A Louisiana man serving a life sentence for stealing hedge clippers was granted parole on Oct. 15 after spending nearly 24 years in prison, according to news reports.
Fair Wayne Bryant, 63, is a Black man who was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1997 for stealing clippers, NPR reported. Bryant’s four other felonies, including a 1979 armed robbery, led to a life sentence due to Louisiana’s “habitual offender” law, according to the publication.
The Committee on Parole voted 3-0 to grant Bryant his freedom with certain conditions, the Associated Press reported.
Louisiana’s Supreme Court had denied Bryant’s release earlier this year and drew attention for a dissent written by Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, the court’s only Black judge, who called the law a “modern manifestation” of 19th century Jim Crow laws designed to incarcerate Black people for minor crimes, according to the AP.
Bryant was convicted of attempted armed robbery in 1979, possession of stolen merchandise valuing over $500 in 1987, attempted check forgery worth $150 in 1989 and simple burglary in 1992, The New York Times reported.
“Mr. Bryant was given a second chance today,” Robert Lancaster, Bryant’s lawyer at the parole hearing, told the publication. “His life sentence, a result of an oppressive habitual sentencing scheme, came after a series of minor pecuniary crimes to fuel an untreated drug addiction. He was sentenced to a life in prison instead of given the help he needed.”
Bryant made multiple appeals and said at the hearing that he underwent substance abuse counseling while incarcerated, The Washington Post reported.
“That made me aware that I did have a problem with drugs and that I needed some help,” he told the board, according to the publication. “I’ve had 24 years to recognize that problem and be in constant conversation with the Lord to help me with that problem.”
Bryant’s parole is conditional upon attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, following a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and participating in community service, according to the AP.
The ACLU’s Louisiana chapter commended Bryant’s parole, writing, “While nothing can make up for the years Mr. Bryant lost to this extreme and unjust sentence, (the) decision by the parole board is a long-overdue victory for Mr. Bryant, his family, and the cause of equal justice for all.”
The ACLU also called for the repeal of the habitual offender law, noting that Black people make up 79% of habitual offenders.