In August, The Root reported that 63-year-old Fair Wayne Bryant—who was given a life sentence for stealing a pair of hedge clippers in Shreveport, La., more than 20 years ago—was denied a request to have his sentence reviewed by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Since Bryant had already spent much of his adult life behind bars due to prior crimes, the court basically ruled that he might as well be kept in lockup forever. Fortunately, Bryant never gave up on himself or his freedom; after repeatedly submitting requests for parole, he walked out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola a free man on Thursday.
The Washington Post reports that last week, the Louisiana Committee on Parole voted unanimously to grant Bryant parole.
From the Post:
During the video conference last week, the committee’s members said Bryant’s struggles with drug addiction largely fueled his past crimes. Although he repeatedly came in and out of Louisiana’s criminal justice system, those issues were for the most part untreated.
“There’s no question in my mind that your heart and head are in the right place,” board member Tony Marabella told him before voting to grant parole, according to the New Orleans Advocate. “We just want you to remain clean and sober. We don’t want you to come back.”
As other board members echoed that sentiment, Bryant said he had undergone substance abuse counseling at Angola.
“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. “I’ve had 24 years to recognize that problem and be in constant conversation with the Lord to help me with that problem.”
According to the Associated Press, the conditions of Bryant’s parole require him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, follow a curfew of 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., and participate in community service.
I just want to take a moment to shout out Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, who was the only Louisiana Supreme Court justice who voted in Bryant’s favor in August. As I wrote then, she was also “the only African American justice and, apparently, the only one among her colleagues able to see systemic racism working in real-time.” By being the lone voice of dissent, she drew national attention to the case and argued that Louisiana’s habitual offender laws—which allow prosecutors to seek harsher sentences for lesser crimes if a defendant has previous convictions—are a “modern manifestation” of the “Pig Laws,” which she said were designed to keep Black people in poverty during the Reconstruction era.
“Mr. Bryant has already spent nearly 23 years in prison and is now over 60 years old,” Johnson wrote in a statement at the time. “If he lives another 20 years, Louisiana taxpayers will have paid almost one million dollars to punish Mr. Bryant for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers.”
“This man’s life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose,” she added.
According to the Post, Bryant will be readjusting to life on the outside in Baton Rouge. Andrew Hundley, executive director at the Louisiana Parole Project—an organization that offers transitional housing to former inmates and specializes in helping them reenter society after serving lengthy prison sentences—said he is confident that Bryant will be able to readjust.
“Our organization believes in Mr. Bryant and we are committed to helping him rebuild his life,” Hundley told the Post. “Fair spent nearly 24 years in prison. His case reminds us that extreme prison sentences do not benefit society.”