Fate Vincent Winslow
Conviction: Distribution of marijuana
Sentence: Life imprisonment without parole, probation or suspension of sentence
Facility: Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola
One night in 2008, an undercover cop from the Shreveport, Louisiana police department came up to Fate Winslow, a 41-year-old homeless man, and wanted to know if he could get him "a girl." Winslow asked if he wanted anything else, and the officer said he'd like two dime bags of weed, worth $10 each. The cop agreed to pay $25, with $5 to compensate Winslow. ("A girl" was never procured.)
Winslow says he'd been trying to get his life together, but couldn't afford to turn down the money. "I wasn't lookin to sell drugs. But when you homeless, every dollar counts [sic]," he writes from prison.
The dealer, who was white, wasn't taken in – even though officers found the marked $20 bill on him. Winslow was arrested, put on trial and convicted of selling marijuana. He had three priors: A burglary when he was 17, another burglary when he was 27 (he wasn't armed during either one) and cocaine possession at 37, so he was deemed a habitual offender.
Thanks to Louisiana's four-strikes law, his sentence was bumped to mandatory life without parole. For playing middle-man in a tiny weed deal, Louisiana is denying him the chance to even appear before a parole board - not now that he's 50 years old, and not if he lives until he's 100, no matter what he does to show that he's reformed.
"This is the world we live in," Winslow writes. "The dealer sold the weed and gave me 5 dollars… now I got life."
Winslow's home for life, more commonly known as Angola, is the biggest prison in America. It's notorious for violence, overcrowding and hosting the only remaining prison rodeo in the country, billed as "The Wildest Show in the South."
"This is a place no one wants to be," Winslow writes. "There was forty people in a dorm now there's eighty-six. They put bed on top of bed but they did not add one more toilet or one more shower," he writes. "Thanks god I am living that is ALL I can say."
At his trial, Winslow's life sentence was determined swiftly. After only an hour of deliberation, 10 white jurors voted guilty, while the two black jurors voted not guilty. Years later, when the Daily Beast contacted the prosecutor who'd sought the maximum sentence, he said the case didn't "ring a bell." A white juror who'd voted guilty also couldn't recall much about Winslow, but told the reporter that over the years, she'd been bothered by the fact that the amount of pot was "ridiculously small."
"Justice in Shreveport," Winslow writes.