Opinion: Vote yes on Prop. 17, restore voting rights for parolees

Most Americans think a prison sentence ends the day a person completes their term. But there’s something only those of us who have been on the inside will ever really know: Once you’ve been incarcerated, the world doesn’t let you forget it.

Whether it’s prospective employers tossing our résumés to the side or real estate agents no longer returning our calls, there’s a permanent stigma that incarceration places on those of us who have returned from prison, no matter how many years it’s been since we’ve returned. In California, that stigma hangs even heavier this time of year, because even as we do everything we can to reintegrate ourselves back into our communities — to become what we call “returning citizens” — our state constitution locks our voices out.

I and some 50,000 other Californians who have returned from prison are barred from voting due to a law that is a relic of California’s 19th-century efforts to disenfranchise Black citizens.

Fortunately, this year we can change that on Nov. 3 by voting yes on Proposition 17, which will restore the right to vote to Californians who have returned to society after completing their prison sentence.

And that means everything to my brothers and sisters and me, who are doing everything we can during every waking moment to rebuild our lives and make a difference for those around us.

Since I returned to society after completing my sentence, I’ve lived my life with respect for myself and others foremost in mind.

I’ve started my own nonprofit foundation, “We All We Got JMW Foundation,” where I assist my formerly incarcerated brothers and sisters in transitioning back into society — whether it is helping them purchase groceries, teaching them to use an ATM, or just going on quiet hikes to get away from the noise and commotion of the society they’ve returned to. I’ve become a community advocate on behalf of my neighbors, my family and my friends. And I tell everyone I pass by that I hope they have a great day, sincerely praying that they do have a great day.

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Voting yes on Proposition 17 is the first step to removing the stigma associated with the formerly incarcerated, and that will open so many new opportunities for us, including the opportunity to recover a feeling of self-worth.

Proposition 17 means that when I see there’s a way to improve our education system for my grandson and his friends or a heightened need to ensure local elected officials are held to account for their promises to our neighborhood, then I can vote to make sure those changes are realized.

Proposition 17 means that when I talk to people in my community about the importance of participating in the democratic process and making sure our voices are head, I’ll be able to actually guide my neighbors through the door to vote and not just talk about it.

Most important, Proposition 17 will give me and nearly 50,000 Californian citizens a stake in our society and make us feel whole again.

On Nov. 3, California voters have …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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