The Daily Beast’s Abby Haglage has the story of a homeless man in Louisiana whose case demonstrates some of the worst extremes of the drug war.
Fate Vincent Winslow, a 41-year-old homeless black man, was hungry on September 5th, 2008. Along with a man he called “Perdue,” he was the target of a sting by an undercover cop pretending to look for marijuana and a prostitute. Although Perdue was never arrested, Winslow was.
Citing his previous non-violent felonies – a burglaries at age 17 and 26, and cocaine possession in 2004 – a judge sentenced him to life imprisonment with hard labor. This was a result of mandatory minimum sentencing laws which allowed the prosecution to seek such an extreme sentence.
Haglage quotes from Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow to explain the utter unfairness of these laws:
People choose to commit crimes, and that’s why they are locked up or locked out, we are told— but herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives,” she writes. “In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.
Last week, The New York Times published an article looking at a new coalition of groups, including the American Civil Libeties Union and right-wing FreedomWorks, that is coming together to reform the criminal justice system; it’s expected that mandatory minimums will be one of the laws they’ll take aim at.