Handcuffed_hands_(line_drawing)No matter how anti-government you proclaim to be; pride yourself on being Captain America leaning towards the right, or the tree hugging liberal-leaning towards the far left, living the “American Dream” is something all can agree on. What individual wouldn’t want the good paying stable job; the house with the white picket fence, and basic civil freedom. But, what if you found yourself stripped of civil rights? what if you found yourself invisibly imprisoned unable to successfully progress through life? What if…just what if, you found yourself on the wrong side of the law and you were convicted of a felony? Things that may have or have not been important to you, suddenly become impossible obstacles. Rights, and freedom, that you may have taken for granted become unreachable. The right to vote; a right to bear arms, or even as a hard-working employee your right to equal opportunity to progress and grow with a company. For some Americans, these rights have been abolished and being “trapped in the justice system” has become reality.

So you’ve committed a felony; what does that mean for you? Or what even is a felon? A felony conviction can mean jail or prison time. But often the most devastating repercussions occur after an individual has served time. After the court case and custody time are completed, the “real” sentence of your crime begins. Civil rights and privileges can be taken, as well as gaining employment and promotions may become more challenging. “We want convicted felons to overcome their criminal past. We want them to become productive members of the community. Yet we brand them with a “Scarlet F” that makes rehabilitation increasingly difficult.” Shouse California Law Group.

What is it like living as a convicted felon in the land of the free? Especially when November comes and there is the talk of political change. While some Americans line up to cast their ballot to vote for an elective official that gives a promising future, an estimated 6.1 millions of Americans are denied their right to vote due to felony convictions. The Sentencing Project is a national non-profit organization involved in research and advocacy for criminal justice issues and has done extensive research on “Disenfranchisement” or the loss of the right to vote.  Each state may have different restrictions on an ex-felon voting, but one thing is certain, the number of people restricted to vote is on the rise. In 1960, the number of voters who were disenfranchised due to a felony conviction was 1,762,582 and by 2016 the number of people who lost the right to vote due to a felony conviction had jumped dramatically to 6,106,327. Some may argue that felons have demonstrated poor judgment and can not be trusted with a vote; while civil rights activist may argue, keeping anyone from voting is undemocratic and unjust.

Below is a table of top 10 states with the highest percentage of disenfranchised voters in 2016 cited by The Sentencing Project in their research, “6 Million Lost Voters: State-Level Estimates of Felony Disenfranchisement, 2016”

Rank State Total Disenfranchised Percent Disenfranchised
1 Florida 1,686,318 10.43%
2 Mississippi 218.181 9.63%
3 Kentucky 312,046 9.14%
4 Tennessee 421,227 8.26%
5 Virginia 508,680 7.81%
6 Alabama 286,266 7.62%
7 Wyoming 23,847 5.33%
8 Arizona 221,170 4.25%
9 Nevada 89,267 4.02%
10 Georgia 248,751 3.23%

 

Aside from the right to vote, felons also may face mandatory life sentences with the “three-strikes” law, that demands a person guilty of committing both a violent felony and two other previous convictions to serve a mandatory life sentence in prison or an automatic 25 years to life. Washington is the first state and California is the second state to adopt “the-strikes” law on March 7th, 1994 in Proposition 184. Once again, the law may vary from state to state, but “As of 1996, 24 states and Congress had adopted some form of three strikes legislation.” As mentioned by James Austin Ph.D. in “Three Strikes and You’re Out”. The law is held at a federal statute and was enacted on September 13th, 1994 by president Bill Clinton; introduced as “The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act”. The biggest controversy with the three-strikes law is that the third offense that the individual comments don’t always have to be violent or sever.

Last but not least; the precious, right to bear arms. If you are convicted felon this right no longer exists. In California, you may be able to restore your right to own a firearm by petitioning to have a felony reduced to a misdemeanor or even a governors pardon. A governor’s pardon can be obtained through one of two methods:

1) If you still reside in California, by obtaining a California Certificate of Rehabilitation… which automatically becomes an application for a pardon; or

2) If you no longer reside in California, by applying for a direct pardon from the Governor.

Good luck to you if you end up on the wrong side of the law, its never ending obstacles make life more complex than life already is.

 

Cited works

Larson, Ryan Ph.D. The Sentencing Project, 6 Million Lost Votes, October 06, 2016.