Finding Their Voice – and Maybe a Vote

 Correlli Rasheed speaks to a small crowd at Elmwood Park on Sunday.
Correlli Rasheed speaks to a small crowd at Elmwood Park on Sunday.

Ex-offenders who have done their stint in jail and returned to society should not have such a hard time having their voices heard. That was the focus of a rally at Elmwood Park last Sunday, when “Voices for the Vote,” welcomed speakers like Delegate Onzlee Ware and Roanoke NAACP chapter president Brenda Hale to the stage.

Virginia Cares, an organization that works to help ex-offenders readjust and find jobs, helped sponsor the event, along with Total Action Against Poverty. The Virginia Organizing Project and the nonprofit Oliver White Hill law center were also on hand to give out information.

Ware has helped introduce legislation at the General Assembly that would make it easier for ex-offenders to regain their voting rights, but so far it hasn’t been passed. “It’s a cause we believe in,” said Sharon Lamar of the Virginia Organizing Project. “We’re all fighting for the same thing.”

Virginia Cares executive Anthony West, an ex-offender himself, said he just had his rights restored as a voter. Not being able to cast a ballot can leave people feeling disenfranchised, said West. Some feel the restoration process in Virginia is too long, complex and obscure, discouraging some ex-offenders from taking part.

“When people have a right to vote things start to have a ripple effect,” said Correlli Rasheed, a program manager for TAP.  Voting is “an opportunity to participate in the community.”

DeCarlos Lovejoy graduated from a VA Cares program that helps those released from prison readjust to the outside world. Now he wants to vote, and was disappointed he didn’t get a chance to pull the ballot lever for Barack Obama last November. “I really missed a historic [event] in my lifetime.” The current five year waiting period after probation is an issue for Lovejoy. “They don’t want you to voice your opinion. [It’s] convoluted.”

By Gene Marrano
gmarrano@cox.net