How Alabama Citizens Are Getting Their Voting Rights Back | NowThis

Not only am I an ex-convict, I’m an ex-addict as well. I’m not proud of my past but nor am I ashamed of it. I’m not ashamed of it by no means. Today I’m a voter. And I feel empowered. I feel like I belong, I’m a part of it. If anybody wins tomorrow by one vote it was me. They love the saying ‘If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.’ I said nah. If you can make it in Birmingham you can make it anywhere. It’s constantly beating you down. You always not just gotta survive, but you gotta fight to eventually not to give up. You wouldn’t really know that 70% of the population is African American. Almost 30% of those individuals live at or below the poverty line. If you’re black, you would be born in Alabama. No way you would go to Alabama. Birmingham is one of the most racist cities in America. It’s not just the black people, it’s just poor people in general. If you don’t have money down here you’re in for a fight. Every day. So, this is John Paul Taylor with the Alabama Voting Rights Project. And today we’re at the Five Points West Library doing parties at the polls, celebrating individuals that’s had their voting rights restored. See, in 2017 Alabama actually changed the law which reenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Alabama citizens. Alabama’s felony disenfranchisement law actually dates back to 1901 when the state passed a new constitution to rejoin the union. It’s a Jim Crow constitution. And at that point this law was written with the explicit and open intent of keeping black people from voting. To do that they made the law as ambiguous and discretionary as possible, so they gave all the power to local election officials to decide whether someone’s felony conviction was disenfranchising or not. So just like possession of a firearm? They said that any conviction of moral turpitude will take away someone’s right to vote. But they didn’t define what that meant. Ok, the possession charge isn’t disqualifying. Do you know what degree the assault one was? Under the new law, a lot of minor felony convictions like possession of drugs no longer take away someone’s right to vote. Those are some really common convictions, but a lot of people who have those convictions were told in the past by the state that they can’t vote. And so they still don’t know that they’ve gotten their voting rights back. He owes about five hundred dollars on that conviction. I’m still looking at a couple of other ones. Not only is it about restoring people’s voting rights per se but it’s actually building community in such an organic way. And actually with really a group of people that most people overlook or feel are invisible. Mr. Richard, how you doing? God bless you man. You too brother, come on in. Good to see you. This man gave me back some dignity, some power, placed me back into the world where I feel like I’m somebody as well. In the state of Alabama as a whole most people don’t like talking about their felony convictions. Simply because there is such a stigma attached to it. This is my job site. I rent this spot, this is my shop right here. This is where I try to work my magic. I’m an ex-addict and alcoholic and it and I’m saying from those things I did other things that ended me up in prison. I put me in that position but I am not the reason I couldn’t vote when I got out of prison. That I’m not gonna say. I got on my feet and that was my driving force in God keeping me sober. But, as that moved on, and, you know, being a productive person in life, I wanted to vote. I wanted to make a difference on some things as well. That I curl with these, these hot curlers. When I get up in here and show you these little curl like that, that’s these. Life is good for me now. I’ve gotten almost six years now going on. You could say that’s not a long time but, for me, it’s a solid solid six years. When I first came in I had me a mattress. I had my furniture, but I didn’t have a mattress. I never even really. I never even really. Oh, it’s foggy. The high that I have right now, this sober joyful high that I have right now is the best high I ever had in my entire life. You can keep trying to do what you told do what you told. It never come out, but all it takes is the right form or the right direction. And he gave me that form. So. Today I’m a voter. Right now what I have is a certificate of eligiblity to register to vote, what we call the CERV form. Which, when an individual has a disqualifying conviction, has paid their fine and fees and completed their sentence, they will actually fill out a CERV form that gives them then the ability to register to vote. My job is, once the CERV form goes in, I make sure after that 44 days that it’s been issued to him the way it’s supposed to be. That the state has done everything they supposed to do. We stay in one of the worst states as far as unnecessary convictions. So it’s a lot of people out here that have been convicted of crimes that they shouldn’t even have been convicted of in the first place just to meet a quota. The good old boy system just find a way to keep putting their foot up everybody’s rear end. So, a lot of people without rights. I kinda have some butterflies, but I kinda have some butterflies, but it’s the first time so, you know, a little nervous but excited at the same time. Process complete. For the first time in my life I just voted. First time ever. I feel a lot different. Finally got a say in how things go around here. So I’m feeling a lot better about that. I was convicted of a felony for assault in the first degree. In a situation that I argue to this day was self-defence. Because I was defending myself against a guy who had a weapon drawn on me and was firing shots at me. But that leads us to this day. And thankfully my man John Paul he helped me get my voting rights back. It’s a lot of people who’ve lost their voting rights. A lot of them don’t even know that they can get them back. So I’ve kind of been spreading the word that you can get your voting rights back. So a lot of them can. One that actually should be up there. It is such thankless work, per se, and so when a person goes ‘You really helped me, so I want to help someone else in the process,’ like that part of it, like oh. This Is how it continues by us sharing and caring and loving each other. You got a ‘I voted’ sticker on, brother. High five, man. Word. I support everything that he does, because what he does is awesome for the people. Period. I could take it back to the streets because I come from the streets. I come from the jungle. I’m so unashamed of it because God allow us to experience the experiences of our lives in order to help us grow and develop into both the men and women he alread predicted for us to be. I thank God for blessing me to come from the gutter, blessing me to come from where they poor at. Where they struggling hard day to day. They don’t understand nothing but pain. When you know what it is to not just hit rock bottm, but lick the pavement and everything, right? And it’s a funny thing because the farther down you go, it really creates a much stronger foundation when you come up. And not being afraid of reality is part of it, ’cause I can meet reality head on. That don’t bother me. See, and I’m not afraid to fail. You see what I’m saying? Failure’s a part of life. ‘Cause that’s a part of. It’s all a vital part. You better — listen, that’s what I’ve learned the most. Congratulations, John Paul, you’re the first person that’s ever answered one of my accidental video calls. Oh, for real? I’m the queen of those. It’s a struggle, I tell you, just to keep up with the keys. [Phone] Sorry I don’t understand. Stop it. I am going to vote for the first time since I got out of prison. That’s so fun. Thank you, I got my voting rights restored. So I get to go vote. One thing you find in prison. There’s plenty of lawyers and plenty of preachers. Just ask them. They couldn’t keep themselves out of prison but they can sure tell you what to do to get out. I committed my crime in 2010. I Went to prison on April 8 2013. I went to a halfway house in December of 2014. This is it, vote here. I have this fear that I’m going to get in here and it’s going to be like ‘Oh, sorry, there’s some kind of mistake.’ I can’t even stand my self. I Really can’t even. This has been almost like I couldn’t sleep last night because of it. I’ll be back. There was no misunderstanding. I legit was able to vote. And got, not one sticker, but two. How cool is that. Now we just have to sit and wait for the results to come in. [TV news announcer] . This is a typical pattern in the state of Alabama that rural counties that tend to favor Republican candidates come in first, they tend to be smaller. And he expects to make a big charge late. The past couple of elections I’ve watched the results, but I didn’t really have a personal connection to it ’cause I didn’t get to vote. And it’s really cool to be able to watch knowing that I actually played a part in the outcome. It’s very important that people understand that their voting rights can be restored in certain circumstances and those certain circumstances are a lot more broader than they used to be. There will be future elections coming up. So when we’re talking to people, we’re sayinig hey, still register, still go through these processes to restore your voting rights. ‘Cause it’s good for them just to be — to feel, again, part of the American process. Please, I implore everyone, don’t take your vote for granted. Go out and vote. Word.

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