There’s a lot of silly, petty B.S. on the Internet right now, like people losing their minds over the color of dresses. There is also some incredibly important journalism out there that you should read right this second, including Abby Haglage’s heartbreaking tale of Fate Vincent Winslow at The Daily Beast. Winslow’s story is unconscionable in so many ways: He is currently serving life imprisonment with hard labor in Louisiana for selling $20 worth of marijuana while homeless and hungry in 2008. He’s house in Louisiana State Penitentiary a.k.a. Angola, the largest prison in the United States, with no chance of parole.
Go read it. Right now.
The story of Winslow’s lifetime incarceration for $20 worth of marijuana so he could “get $5 to get something to eat” begins in Shreveport, Louisiana:
On September 5, 2008, Fate Vincent Winslow watched a plainclothes stranger approach him. Homeless and hungry, on a dark street rife with crime, the 41-year-old African American was anxious to make contact, motivated by one singular need: food.
Another man, this one white, stood next to Winslow. He is referred to in court documents exclusively as “Perdue.”
It was nearly 9:20 p.m., hours after the sun had dipped below the abandoned buildings surrounding them. The lights of downtown Shreveport, Louisiana, flickered in the distance as the plain-clothes man—unbeknownst to them, an undercover cop—arrived.
“What do you need?” Winslow asked. “A girl and some weed,” Officer Jerry Alkire replied.
Perdue remained silent as Winslow and Alkire negotiated the costs. Winslow wanted a $5 delivery fee for the $20 (two dime bags) of pot. Fine. Money settled, he grabbed Perdue’s bike and took off. In the meantime, Alkire and Perdue waited. According to the police report, the two hardly spoke.
A “girl” was the prime reason Alkire was there. Prostitutes were known to frequent these seedy streets, and he was looking to nab one. It was for this reason that an arrest agent, Sgt. Ricky Scroggins, sat listening to the bug hooked up to his ear from an unmarked vehicle nearby.
The details of what happened next remain murky. Winslow returned to the scene, allegedly with marijuana. Money and drugs were exchanged between hands in the dark. When Scroggins and the other officers rushed to the scene after Officer Alkire confirmed the pot, they found $5 on Winslow and $20 on Perdue. Both bills had been marked, but no one could explain how, exactly, they got there.
Police arrested Winslow, drove him to prison, and locked him up. Six months later, a jury found him guilty of distribution of a schedule I substance (marijuana). Three months after that, a judge sentenced him to life imprisonment with hard labor, without the benefit of parole.
Perdue was never arrested.
Winslow has a slew of other non-violent drug-related prior felonies, but it’s baffling that he’s behind bars for the rest of his life when cops were looking to make a bust that seems like the law enforcement equivalent of fishing with dynamite. Even the warden at Angola himself is speaking out about Winslow’s incarceration at his facility:
“There’s an answer to this without being so extreme. But we’re still-living-20-years-ago extreme. Throw the human away. He’s worthless. Boom: up the river,” says Angola Prison Warden Burl Cain. “And yet, he didn’t even kill anybody. He didn’t do anything, he just had an addiction he couldn’t control and he was trying to support it robbing. That’s terrible to rob people—I’ve been robbed, I hate it. I want something done to him. But not all his life. That’s extreme. That’s cruel and unusual punishment to me.”
Just go read the entire thing over at The Daily Beast. It’s a heartbreaking tale you feel an ounce of compassion for your fellow human being. Perhaps even more importantly is that it raises some provocative questions about why we, as a society, levy such baffling criminal convictions against non-violent offenders, especially marijuana prohibition laws continue to crumble around the country.