Fate Winslow, Freed in December From a One-Time Life Sentence for Pot, Has Been Murdered

Winslow was released after 12 years in prison following a change in Louisiana law.

Fate Winslow at a restaurant on Dec. 17, 2020, the day of his release. Photo: Courtesy of Faith Canada

Faith Canada was 10 years old when her father, Fate Winslow, was locked up on charges related to a $5 pot deal. Now 22, she wouldn’t get to see him as a free man until this past December, when a change in Louisiana drug laws led to his release. He had spent the past four months acclimating to his newfound freedom. Last week, she called her father’s cellphone to confirm plans they had made for Thursday, but he didn’t pick up.

In 2008, when Winslow was living on the streets, an undercover police officer approached him and asked for “a girl.” Winslow declined to find him a sex worker. Then the cop asked him for pot. Winslow rode off on his bike and found a white dealer he knew. The dealer gave him the weed — $20 dollars’ worth — and Winslow returned to the officer, who gave him $5 for his role in the deal.

Even though the officers later found their marked $20 bill on the white dealer, they arrested Winslow, who is Black, not the dealer. He went to trial. Because he had priors — all nonviolent and years apart — he was sentenced to life without parole. At Louisiana State Penitentiary, a prison complex better known as Angola which sits atop a former slave plantation, Winslow made 80 cents a week cleaning the dorms. Meanwhile, pot entrepreneurs made millions selling the same drug that landed him in prison. “We both [know] no money no justice that’s just the way the world is,” he wrote to The Intercept in 2018. On his 80-cent-per-week salary, he had to make do with the prison food. But for his 50th birthday, Deedee Kirkwood, a California-based activist who’d struck up a friendship with him, put money in his commissary so that he could treat himself to a little bit of peanut butter to celebrate his fifth decade.

When Covid-19 tore through the prison last year, Winslow reported that the men were not given protection.

“Today all the guards showed up to work with masks on to protect themselves from us, when it is us that needs protection from them,” he wrote in April. “No caution for human life, no compassion, no Love.”


How a Man Serving Life Without Parole for $20 of Weed Gained His Freedom

Last summer, Louisiana changed a law related to post-conviction sentencing. After the Innocence Project New Orleans took on his case, Winslow’s lawyer, Jee Park, successfully argued that he’d had inadequate representation when he was sentenced. A judge resentenced him to 12 years — the time he had already served — and Winslow walked out of Angola last December.

“I am so full of joy. I never thought this day would come!” he told The Intercept a few days after his release. He was looking forward to spending the holidays with his family, including a 9-year-old grandson — his son’s child — who he’d never met.

On Wednesday morning, Faith Canada got a phone call from her aunt. Her father was dead. He’d been gunned down while sitting in his car, along with a woman who had been sitting in the passenger seat.

“My roommate, when I broke down, she was right there, holding me when I was screaming,” said Canada, who organized a GoFundMe to raise money for her father’s funeral expenses and support his family. “We don’t know nothing yet. That’s all I was told, they found him and impounded the car.”

As of Monday afternoon, the Shreveport Police Department has not reached out to her about its investigation, Canada said. A spokesperson with the police department told The Intercept they don’t give out information on homicide investigations. In 2017, the department faced local criticism for its low homicide clearance rate; the prior year, Shreveport saw 46 homicides but made just 11 arrests.

“So unbelievably tragic. Rest In Peace sweet Fate,” Kirkwood, the activist, wrote to The Intercept.

“Fate was a survivor: he survived the poverty he grew up in and 12 years in maximum-security prison on a life sentence for marijuana. In prison, Fate could see how unfair and unjust his sentence was, but he kept his hope and his humor intact,” wrote Park, his attorney at the Innocence Project New Orleans, in an email, noting that he was “bursting with joy” when he was freed in December. “Those 4 ½ months of freedom were absolutely precious, and we are heartbroken and angry that his time was cut so short.”

Canada described the challenge of losing her father for the second time. “I just got him back. It hasn’t even been five months. You all just took my dad for a second time, but this time, he can’t come back,” she said. “I’m never going to hear his voice again or see his big smile.”

She’s had a nonstop headache since she heard the news, no appetite. “I can’t eat, I’m throwing everything up,” she said. “I can’t understand how someone can do that to my dad.”

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