BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Daytona residents Ben Pippen, Vaneshia Maddox and Antonio Aiken cannot serve on a jury, run for public office, own or possess a firearm or vote because they are convicted felons.
They were among residents who attended a restoration of civil rights workshop on Oct. 27 at the John H. Dickerson Community Center.
“I came to inquire about the process of restoring my rights and get some of my life back,” said Aiken.
Maddox echoed, “I came in hopes of having my rights restored. I am now a college student and working but I still need my rights restored to move forward in life.”
Success over years
Dr. Walter Fordham, political action chairman of the Daytona Beach/Volusia County NAACP, said, “We want to give every citizen in the state an opportunity to vote, serve on a jury, lead and have a chance to serve in a public office. Unfortunately, in our county we have too many that are denied these opportunities.”
The event was hosted by the local NAACP branch, which has held restoration workshops for years.
“We have done them for at least nine years with tremendous success. The most success came during the term of former Gov. Charlie Crist. Many benefited from his executive order granting automatic restoration. Locally, we saw a good number of people get back to work and school,” recalls Fordham.
Other organizations on hand were the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Volusia County Clerk of Court, A. Philip Randolph Institute Central Florida Chapter, Florida Voter’s League, and The Center for Business Excellence.
An executive order signed by Crist back in 2007 helped many felons get their rights back.
There is a push for a constitutional amendment to automatically restore civil rights to felons.
“The Florida Restoration on Rights Coalition will initiate a push for a constitutional amendment to Florida’s constitution. It will guarantee those felons who have completed their sentences and paid their restitution to automatically have their rights restored without any paperwork,” explained Phyllis Hancock, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), Central Florida Chapter.
“We want this so that every time there’s a new governor he just cannot change the rules as he pleases. Florida is one of the toughest states on recovering for sentences. Some states allow people to vote while serving in prison.’’
The APRI is a social and economic justice organization that does voter registration education and get-out-to-vote efforts. It is an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor (AFL)-Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).
Life has been challenging without civil rights, especially when it comes to employment.
“It is important that we get them back, especially with the state of the current economy. A lot of people have kids to raise. Many politicians and others with economic and social status don’t care.
It’s hard to raise your kids and the steps need to be taken now to make a better future,” commented Pippen.
Maddox added, “It often comes to bit you in employment because certain employers won’t hire you. It’s more important with today’s economy. For those people who have done their time, I believe that they should have a chance at employment.”
Aiken’s charges occurred in South Carolina when he lived in Charleston. He has had even a more difficult time getting his rights restored.
“It has been really hard for me. A lot of times people and employers look at the charge before looking at the person. Everybody deserves a second chance but often in such cases everyone doesn’t get that second chance,’’ Aiken remarked.
Eager to vote
State law doesn’t allow felons to vote. The law states that they cannot vote and cannot register to vote. It also calls for persecution of a felony if they do so.
That’s why getting their rights back for future elections are critical.
“I’m looking forward to voting in the next election and elections to come,” responded Maddox.
“Voting is important. A lot of Blacks and minorities need to get out and vote. I encourage everyone who can vote to get out and vote. Hopefully I can vote next election,” Pippen added.