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  February 2, 2016

Unlock the Vote

In this special edition of Rattling the Bars, Eddie Conway speaks with former prisoners who are organizing to pass legislation that would allow all Maryland ex-felons to vote upon release from incarceration.
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EDDIE CONWAY, TRNN: I'm Eddie Conway, and I'm reporting for the Real News from Baltimore. Welcome to a special session of Rattling the Bars.

We recently went to Annapolis to view the community and the House of Delegates efforts to override Governor Hogan's veto. He vetoed a bill that would allow 40,000 ex-felons to vote in the state of Maryland once they returned back to the community from prison. And one of the things that I think's important about the issue is that the governor is a Republican, and that veto will allow a lot of people from the African-American community, which most likely will vote for the Democratic party, to have their enfranchised rights back.

SPEAKER: Back when, during the 90-day session, we passed the bill, House Bill 980, that restored the voting rights of ex-felons, as soon as, immediately after they're released from prison. Soon after the governor vetoed that bill. And right now we're going into the legislature, we're trying to get some momentum.

SPEAKER: The opportunity to vote, when you see elections, elections are decided by three votes in Prince George's county. Less than 50 votes in Baltimore County. Less than 75 votes in Southern Maryland. I have a friend over there, [Shannon Sneed]. Shannon Sneed lost by 13 votes. Thirteen votes. Brothers and sisters, with our communities looking the way they do, we need the best representation.

SPEAKER: Of course, we're here because the community's voice never needs to go unheard. And so we're showing up to show our support, and also to show our disapproval of the governor's veto to allow ex-felons to vote, or those that are on probation and parole. But we want to continue to lift the voices up of the ex-offender. This is just the beginning. We also know that, you know, there are many things that are going unaddressed in the ex-offender community. And so we want to use this momentum to continue to push forward, to create new laws, to make life easier for the people who it's been made so hard for because of these bad policies.

SPEAKER: Because we want to know what our rights are, we want to know who we're voting for, who's making decisions, who's going to benefit all of us down the path, and we want to participate. Not just vote, but run for office, as well.

SPEAKER: If I'm free, then give me the freedom that I deserve. After serving 40 years, I'm the only woman that was let out under the Unger case. However, I'm here to advocate for women and men in the entire state all over the world, because we matter.

SPEAKER: This is a historic thing. Not only [inaud.] able to vote. This goes back to the whole Jim Crow era thing.

CONWAY: Of course it is.

SPEAKER: I've been in society now a few months. And it's really hard out here, especially coming from out of prison. I've been putting applications after applications to these corporations. Now, what I did, I heard about the councilman right here, Nick Mosby, and I asked him to assist me in trying to locate some employment, which he has done.

Now, I did my time. I come home to be productive. I need to vote. My vote counts. And everybody that's coming home, vote needs to be counted.

SPEAKER: We must ensure that all folks in Baltimore not only have a fair hiring policy for them, but also fair voting rights for them. If you return home, if you've paid your debt to society, you should be able to vote in the state of Maryland. And Governor Hogan, I urge you, the state legislature, I urge you, allow these folks to participate in the democratic process. Thank you.

SPEAKER: When you heard this debate, what were your thoughts?

SPEAKER: A lot of it was frustration. It was glad to see, to see the Dems stand up and represent the issue fully and correctly. It also showed me how detached from the real reality of what it's like to be an ex-felon, how really detached some of the legislature is.

CONWAY: Okay. And you didn't support this override of the veto. Why?

SPEAKER: I don't. Because ex-felons already have the right to vote. But you don't become an ex-felon until you're finished serving your sentence, including the parole and probation. So the bill is mislabeled, it's misleading. It's unfortunate that the legislature has mislabeled a bill to call it ex-felons. These people who are getting their voting rights back are still felons. They're still under the provisions of their parole and probation. That means they haven't finished serving their sentence yet.

SPEAKER: Do you think that was one of the things that some people didn't understand, that you want to get reintegrated into society?

SPEAKER: Yes, it's hard. Because we have a lot of programs, but we really can't get back into society without voting.

CONWAY: Okay. And I understand you supported the bill.

SPEAKER: Oh yeah, yeah.

CONWAY: And why is that?

SPEAKER: You've been locked up, you've done your time, you know, it's time to get out and start your life again. Voting should be part of it. If a guy wants to go vote, please, have a vote. There's like, the last election, 85 percent of the population didn't vote at all. These guys and these ladies will vote. So God bless them, give them the right to vote. Give them the right to start all over again.

CONWAY: Okay, well, thank you.

SPEAKER: You're welcome.


SPEAKER: All right, man. What's your name?

CONWAY: Eddie Conway.

SPEAKER: Eddie Conway.

CONWAY: I spent 44 years in prison.

SPEAKER: Oh my God, man. How long, how long you been out?

CONWAY: Two years, now.

SPEAKER: Where you from?

CONWAY: Maryland, Baltimore.

SPEAKER: I know your name, Eddie Conway--.

SPEAKER: Tell us how you feel on an emotional level, now that this has happened.

SPEAKER: I want to cry, fighting back tears. This means a lot. Not just to me, but for a lot of people. People want to vote. It's hard to come on and do the right thing, and people won't open the door for you to do it. You're building laws that oppressed me for so long. No more. Time for change. 40,000 [inaud.] can overturn a vote. You know it. It's about to happen. You're not going to tell me that I can't get a job anymore. You're not going to tell me that because I got a felony I can't [inaud.] trash. You're not gonna tell me that I can't cut hair. You're not gonna tell me that you can take my money but you won't accept my vote. It's over. One more step.

CONWAY: This bill, that has just passed, will also restore my voting rights if it gets passed in the Senate. I'm Eddie Conway, and this is Rattling the Bars.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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