Fate Winslow’s nightmare began on the streets of Louisiana. He was homeless and struggling to survive. Winslow, an African American male, was approached by a Caucasian stranger on a September evening in 2008. The stranger said he was seeking $20 worth of weed. Hungry and desperate for a meal, Fate agreed to middleman for a measly $5 finders-fee. He delivered two $10 bags of marijuana to the stranger—who Winslow then discovered was an undercover cop.
Winslow was arrested. Astoundingly, the man who sold Winslow the cannabis was never arrested. And as it turns out, he was also Caucasian. But for this insignificant, non-violent crime, Winslow is serving a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Do I think that racism played a part in my situation,” wrote Winslow in a letter to Deedee Kirkwood (founder of The Pot Fairy) his friend and advocate. “[Yes]…major. Color has played a big part in life and being black has been hard.”
Winslow feels he was singled out by the undercover officer and cannot comprehend how the dealer was never charged. Furthermore, due to a Jim Crow-era law that existed in Louisiana at the time of Winslow’s conviction, juries didn’t have to return a unanimous verdict—and they didn’t. Winslow states his jury consisted of 10 Caucasians who voted guilty and two African Americans who voted not guilty. In most states jury nullification would have saved him. Alas, this is yet another detail that Winslow believes points to race as being a factor in his case.
In November of 2018, the citizens of Louisiana finally voted to abolish the archaic Jim Crow-era law, rendering Oregon the final state needing reform. Starting in 2019, convictions of serious felony crimes will require unanimous verdicts. Unfortunately, the amendment of Louisiana’s law is not retroactive, so Winslow still remains in prison.
With little family support and minimal income, Winslow needs a miracle to secure the necessary legal council to argue the unjustness of his case and sentencing. It’s important to remember: Winslow was homeless prior to his conviction. Needless to say, his resources are as slim now as they were then.
Presently, Winslow is housed in one of the most violent and infamous maximum security prisons in the country: Louisiana State Penitentiary—the “Alcatraz of the South” as it’s often referred. Angola, the town the institution is located in, is named after a plantation. And the plantation lifted the name from an African country from which many slaves were seized.
In 2010, 76 percent of the inmate population in Angola were Black. The town is notorious for its abhorrent conditions, including reports of alleged sexual slavery facilitated by prison officers. To this day, all death row inmates in Louisiana are housed in Angola, where they’ll also be executed. Louisiana is known as the world’s prison capital because it houses more prisoners per the population compared to anywhere else in the world.
The devastating reality is that the War on Drugs is disproportionately tougher for people of color—even in today’s society. Many Americans believe the 13 Amendment abolished slavery. However, the phrase “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” is a constitutional detail our government and corporations take autocratic advantage of.
“I have a job cleaning up the dorm that pays me four cents an hour,” says Winslow. “I make 80 cents a week, so in about three weeks I can buy me a jar of peanut butter to make it through hard meals.”
Winslow reports a diet consisting of chiefly rice and beans. For him, despite advances in criminal justice reform, slavery remains alive and well.
According to the NAACP, African Americans are locked-up more than five times the rate of white Americans. In 2015, African Americans and Hispanics made up less than a third of the American population, yet totaled 56 percent of the people in prison. These statistics merely expose the tip of a massive, factual iceberg that support Winslow’s notion: race did, in fact, play a role in his incarceration—and many other people’s, too.
The loophole of the 13th amendment is a backhanded tool utilized by the government allowing them to continue to make human-beings a commodity. The prison industrial complex is simply warehouses stocked with cheap labor generated by non-violent citizens—in order to benefit those who are already rich.
The future of inmates in Louisiana is looking up, however. In 2017 the state passed significant justice reform bills. According to reports, these bills have had success in reducing the population of prisoners. Unfortunately, at this point, it’s unclear if or how these changes will help Winslow. However uncertain, he remains hopeful and continues to do his best to prove he is no danger to society. “I desire to go home extremely bad,” he says. “Staying away from write-ups might help me down the road.”
As we are mindful of Black History Month, please remember Fate Winslow along with the countless others serving extraordinarily long sentences in appalling conditions. Prisons such as Angola are nasty stains on the fabric of America and should not be tolerated. Regardless of race, creed, or gender people should not be caged and forced to work for pennies an hour for the rest of their lives—especially because of a plant. The people left behind in prison while reformation marches on deserve freedom.
If you would like to learn more about Fate and others who suffer behind bars for Cannabis crimes, please visit the Voices Of the Cannabis War Facebook page. To make a non-profit donation to his or other plant prisoner’s commissary, please click here.
Write to Fate Winslow:
Fate Vincent Winslow #00112270
Doc 11 22 70
Camp D Fal1 Bed 38
Louisiana State Penitentiary
Angola, LA 70712
Kristin Flor and Mindi Hall are founders of VOW, a grassroots group comprised of dedicated cannabis activists who strive to be the voice of prisoners incarcerated for cannabis. VOW writes articles, hosts radio shows and speaking engagements, works on special projects, and makes images in honor of those locked up due to cannabis crimes. VOW has ‘vowed’ to help free these people through education, prisoner support, courtroom support, and helping end prohibition.