I currently work four days a week at the First Christian Church in Mobile, Alabama as part of the Second Chance Program – and I am proud to say today that I am a voter. But it wasn’t always this way.
Although I am 49-years old, a veteran that served four years in the military (in Jacksonville, Florida), and have been living in Mobile for 32-years, I had my voting rights taken away from me.
Before I was stripped of my rights because of a conviction back in 2015, I didn’t vote. A lot of minorities, particularly people in the black community here in Mobile do not vote for a variety of reasons. People feel disconnected from the political process and many are confused about who can and can’t vote. Many people here think that a crime disqualifies them from voting, even misdemeanors. The state has not put much effort into educating citizens about this.
But in September 2018, I was approached by Ellen Boettcher of the Alabama Voting Rights Project, which is a partnership between the Campaign Legal Center and Southern Poverty Law Center. She told me that not all convictions deny you of the right to vote. Mrs. Ellen gave me the paperwork and walked me through the rights restoration process. I got a voter registration card in the mail and cast a ballot in November’s elections – for the first time in my life. Even after Mrs. Ellen helped me out, I almost couldn’t vote. On Election Day, my truck broke down. The pastor at First Christian Church helped me get to the polls by giving me a ride. By giving me a ride to the polls, it encouraged me because it showed that someone had my back and cared that I voted.
Mrs. Ellen and the voting rights restoration movement are a blessing. I hope that more people can talk to organizers and learn they can have their rights restored, so they can feel like me. Being heard means a lot to me. I’ve experienced many obstacles getting to the ballot box, and I don’t take my voting rights for granted.
Now I can see the races on TV and weigh in on the situation. Before, I could watch – but I felt removed – I could not have any impact. One vote could change the outcome, you never know.
I care about local issues like schooling. We have pretty good teachers in my area but they don’t have access to the updated resources they need. That is slowing down progress for kids down here. I wanted to vote so my voice would be heard on this and other issues that are important to me. Voting for the first time was a joy because it allowed my voice to count.