The American legal system is supposed to be the very definition of justice. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case for Fate Vincent Winslow, a man who, at the age of 41, was arrested for selling $20 worth of weed to an undercover cop. After being arrested for the crime, he was given the second harshest sentence the American judicial system can provide: life without parole.


Had it not been for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Fate Vincent Winslow may have ended up sitting in prison, a nameless face to most, for the rest of his life. Even though people may now know his name, however, it’s likely that he’ll still die behind bars. All this for a 15 minute exchange involving $20 worth of weed in Shreveport, Louisiana.

On Sept. 5, 2008, Winslow was standing on the street when a stranger approached him. The stranger turned out to be a cop. The state, when denying Winslow’s appeal, said that “the defendant initiated contact with the officer.” What they really mean, however, is that the officer walked right up to Winslow, on a dark and crime-ridden street after 9 pm, and Winslow asked him what he needed.

The undercover officer told the homeless man that he needed weed and a prostitute. Winslow offered to go get the man weed, but he wanted an additional $5 for doing so. Winslow said he did this because he was hungry, and since $5 can’t even buy a pack of cigarettes in this day and age, I’m inclined to believe him. The cop gave him $25.

Winslow left, but returned 10 minutes later with $20 worth of weed. He then offered to walk the officer back to his apartment, to ensure he wouldn’t get robbed, for an additional $4. When the officer gave the signal for backup, the police swooped in and arrested Winslow. He had $11 on him at the time of his arrest.


Winslow went to trial six months later, charged with distribution of a Schedule I substance… marijuana. He was found guilty at this point, and three months later, the judge sentenced him to life in prison. With hard labor. Without parole.

The prosecution sought this punishment, and the judge was more than happy to oblige, thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for those with previous convictions. Before you say “Well, he’s probably committed violent offenses in the past, and this will just keep him from hurting someone,” take a look at his prior convictions.

  • Simple burglary, non-violent, at the age of 17. Twenty-three years before this arrest. Served 3 years.
  • Simple burglary, non-violent, at the age of 26. Fourteen years before this arrest. Served 8 1/2 years.
  • Cocaine possession, non-violent, in 2004. Four years before this arrest. Served 18 months.

Due to his prior convictions, Winslow found it difficult to find a job, and thanks to rules barring individuals with drug-related felonies from obtaining food stamps, he was basically on his own. These things happen, but a lack of food and money undoubtedly had something to do with his arrest. Cops paid him $5 to go buy them an illegal substance.

I’m honestly not even sure how to respond to that.


What’s happening to Winslow is a travesty, but it’s far from rare in our country. In fact, more than 3,200 people are in American prisons, serving life without parole, for committing non-violent offenses. Being the middle man for $20 worth of weed, after being offered $5 by cops to do so, is obviously one of these offenses.

But it’s not the only one. People serving life in prison in America have been convicted of crimes ranging from possessing stolen wrenches to passing out LSD at a Grateful Dead concert. From siphoning gas out of a vehicle to having an amount of heroine so small that it couldn’t even be weighed.

There’s even a guy serving life for helping a man negotiate the selling of crack to an undercover cop. Did we mention that the crack was fake? Another received this sentence because he removed the gun of his abusive step-father out of their shared home.

Of the over 3,000 individuals serving life sentences for non-violent crimes, 79 percent will die in prison thanks to drug charges. Another 20 percent will never again see the outside world thanks to non-violent property offenses, such as theft. Throughout America, 65 percent of these prisoners are black.

In Louisiana, where Winslow was arrested for negotiating the sale of $20 of weed, after being promised $5 for doing so, a 65 percent rate would be an improvement. In the Bayou State, a full 91 percent of non-violent offenders serving life in prison are African American.

Coming from the state that, in 1958, passed a law saying that blood donations from African Americans had to be labeled as “Negroid,” we can’t say this statistic is too surprising. Not everyone in the state is nuts, though. While speaking of non-violent offenders serving life in prison, the warden of Angola Prison in Louisiana, Burl Cain, said this:

“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. And yet, he didn’t even kill anybody. […] I want something done to him. But not all his life. That’s extreme. That’s cruel and unusual punishment to me.”

Hey America… Justice. You’re doing it wrong.

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