Recently I set off a heated debate in my world. I mentioned that I was glad to see that felons who have served their time in Florida have finally had their voting rights restored (unless they were convicted of murder or felony sex crimes).
Florida has always been the most restrictive state in terms of felony disenfranchisement. According to this article, in Florida, before Amendment 4 was passed, “one in 10 voting-age adults, and almost one in four African American adults were barred from voting for life because of a previous felony conviction.”
It’s clear to me why this has been the case. Florida is a red state, and it was feared that most people who have been in prison would vote blue. Also, with the disproportionate number of African Americans convicted of crimes, this was a handy way of depriving that minority of the vote, which, let’s face it, is the deep South’s wildest dream. (Now they’ll just have to rely on gerrymandering to get their desired results, and they’re quite good at that.)
I really believe that if we think that prisoners who have done their time have paid their debt to society, then we have no right to prevent them from participating therein. Now, do I expect that most of them will? No. Most of the rest of us don’t vote, unfortunately. Why should they be any different? But they should have the option.
The more roadblocks we place in their paths, the less likely they will be to reenter society with even a modicum of success. We set them up for failure. We make it nearly impossible for them to find decent jobs. We don’t want them as our next door neighbors. We don’t want them voting. Is it any wonder they remain on the fringe of civilization?
When I expressed this opinion, I got a lot of pushback from the people I know who formerly worked in the law enforcement field. The general consensus seemed to be, once a felon, always a felon. They have no inclination to participate in society.
When other friends, civilians like me, said that this might give them some incentive to do so, the law enforcement people opined that they know better. They won’t change.
We civilians piped up that even if only a tiny percentage wanted to change, that’s worth it. That’s when things got hostile. Apparently we shouldn’t form an opinion because we’d never experienced what the law enforcement types have experienced.
Then we pointed out that the law enforcement types wouldn’t, by definition, come into contact with the felons who were trying to change their lives, so their stats are biased.
More anger. Have we personally seen people attempt to change?
Yes. Examples were given.
That response, of course, was ignored. One person from the law enforcement camp said they used to laugh at all the “do-gooders” who were attempting to change felons.
But we never said we were attempting to change them. We were just glad that they had their rights restored, so that they could make their own choices.
We civilians pointed out that we were sorry that the experience of law enforcement had left them so jaded. The law enforcements fired back that they were realists and that we had no right to weigh in since we didn’t have their experiences. (I half expected them to start calling us Muggles.)
We were then told that we can’t change anyone. They had to change themselves. Again, we pointed out we are trying to give these people the opportunity to change themselves. Again, this went unheard. They just said that they speak facts.
(Actually, no. These are opinions based on experiences, but clearly these opinions are so strongly held that they see them as facts.)
I can understand why one would become bitter and cynical when dealing day in and day out with the very dregs of society. It actually happened to me, too, for a time, in a job where I dealt with a lot of liars and people prone to fraud. That’s why I quit. I didn’t like how it was causing me to view society in general.
I think there’s a reason why law enforcement types often socialize only with one another. The rest of us don’t get it. We Muggles have a completely different worldview.
But we don’t get it because we have the luxury of hanging out with the majority of society, which is either law abiding or has paid its debt and is attempting to move on. How lucky we are. How grateful we should be.
Law enforcement is necessary, and I’m very glad that it exists. But unfortunately I believe that it’s a career path that warps one’s view of society. People in law enforcement have to live in a dark world, and therefore they have a tendency to forget how to see the sun. And it’s a little scary to think that people with warped views of society are in charge of keeping the peace.
I honestly don’t know what the solution is for this. But I’ll still maintain that if even one Florida felon enters the voting booth, I will consider Amendment 4 a smashing success. Congratulations Florida, for finally getting something right. (In my opinion, of course.)