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There’s a Man Serving Life in Prison for $5 Worth of Marijuana in the Same Country Where Millions Can Smoke It Legally

Deedee Kirkwood is a hippie housewife in Camarillo, a scenic beach town in California outside of Los Angeles. When she was younger, she followed the Grateful Dead on tour and says she smoked copious amounts of pot “before and after.” But her youthful indiscretions had no legal consequences. “I did a lot of stupid stuff, but as a white lady I got lucky,” she tells me over the phone.

Kirkwood often writes letters to Fate Vincent Winslow, an inmate in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. He’s not as lucky as she was. In 2008, Winslow was homeless on the streets of Shreveport, Louisiana. One night, an undercover cop approached and asked him for “a girl” and some pot. Winslow got two dime bags of weed from a white dealer he knew and sold them to the officer. In all, he made five bucks from the sale, money he needed to buy food, he says.

Police arrested Winslow, but not the dealer, even though he’d profited more handsomely from the sale; the marked $20 bill was found on him.

During Winslow’s trial, prosecutors pointed to his long criminal history as a reason to put him away. But court records show he was far from a criminal mastermind. He had two nonviolent priors and a drug charge, which is not uncommon for poor people living on and off the streets. Still, after the predominantly white jury voted guilty, he was deemed a habitual offender. Under Louisiana law, that meant an automatic sentence of hard labor without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence.

“I just keep praying I know everything will be all right,” Winslow writes in a letter.

“There are people serving life for marijuana,” Deedee Kirkwood says. “When I tell people about this, they don’t believe me.”



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