How do Black women whose husbands or partners were sent to prison for life under sentencing laws now considered discriminatory trek year after year to out-of-the-way places to keep that person connected to a parallel world? How do these women carry that burden?
I’ve wanted to ask Winndye Hoover, 71, that ever since our chance encounter years ago at a Black-owned construction company.
Winndye Hoover is the wife of Larry Hoover Sr., credited with founding the Gangster Disciples, and the mother of one of his four children.
She has been Hoover’s link to family and the outside world since his incarceration in 1973.
Recently, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber denied Hoover’s petition for a reduction, under the federal First Step Act, of the life sentence he was given in 1997 after being convicted of drug charges and running a criminal enterprise.
That means Hoover will remain in a supermax prison in Colorado.
”Today has been a little rough for me,” Winndye Hoover told me when I got her on the phone. “I’m kind of emotional and with a heavy heart. I wish my mom were here. She was always my backbone.
”I was holding onto a lot of faith [Leinenweber] was only taking as long as he was taking because he was trying to give [Hoover] some relief,” she said of the long-awaited ruling.
She was on her way to Colorado to check on her husband, whose lawyers can try again to get his federal prison sentence cut. He’d still face a 200-year Illinois prison term for ordering a killing but could seek parole.
”It is disappointing, but I understand he just didn’t want to shut the door in his face,” she said of the judge’s ruling. “He left him some wiggle room.”
Being the wife of a cult figure in gang culture has meant Winndye Hoover has had to shoulder many disappointments.
“Honestly, I had the understanding that he had an opportunity to come up out of there,” she said. “He did have opportunities to go before the parole board, but parole was always denied for him, whereas his co-defendants were released.
”I stayed to help him get out of there. I kept hoping he would get out. We could have moved on. But we believed he was going to get out if he fit the criteria of what the law says.
“But they felt he had too much power on these streets, and they want to hold him hostage. It is all political.”
Her relationship with Hoover dates to 1968. They have a son, Larry Hoover Jr., and a grandson, Larry Hoover III. Hoover’s notoriety has affected both.
”I once told my son he could change his name, but he said he wasn’t going to change his name,” she said. “He wasn’t ashamed of his daddy. Senior never thought that Jr. would name his son after him.”
To head off problems, she didn’t let their son attend public schools, though he tried to persuade his father to let him go to Simeon or Robeson for high school. He went to Brother Rice and graduated from Morris Brown College in Atlanta.
”I had a job,” she said. “I went to school. I started a business. But there was always some interruption.
“We had a clothing line going. I ended up shutting it down because the feds would go to some of our clients and tell them they should not deal with the company because I was laundering drug money.
”I ain’t never sold any drugs, and, thank God, I never tasted anything that made me say I wanted to use drugs,” she said.
With her son’s help, she started Paradigm Shift Academy.
”It is an organization that is trying to reach back and help with kids,” she said. “Mostly, it is Jr. doing motivational speaking and letting people know, just because his daddy is Larry Hoover, he didn’t talk to him about being a gangster. He talked to him about his education.”
Despite this legal setback, Winndye Hoover still hopes one day her husband will be able to work out his redemption on this side of the wall.