One Black father returned home to his children this week after approximately 2,555 days, or seven years, behind bars for possession of two marijuana joints.
Bernard Noble, who was initially sentenced to 13 years and four months in prison, was released on parole from the Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility in Plain Dealing, Louisiana at midnight Thursday. The father, 51, was incredibly thankful to finally be reunited with his family, who greeted him with loving hugs.
“I am so happy to be home with my kids,” Noble, who had became a representative for Black men facing harsh drug sentencing laws in the years that his lawyer, Jee Park and advocates took on courts, governors and lawmakers to fight for his release, told NewsOne on Friday. “They suffered more than me. I wish I had been there for them these 7 years.”
Photo credit: Mollie Corbett
As Noble settles back into a life out of jail, he still knows the criminal justice system is rigged against Black men.
“The system punishes people like me too harshly,” Noble said to NewsOne. “I have never done prison time before this conviction. I have never harmed anyone in my life but the system still treated me like I was dangerous and had to be locked up for a long time.”
The racial disparities tied to mass incarceration are alarming, especially to those who study the criminal justice system or find themselves bound to or victimized by it. Blacks make up 40 percent of the incarcerated population, but represent only 13 percent of U.S residents, according to the Prison Policy Initiative report released last month. A large majority of the 2.3 million people held in the criminal justice system are African Americans. One in five people, or almost half a million, are behind bars because of a drug offense, the report said.
Noble’s battle with the system reached a low in 2010 when he was arrested while biking in New Orleans. He was subjected to the toughest of the tough drug sentencing practices for a nonviolent offender under Louisiana’s “habitual offender law” because he had prior, but minor drug convictions on his record.
Noble’s mother, Elnora Noble, started a Change.org petition with more than 70,000 signatures.
Other folks took to Noble’s case like a fly to a flame over the years since his arrest: organizations including the Justice Action Network, Innocence Project New Orleans and Families Against Mandatory Minimums fought for his release. New York hedge fund investor Daniel S. Loeb and Jason Flom, who hosts a podcast called Wrongful Conviction, also were advocates for Noble. A #FreeBarnardNoble campaign was also started to get Barack Obama to pardon Noble during his presidency.
A watershed moment came when Park, policy director for the Innocence Project New Orleans, successfully petitioned the New Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office to reduce Noble’s sentence to eight years in December 2016. Noble was granted parole in February and finally released this week after his lawyers negotiated for him to stay in New Orleans (a parole board initially said he would have to return to Missouri where he was lived at the time of his arrest.)
Photo credit: Mollie Corbett
It was a long journey to freedom for Noble, but more work is needed to keep Black men who are non-violent, low-level offenders from being locked away for years.
“There are many other Bernard Noble’s in our prisons today,” Park told NewsOne, adding that Noble’s harsh sentence made no sense and he wasn’t treated as a human being. “So many black and brown men and women are serving long, mandatory prison sentences for nonviolent crimes. Communities and families of color have been hit the hardest with harsh, mandatory sentences.”
It seems that solutions to tackle mass incarceration lie in addressing the whole system of correctional control, including those in prison, on parole and probation. Activists have said that the mass problem requires a mass movement.