Black man sentenced to life for stealing hedge clippers released after 24 years

Fair Wayne Bryant, a Black man, was sentenced to life behind bars in Louisiana for stealing hedge clippers

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After spending over two decades in federal prison for a minor crime, a Black man in Louisiana is released from custody.

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According to The Advocate, Fair Wayne Bryant was sentenced to life in prison for the attempted theft of pair of hedge clippers in 1997. The parole board decided to grant his release only a few months after the state Supreme Court denied a request to review Bryant’s sentence, which he argued was excessive and unconstitutional the report detailed.

Louisiana man Fair Wayne Bryant thegrio.com
Fair Wayne Bryant (Credit: The Advocate)

When originally convicted, Bryant was a repeat criminal and the Louisiana habitual offender law applied to his case. The law now has different requirements which helped the 63-year-old man gain his freedom. His record included four prior felony convictions but only one violent offense. Members of the parole board acknowledged his past crimes were the result of an untreated and ignored battle with drug addiction to which Byrant himself agreed.

“That made me aware that I did have a problem with drugs and that I needed some help,” he told the board, speaking via video conference from Angola according to The Advocate. “I’ve had 24 years to recognize that problem and be in constant conversation with the Lord to help me with that problem.”

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While a majority of the judges offered no comment on the Supreme Court decision, according to The Advocate, Chief Justice Bernette Johnson said the sentence was drastically unfair. She also detailed how Louisiana taxpayers have spent over $500,000 on Bryant’s incarceration since the start of his sentence.

Louisiana man Fair Wayne Bryant thegrio.com
Fair Wayne Bryant (Credit: The Advocate)

“This case demonstrates their modern manifestation: harsh habitual offender laws that permit a life sentence for a Black man convicted of property crimes,” Johnson wrote according to the report.

Members of the parole board voted to grant Bryant’s parole said they believe his age and completion of programs such as substance abuse counseling reduce his chances of recidivism.

“There’s no question in my mind that your heart and head are in the right place,” board member Tony Marabella told Bryant before announcing his vote to grant parole according to The Advocate. “We just want you to remain clean and sober. We don’t want you to come back.”

The board denied his request for release in 2019 claiming a 2018 prison disciplinary infraction for getting caught with a cigarette was reason enough, although being his only writeup in the past five years. According to the report, Byrant has been accepted into, Louisiana Parole Project, a program for inmates released after serving decades behind bars in Louisiana to reenter society.

“This is about mass incarceration and the policies that got us here. Because people like Mr. Bryant, who needed treatment long ago, were instead given life in prison,” said Kerry Myers, the program’s deputy director according to The Advocate. “The parole board’s decision brings some equity and common sense back into the system.”

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