Cover image for A life in the balance : the Billy Wayne Sinclair story : a journey from murder to redemption inside America's worst prison system
A life in the balance : the Billy Wayne Sinclair story : a journey from murder to redemption inside America's worst prison system
Sinclair, Billy Wayne, 1945-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Arcade Pub., [2000]

Physical Description:
xviii, 339 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV9468.S57 A3 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HV9468.S57 A3 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Billy Wayne Sinclair has been in prison for 35 years, serving a life sentence commuted from death for a 1965 shooting death. Sinclair spent his time trying to improve conditions, was instrumental in integrating Angola State Prison, and helped the FBI expose a pardon-for-sale scheme. Yet all his parole petitions have been turned down. Photos.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

There are plenty of academic studies detailing inadequacies of the U.S. criminal justice system. This is the inside story: the devastating tale of 35 years in Louisiana's prisons for a homicide that prosecutorial misconduct turned into a capital crime. Billy Wayne Sinclair was 20 when he killed a convenience store clerk. His death sentence was commuted to life when the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in the '70s. Sinclair became a jailhouse lawyer, an award-winning journalist on Angola Prison's respected Angolite, the husband of journalist Jodie Sinclair, and a government source in the investigation of a pardon-selling racket at the prison. Prisoners who committed more heinous crimes and served far less time have long since been paroled, but Sinclair remains behind bars, partly because his victim's family and friends are politically powerful, partly because he's blown the whistle on Department of Corrections corruption. Sinclair's story puts a human face on the mind-numbing statistics about the millions of Americans whose lives are defined by jails and prisons. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

This blistering memoir of a reformed killer, still incarcerated after more than 35 years, points to deep inequities in the correctional system in this country. After a brutal childhood, Billy Wayne aimlessly took to stealing cars and robbing convenience stores and served jail time. Then, in 1965, he killed a store owner in a botched robbery. Following a trial in which favorable witness statements were suppressed by the DA, he was initially sentenced to death. In 1972, due to the Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia, his sentence was changed to life in prison. He served his first 20 years in Louisiana's notorious Angola prison, where he studied law, wrote for a groundbreaking prison newspaper (for which he won the prestigious George Polk Award), married a journalist and participated in a grievance committee that assisted in the difficult racial integration of the prison in the 1970s. Sinclair and his wife detail 1980s-era federal investigations into pardon selling, mail fraud and administrative corruption. In this dense, multilayered tale, readers may see ambiguities in Sinclair's crime and in his prison experience (he says that hadn't intended to kill the store owner during the robbery and claims that other killers were paroled while a powerful clique of friends of Sinclair's victim made sure he remained in prison). This is a powerful tale, and readers will be shaken by the sorrow, greed and corruption they encounter in it. 16 pages b & w photos not seen by PW. (Jan.) Forecast: Readers with an interest in crime, punishment and human rights will want this book but, in addition, the human interest of Sinclair's story should reach out to a wider audience, helped by major publicity. Arcade is planning a first printing of 40,000; wife and co-author Jodie Sinclair will do a 10-city tour plus a 30-city TV satellite tour and a radio satellite tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved