In a corner of her house in Sparta in southwest Missouri, Jymie Jimerson has set up a kind of shrine. It has Native American art representing her Cherokee heritage alongside Willie Nelson albums, books and photos in remembrance of her late husband. On one side is a copy of Willie’s mid-’70s LP, “Red Headed Stranger.”
“When Steve was young, he had red hair and a red beard, so he always really identified with Willie’s Red Headed Stranger,” Jimerson says. “I try to keep it up there as a reminder of better days.”
Steve Jimerson was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 for his role in the shooting deaths of two men. Jymie says her husband’s life had been ravaged by drug abuse, but after he entered prison, he got sober and become a mentor for other inmates.
“Once he got inside, recovery became his life,” Jymie says. “And that was his passion until the day he died.”
Steve Jimerson died at age 59 on January 6, 2017 due to complications from Hepatitis C, a liver infection that’s especially widespread among prison inmates but, in recent years, rarely treated in prison.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common way inmates get Hep C is by sharing equipment used for injecting drugs, tattooing and piercing with other people who are already infected.
Civil liberties groups in Missouri and at least seven other states are now suing to get more inmates treated with new-generation Hep C drugs that are highly effective but also very costly.