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Thursday, August 13, 2020


by Darrell Petska

The Louisiana Supreme Court last week refused to review the life sentence imposed on Fair Wayne Bryant for “unsuccessfully attempting to make off with somebody else’s hedge clippers.” Chief Justice Bernette Johnson—the court’s first Black chief justice and the only Black justice on the court—identified Louisiana’s harsh habitual offender laws as a legacy of the state’s long history of abusive and racially biased punishment in her dissent from the court’s denial of review. “In the years following Reconstruction, southern states criminalized recently emancipated African American citizens by introducing extreme sentences for petty theft associated with poverty,” she wrote. “These measures enabled southern states to continue using forced-labor (as punishment for a crime) by African Americans even after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.” In Louisiana, these “Pig Laws”—so named because they targeted stereotypical “negro” crimes like stealing cattle and swine—“undoubtedly contributed to the expansion of the Black prison population that began in the 1870’s” by “lowering the threshold for what constituted a crime and increasing the severity of its punishment,” Chief Justice Johnson wrote. —Equal Justice Initiative, August 7, 2020. You can sign a petition to Free Fair Wayne Bryant at .

Into the light emerging, cicada-like,
singing his bold, particular song…

Comes Fair Wayne Bryant,
from whence to where unknown,
yet vibrant as budding day.

He takes what he finds,
though it may not be given him,
and the brash guard dogs howl.

He takes and takes what he finds,
because he has not, or ought not,
or knows not, so he does.

And away the guard dogs drive him,
far from song’s great intersection,
yet he sings, sings what he is

to unhearing walls, obscure skies,
and guard dogs protecting their bones.
To the light he is forgotten.

Thus passes Fair Wayne Bryant,
unrecognized, alone, shorn of hope,
yet like no other in the great Common.

And he takes with him what he finds:
souls, left untended and wanting,
that valued goods over good.

Darrell Petska lives in Middleton, WI. Some recent and forthcoming publications include Boston Literary Magazine, Willows Wept Review, Loch Raven Review, First Literary Review-East and Buddhist Poetry Review.