
Simmons — the five-time 94WIP Wing Bowl champion who had reached unimaginable acclaim through his prowess in competitive eating — was released from prison a little more than a month ago after serving two of a seven-year sentence for cocaine distribution.
Since his start in 1999, the 53-year-old of Woodbury Heights made hundreds of thousands of dollars in his career as a competitive eater. He acquired endorsements, put out his own line of “El Wingador” hot sauce and prior to his arrest had been in discussions with TV networks about his own food-related show.
But the 6-foot-5-inch, 270-pound Simmons exited Southern State Correctional Facility completely broke and only the clothes on his back.
Nevertheless, Simmons left prison having found inner peace, perspective and humility.
“I’m starting clean,” he said.
He added: “I have peace. I’ve gone to the edge, but everything is brand-new to me.”
Upon entering his cell, he would realize how truly helpless and powerless he was.
“It hit home when I got there,” Simmons said. “And hearing that prison door shut, and the way they dress you in prison and the way they talk to you in prison … You talk about feeling powerless.”
In addition to missing his three children, he eventually would also battle with the heartache of his wife divorcing him while inside.
“I lost everything,” he said.
But in time, the raw and grizzly environment of cinderblock walls and hardened criminals, cutoff from the rest of the world, and reduced from celebrated glory; Simmons would be transformed in prison. It stripped away his ego and rebuilt him spiritually. Simmons said he learned more in prison than he ever did in the outside world.
“I look at it now, and I say, ‘What the hell was wrong with me?'” he said. “I lost everything, look at me now and I embarrassed myself at the same time. My ego put me in my situation. But where I am now, as much as I lost everything; I got kids that love me.”
Nevertheless, despite what he’s lost, he added: “I know that I’m blessed. I won’t complain about where I’ve been. My family is great, I’ve got kids that love me, I got a roof over my head now — what can I complain about?”
His redemption will come in the form of living a wholesome life.
“The only way I can show people that I mean business is how I act going here on out,” he said. “There’s no one here that is perfect in this world. I knew right from wrong; I made a bad choice. I’m not going to be perfect from here on out either (but) I’m going to walk with confidence; I’m going to try to be the best person I can be.”
His dealings in cocaine came after running into financial troubles. He admits he lost a lot long before his arrest. Though he said there is absolutely no justification for his actions. At the time, selling cocaine, appeared a quick and easy way to get himself back to even.
“I was falling where I was financially,” he said. “And where I was in my mind … I wasn’t thinking straight.”
But whatever money he made in drug dealing, the stress and shame eventually became too much to bear. Though never a heavy user, he also had been using cocaine at the time.
When it all came crashing down, and authorities arrested Simmons, he said it was a relief — he even thanked the police officers for arresting him.
“It lifted a big weight off my shoulders,” he said.
Though filled with remorse — knowing the pain and suffering his actions caused his family and friends — Simmons said he also cannot reach his goals living in perpetual guilt and degradation .
“I’m going to try to just be the best person I can be,” he said. “Some people will believe that, some people won’t. I can’t control that … (but) I’m a good-natured, big-hearted guy.”
He is still trying to land on his feet and get an income together. While staying with his mother until he finds a place of his own, Simmons is working with a collaborator to write a book about his life and experiences.
Though he has some fear going forward, he said he won’t let it stand in the way of him reaching his goals.
“Yes, I have fear, but I am very spiritual toward my God, I am very spiritually connected … (and) I have a lot of faith.”
One day, he hopes his message can be used to help someone.
“If I can get a handful or one person to understand, where I’ve been … if I can reach out to someone for some reason,” he said.
“I want to set an example for people,” he said. “If I can do it, where I was, anybody can do it.”
Simmons will remain on parole until September 2018.
Anyone interested in contacting Simmons, visit him at his Facebook page, where he actively posts inspirational messages of hope and encouragement.