Bernard Noble had on him about enough marijuana for two joints when he was arrested in 2010.
He had seven children when he was sent to jail, and it ruined his relationships with them.
Today he's a cofounder of a legal cannabis company and expecting a baby.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Bernard Noble. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I love to cook. I'm the oldest of six kids, and my mama always had me beside her in the kitchen. She'd tell me to watch the food and listen to the food — and she'd pop me if I burned anything.
I started selling Cajun dishes like Gumbo and yaka mein, a sort of beef and noodle soup that's a sworn hangover cure in New Orleans. One week in 2010, I drove to the Big Easy to visit family and pick up meat to cook and sell back in Kansas City, where I'd relocated after Hurricane Katrina.
My life changed that weekend. I went to look for friends whom I knew had gone to buy something to smoke. As we walked back to my dad's, what felt like 50 police cars swooped in. I made eye contact with a Black officer, and it felt so personal between us, as two Black men from Louisiana.
I wasn't scared when he told me I wasn't going to get out from under this. Maybe I should have been worried. I had less than an ounce of weed on me — about enough for two joints. But I was sentenced to 13 ½ years in prison.
Going to prison ruined my family
I was a dad to seven kids when I was arrested. Some of them I'd had young, but for the past 14 years, I'd been in a relationship, and we were raising our three kids together.
When you're in the system, and you have no resources, your family is torn apart. I didn't have money to call. After a while, it felt like my family had forgotten about me. It was like I died, but worse because my kids felt abandoned.
In prison, mail is everything. If you get mail, it means someone cares about you. You have support, love, and money — maybe even some snacks from the outside. When you have none of that, the other prisoners know you're vulnerable.
I never had mail. I spent a lot of time crying in prison. I felt so unloved.
Advocates heard about my case and tried to help
That changed when my case started getting some attention. Just a few years after I was arrested, states started legalizing marijuana. People were making money off this industry, while I was serving time for two joints. I wasn't the only one who thought this was wrong. The Innocence Project and the Marshall Project started advocating for me. Then, I was featured in the documentary "Grass is Greener."
When I started getting letters from supporters, it changed how I walked. I stuck my chest out and strode with pride for the first time in years. Finally, the support paid off, and I was released on parole after more than seven years in prison.
Still, the damage wasn't over. Me being in prison took something from my kids that I can't put back. My daughter used to wait in the window for me like a little puppy. We loved eating Subway together. But when I got out of prison, she told me I didn't have the right to parent her. That had been taken away from me, and I was so, so angry about it. To this day, I'm trying to right some wrongs.
Walking into a cannabis shop was surreal
I'll never forget walking into a dispensary for the first time. There was an armed guard at the door. He opened it for me and said, "Welcome." I thought he was playing me. For years, I'd been guarded by men with guns. Now a guard was welcoming me to come do the exact thing that had put me in prison.
Being Black and coming from my background meant opportunities were scarce. I had nothing. Legal cannabis offered me a chance to build a better life, and I was determined to take it. I cofounded B Noble, a cannabis brand that donates 10% of its profits to end marijuana-related incarceration.
I'm writing this on my 57th birthday. I'm married for the first time, and we have a baby on the way. I'm extremely excited to build this new family while continuing to heal my relationships with my older kids. I get to share my story, educate people about this plant, and, yes, make some money.
God didn't present me with many opportunities when I was younger. But now that he has, I'm going to take advantage.
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