I loved waking up this morning to the news that the U.S. state of Florida voted overwhelmingly to restore the voting rights to approximately 1.5 million former felons. For me, it was the highlight of a day so often marked by divisiveness and self-preservation. But not this time; not with this vote. Overwhelmingly, Floridians came together to say, “Yes! Our rights are your rights.”
For the past 20 years, I’ve worked for Televerde, a company whose business model is built around second chances. We currently employ almost 400 women at correctional institutions in both Arizona and Indiana. We provide jobs and training that empower them to better their lives while in prison and successfully transition back into the community. Make no mistake, these women are the cornerstone of the work we do every day. They are remarkably bright, incredibly talented, extraordinarily committed and have a burning desire to ensure that when they leave prison, they never go back. (And the overwhelming majority do not. Consider this: while the national average for recidivism is well above 50%, for women of Televerde, it’s a remarkable 6.1 percent)
What I’ve learned over my career is that the spirit, determination and enthusiasm of the women of Televerde isn’t the exception, it’s the rule. The only difference is geography: they are fortunate to serve their prison terms in states that believe in providing opportunities that empower them to grow and transform. And transform they do, while also changing the stigma associated with those who are incarcerated. Televerde, along with the states of Arizona and Indiana, invest in the individual and the results are powerful. Think for a moment how dispiriting it would be if upon release they faced lifetime disenfranchisement, essentially prohibiting them from ever participating in a system that makes legislation impacting every American citizen. This isn’t wise justice; nor does it reinforce our values as a country built on redemption, optimism, compassion, healing and renewal.
I believe that denying any upstanding citizen the right to vote is one of the harshest ways we marginalize people in this country, and currently there are two states that continue to have lifetime bans (I’m looking at you, Kentucky and Iowa). Know this: when government refuses to believe that people are better than the worst day in their lives—even after serving their time in facilities meant to rehabilitate—they are set up to fail and repeat the same behaviors that led them to prison in the first place. This becomes an endless cycle that burdens families, communities and taxpayers.
As a country, we need to believe in the power of second chances, working together to empower individuals, not strip them of their alienable rights and make it more difficult than it already is to rebuild their lives. And to those states that have restricted voting policies still on the books for former felons, I implore you to reconsider. The right to vote is not something that should be earned over time or restored with a fine. Casting a ballot is one of the most important ways that we contribute to society, and those who have repaid their debt to society deserve your vote of confidence.
Learn more about the power of second chances. Watch the recent TEDx series at Perryville Correctional Facility in Arizona