"Designed To Re-Enslave": A Life Sentence For Theft

Entrance of Louisiana State Penitentiary
William Anderson
August 28, 2020

Fair Wayne Bryant was sentenced to life in 1997. You might think he must’ve done something outrageous, but all he did was try to steal some hedge clippers!

This sentence wasn’t an accident – and the problem is systemic.

He was convicted under a “habitual reoffender” law. Prior felony convictions were mostly minor, and Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, the lone Black woman on the Louisiana Supreme Court, made a note of it! 

Regardless, her colleagues declined to review his case. But she still called out why it’s so unjust.

“Habitual offender” laws like the one that got Bryant are the modern version of post-Reconstruction era laws “largely designed to re-enslave African Americans,” she argued.

As a parole hearing approaches, he may be denied yet again. It’s already happened multiple times, and now he’s 67 years old.

Chief Justice Johnson was voted against 5-1 by her white male colleagues to reconsider his sentence – parole may be his only shot.

Courts, jails, and prisons are used like this to keep us oppressed. It’s not a justice system if that’s its normal function! 

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