Voice, according to Merriam-Webster, has several definitions. For the purpose of this piece, I’d like to highlight two of those definitions. First, voice can be defined as an instrument or medium of expression. Secondly, voice can be defined as a wish, choice, or opinion openly or formally expressed. There are many ways one can use their voice depending on the protocol and the protocol may vary based on the environment (work, club/association, relationships, government, etc.) In the State of Florida 1.6 million citizens are virtually voiceless due to voter disenfranchisement as a result of a past felony conviction.
Even though “Returning Citizens” are currently disavowed the right to vote due to the clemency process we have the opportunity to speak up concerning how disenfranchisement affects our entire life moving forward. I think it’s important to highlight the fact that the 1.6 million in Florida (which happens to be the highest in the country) are a diverse (age, gender, race, sexuality, and religion) group of citizens. This issue is deeper than political affiliation. This issue is about reintegration, empowerment, and community safety. The research says recidivism (the rate by which people re-offend) is curbed by employment, housing, and voter restoration.
I am a returning citizen and although I do not have the ability to go back in time, if I did, I would do things differently and not because I was caught but because of the effect my arrest and conviction had on my family and friends as well as the impact my actions had on the family and friends of the individuals my crime was perpetrated against. I am not the person I was at that age. I’ve done things in my life to increase my value to society in two ways which are ensuring youth don’t follow in my pre-conviction footsteps and showing individuals that were affected by felony convictions that with hard work and determination we can build a life and be a value to our community and that is what should matter when people ask me about my “story”.