Bernard Noble, 51, was sentenced to 13 years of hard labor in 2011 for possessing two marijuana joints, The Marshall Project reported. On Thursday morning, he was released from prison after serving seven years as a result of harsh drug sentencing laws.
His lawyers and advocates spent years pressuring the courts and lawmakers to reverse his long sentence.
“I cried a lot of times in prison silently because you can’t do it out loud in a treacherous place like that,” Noble told The Marshall Project. But I always said, ‘one day it’s gonna get better.'”
Noble was arrested while riding his bicycle during a visit to New Orleans in 2010. In a 2015 interview with HuffPost, Noble, a father of seven, said the officers initially gave no explanation as to why they approached him.
“I was riding a bicycle with the other two men walking beside me,” he said. “Suddenly, five cars of police swung the corner and one of the men with me threw a small bag of marijuana. The officers stopped us about 10 feet from where he threw it, and the officers after searching found it. They gave no reason for the stop then, under oath they said that my reaction to them pulling up seemed suspicious.”
Noble then explained that the officers’ claim that he seemed “suspicious” stems from him trying to move out of the way of the police car. He added that authorities charged only him with marijuana possession.
Since Noble had prior (non-violent) convictions for small amounts of cocaine and marijuana, he was sentenced to 13 years of prison without parole under Louisiana’s “habitual offender” law.
There were countless efforts to reduce Noble’s prison time following his sentencing. According to The Marshall Project, two separate district court judges attempted to reduce his sentence to five years, but it was successfully opposed by Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
In 2015, advocates pressed then-Gov. Bobby Jindal for clemency, but the petition was denied since Noble hadn’t served 10 years. After lawmakers passed a bill to reduce the maximum sentence for marijuana possession to eight years in 2015, the district attorney’s office eventually agreed to reduce Noble’s sentence to eight years in December 2016, The Marshall Project reported.
After a few attempts to apply for parole and to remain in New Orleans – Noble had previously relocated to Missouri as a result of Hurricane Katrina – he was finally granted parole and allowed to stay in Louisiana.
Noble’s case adds to the harrowing disproportionate number of black people arrested and imprisoned for marijuana possession.