Fair Wayne Bryant was finally released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola on Thursday where he was serving a life sentence for attempting to steal a pair of hedge clippers 23 years ago.
The decision by the Louisiana parole board to grant his release comes after the state Supreme Court denied a request to review his sentence some months back, according to The Advocate. The parole board also initially denied his request for release in 2019 on the grounds that he was caught with a cigarette in 2018, though that was his only disciplinary infraction in five years.
Bryant, 63, was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for his aforementioned crime in 1997 under the state’s habitual offender law as he had four prior convictions, though only one was violent.
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Though the Supreme Court initially upheld Bryant’s sentence by a 5-1 vote, the only judge who voted for a review of his punishment, Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson, wrote that life imprisonment for attempting to steal a pair of hair clippers was harsh. She likened his case to the post-reconstruction-era-enacted “pig laws” that targeted Blacks and dished out severe punishment to those who committed misdemeanors and petty offenses, including swine theft, The Advocate reports.
“This case demonstrates their modern manifestation: harsh habitual offender laws that permit a life sentence for a Black man convicted of property crimes,” she wrote, adding that Bryant’s 23-year incarceration had already cost state taxpayers over $500,000.
During his parole hearing on Thursday, the board admitted Bryant’s criminal record was a result of his issues with drug addiction which he mostly did not receive any help or support even when he was serving time.
“There’s no question in my mind that your heart and head are in the right place,” Bryant was told by board member Tony Marabella. “We just want you to remain clean and sober. We don’t want you to come back.”
The Louisiana Parole Project, a non-profit organization that offers “advocacy, programming, and services for persons who have served long prison sentences”, will help Bryant reintegrate back into the community.
“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,” Kerry Myers, the organization’s deputy director, told The Advocate. “The parole board’s decision brings some equity and common sense back into the system.”