A black Louisiana man who was sentenced to life in prison after stealing hedge clippers in 1997 was given parole Thursday.
Fair Wayne Bryant, 63, will get a conditional release following a 3-0 vote of the Louisiana Committee on Parole that follows he spent 23 years behind bars for the theft of the garden tools from a carport storeroom in Shreveport.
The case drew national attention previously this year when a state Supreme Court panel denied his release regardless of a dissenting viewpoint from the court’s only black justice, who called the case a “modern-day manifestation” of Jim Crow laws.
“These laws remained on the books of most southern states for decades,” Chief Justice Bernette Johnson wrote, according to The Guardian. “And this case demonstrates their modern manifestation: harsh habitual offender laws that permit a life sentence for a black man convicted of a property crime.”
“This man’s life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of three hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose,” the judge wrote.
Johnson likewise kept in mind that taxpayers had actually invested nearly $519,000 to keep Bryant in prison– and would administer nearly $1 million if he were to remain in prison for another twenty years.
Bryant received the severe sentence because he was convicted as a repeat offender. His record lists 22 arrests and 11 convictions, amongst them 4 felonies that included an attempted heist in 1979.
However he informed the parole panel that he fought with alcohol and cocaine addiction at the time and had cleaned up his act in prison.
“I had a drug problem,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “But I’ve had 24 years to recognize that problem and to be in constant communication with the Lord to help me with that problem.”
The choice to parole him was praised by civil liberties activists.
“Now it is imperative that the legislature repeal the habitual offender law that allows for these unfair sentences,” said Alanah Odoms, executive director of the Louisiana ACLU. “And for district attorneys across the state to immediately stop seeking extreme penalties for minor offenses.”
The conditions of Bryant’s parole require him to participate in Twelve step programs meetings, carries a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, and community service.