Reentry And The Right To Vote

 In blog

The subject of Criminal Justice is so multi-faceted and effects so many people in so many ways that tackling any aspect of it can truly be a daunting endeavor.

For this blog I would like to talk about Prisoner Reentry and The Restoration of Civil Rights for convicted felons who have paid their debt to society. I’ve chosen this particular theme for two reasons; first, I bring a unique perspective to the subject because I have personally lived it (spending almost 20 years in-and-out-and-in-and-out of prison etc., etc.) and I’ve accompanied and tried to be of help to hundreds of ex-felons on that same journey. I am firmly convinced that successful reentry programs are essential to reducing recidivism. My second reason for selecting this subject is political. If the restoration of voting rights makes it onto the 2018 ballot, it will be critical to inform as many voters of the truly racist history of the Democratic party.

It is estimated that there are 19.8 million convicted felons living in America representing 8.6% of the adult population and 35% of the Black adult population. “Growth in the U.S. Ex-Felon And Ex-Prisoner Population, 1948 – 2010,” http://paa2011.princeton.edu/papers/111687. Every year more than half a million men and women are released from jails and prisons to reintegrate back into communities all over America. Within a few years after they’re released, more than half of them will be back behind bars again (two-thirds within three years). Recidivism is the word used to define this phenomenon and many books and white papers have been written by experts attempting to explain this tragic waste of human capital.

When a person is sent to prison they are given a new identity (“inmate”; they are given a prison number by which to identify with and a battery of test to determine their educational level and vocational skills. They are also given a physical as well as mental health evaluation including the individual’s substance abuse history. In developing the individual’s profile they are asked a few questions regarding their faith such as are they Christian, Jewish, Muslim or other; Catholic or Protestant; frequency of attendance at a house of worship and that’s about it.

The efficacy of faith in reducing recidivism has been vigorously studied in American corrections for the last three decades and it is firmly established that the “faith-factor” is one of the most effective means of reducing recidivism.

“…there is now preliminary but important evidence that a faith-based program combining education, work, life skills, mentoring and aftercare has the potential to influence the way corrections professionals think about issues like recidivism and the successful return of inmates to society in a paradigm-shifting way.” Byron Johnson http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/Johnson_Jan2012-CT-3.pdf.

Having spent almost 20 of the last 50 years in jails and prisons, I have literally developed personal relationships with hundreds of felons and ex-felons; those who succeeded in getting out of the revolving door of recidivism and those who seemed to be hopelessly stuck. The majority of those who managed to extricate themselves (including myself) were always quick to admit that they couldn’t have made it without divine intervention.

However, the spiritual aspect of incarceration, reentry and recidivism will be the subject of future blogs. For now I beleive the focus needs to be the restoration of voting rights in Florida for those who have been convicted of a felony. Florida is one of the three worse states for depriving its citizens of their constitutional rights. Approximately 2 million Florida citizens have lost their civil rights due to a felony conviction; that means not only are they deprived of their right to vote, but there are many jobs and vocational licenses they’re not eligible for; it means they cannot run for public office; they can’t own a firearm to protect their families (it’s important to note that the majority of felony convictions are for non-violent, victimless crimes); many ex-felons cannot even find a place to live because of their past felony convictions. http://felonvoting.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000286. This may all change in 2018.

According to a recent website article entitled Florida Voters Could Restore Voting Rights to Almost 2 million Felons in 2018, “In total, 6.1 million Americans, mostly from Democratic-leaning demographic group, are barred from voting due to felon disenfranchisement laws. An analysis released shortly before the 2016 election found that if Floridians with felony convictions were allowed to register, an estimated 258,060 would sign up as Democrats, 46,920 as Republicans, and 84,456 as Independents and third party. And nearly 60,000 additional ballots would have been cast.” https://thinkprogress.org/florida-felon-voting-ballot-3ea035ff4595. As you can see, if this Amendment passes, it could have a significant outcome not only on Florida politics but national as well. I am convinced that educating the electorate is critical and this is the second reason I have chosen this subject for my first blog.

It has been reported that when Benjamin Franklin exited Independence Hall at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, a lady approached Dr. Franklin and asked: “Well Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A republic….if you can keep it.” Well, we almost lost it in the 2016 general election. I have been studying politics for about the last 20 years and I am convinced that we are on the precipice of losing our republic. Think about it, we almost elected Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist (not much different than a communist). Hillary Clinton wasn’t much better. Had she been elected America would have lost her sovereignty.

Like the prodigal son, I finally came to my senses after wasting most of my life in the pursuit of pleasure at the cost of almost 20 years locked up in a cage. America is not perfect but she is the greatest nation that has ever existed and has contributed more to the welfare of the entire world than all of the other nations put together. I love this country and know how blessed I am to be an American. When “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” I take it as a very solemn oath and feel that as a citizen of this great nation I owe a great debt to America. I owe it to America to be the very best and most informed citizen so that when I walk into the voting booth I am not voting for someone because of the color of their skin or because of their gender or because they are gay or straight, etc., I am voting for the person who is going to be the most likely to uphold his oath to the Constitution of the United States. And I am going to do everything I can to inform and educate as many of those who’ve lost their rights how to vote intelligently if and when that right is restored.

“THE MOST DANGEROUS CITIZEN IS NOT ARMED, BUT UNINFORMED”

The above quote was taken from the recently released book “Black Yellow Dogs,” by Ben Kinchlow. In 1928 the statement “I’d vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket” was overheard then it was popularized by the press and the term “Yellow Dog Democrat” began to be used to describe someone who votes Democratic, period; no matter the issue or candidate.Therefore a Black person who votes that way came to be known as a Black Yellow Dog.

Being of mixed racial ancestry (My mother and father were from Haiti which is populated by Blacks, Whites, and Mulattos) and having lived with Blacks for many years in prison has helped me to gain a much better understanding of the different races. After committing my life to Jesus Christ I began to have Christian fellowship with quite a few Black brothers in Christ. I saw that they had the same love and hunger for the Word of God as I did; and that like God, we all hated the sin but loved the sinner. We were all pro-life and we all believed that marriage was between one man and one woman and that homosexuality was a sin in God’s eyes. So as I began to be more politically aware, I couldn’t understand how or why Black people would compromise their spiritual principles by belonging to a political party that adhered to the practice of murdering babies and embraced the perverted and sinful lifestyle of homosexuality.

Then I began to study the history of slavery in America and learned that the first slave owner in America, Anthony Johnson was a black man who owned black slaves and that’s when the lights began to come on. From the book Black Yellow Dogs, I came to understand that there were many Black slave owners who themselves had Black and White slaves and/or indentured servants. I discovered that the Democrats were the pro-slavery party and the Republican party was formed as the abolitionist party; that it was Democrats who skulked around at night wearing white robes, calling themselves the Ku Klux Klan and hanging Blacks, and setting their homes and churches on fire. How in the world could Blacks now politically affiliate themselves with the racist Democrats?

I will conclude this writing, but there will be more to come. I challenge anyone who disagrees with me to show me where I am wrong. In the meantime, we need all the help we can get to gather almost 1 million signatures.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, www.floridarrc.com,is a grassroots political action committee that has been gathering signatures from registered Florida voters to have a constitutional amendment placed on the 2018 ballot. The Florida Supreme Court voted last April that the Amendment could go on next year’s ballot if the group could collect the required number of signatures. It takes signatures from eight percent of the number of voters voting in the last presidential election to place a citizen initiative on the general election ballot. 9,501,617 voters voted in the 2016 elections so 8% of that is 760,129 valid signatures must be collected! WE ARE GOING TO NEED EVERYONE’S HELP!

Even if you cannot vote because of a felony conviction, you know people who are registered Florida voters. Your job is to print as many copies of the Constitutional Amendment Petition Form https://floridarrc.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/3ecbf8_3ba4d6758f154f839954e38eb612b87a.pdf and at the bottom right corner is the address to send it to:

Floridians for A Fair Democracy, Inc., 3000 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., Suite 503, Clearwater, FL 33759. Please be very gracious and do not ask potential signers if they are Democrats, Republicans or whatever. Do not ask them whether they are liberal or conservative. And please make sure that they follow the instructions when they fill out the form. It is very easy, but if they leave out one piece of information, the supervisor of elections will throw the form away.

For all of the ex-felons and/or family members who would like to help me with this monumental task, please fill out the contact form on my website and submit it and I will be in touch with you.

Bernie DeCastro

www.feorc.com

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