Legal Services Alabama's Mobile Office Advocates Charlotte Tipton (Lead Attorney) and Ann Brown (Managing Attorney) work with formerly incarcerated individuals during a Voter Rights Restoration Clinic held at Stone Street Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala., July 22. The clinic assisted more than two dozen formerly incarcerated individuals.
LSA Helps Formerly Incarcerated Alabamians Restore their Voting Rights
More than 40 formerly incarcerated individuals received legal advice or assistance in restoring their voting rights during LSA’s first week of Voter Rights Restoration Clinics held in the Black Belt, Birmingham and Mobile.
The clinics began in Greensboro and Birmingham on July 18 and 19, and in Mobile on Saturday, July 22, with community leaders, professionals and students among those volunteering their efforts toward the cause.
Barbara Luckett, the Lead Attorney in the Birmingham office and a member of LSA’s Opportunity and Empowerment Task Force, stated that LSA is making great strides reaching a group of people who have often felt marginalized.
“Voting is the most essential right for every citizen,” Luckett said. “LSA is leading the charge to educate the public about a new law that gives some disenfranchised citizens the right to vote. Formerly incarcerated persons believe that there are so many things that they can't do. We do not want them to think voting is one of those things. It takes courage to share intimate details of one's life with strangers. We are so thankful that they trust us.”
LSA’s Felecia Pettway, Managing Attorney in the Selma Office and co-chair of the Opportunity and Empowerment Task Force, described the impact of the clinic held at the Historic Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma on July 19:
“We were able to assist 10 individuals in taking the first steps to restoring their voter rights, and the gratitude to LSA for our dedication to this effort, was echoed continuously by the citizens who reached out for assistance,” Pettway said, who will hold an additional clinic in Greene County on July 27. “An individual stated that he was excited about the possibility of being able to vote because he was incarcerated in his early 20s, and was almost 60 and had never been able to vote before.”
Volunteer Martha Shearer, who served five years in federal prison for a drug offense, now volunteers with Greater Birmingham Ministries, Aletheia House, The Salvation Army and her local church, to empower formerly incarcerated individuals in reentering society. Shearer, who earned two master’s degrees in Social Work and Addiction Counseling upon her release, also holds a certification in community health.
“For myself and for a lot of people, just to be able to vote makes a person feel much better about being a returning citizen to their community,” Shearer said, whose dream was to be a nurse before her conviction. “I didn’t vote for a lot of years because I thought that I couldn’t.”
For Shearer, the Crimes of Moral Turpitude statute, is a game changer. People who have made mistakes in their pasts, Shearer stated, should be given a second chance. “It definitely changes things and opens up an opportunity for a lot of people,” she said. “Crimes now that you can get a pardon for, you could not ever vote with those crimes.
“Sometimes you can make a mistake and then change your life,” Shearer said. “Some people actually want to participate in the voting process. To be told that you can’t vote for so many decades, and now to be told that you can – it provides a sense of hope for people. I want to see everybody vote.”
Elizabeth Kohn, Alabama State Bar member and ACLU board member, stated she is “very much in favor” of helping former inmates with restoring their voting rights and looks forward to continuing to participate in rights restoration work.
Samuel Lee Thompson of Birmingham, who came to the clinic seeking information about a pardon, was once sentenced to life without parole in state prison. After being incarcerated for 24 years, Thompson will celebrate 11 years since his release, later this month.
“I wanted to get my voting rights back so that I can have a word to say,” Thompson said regarding the clinic. “I have a right to say I can vote on somebody – who I want in office. I want all my rights back.”
Thompson believed the event offered much hope.
“I feel very happy,” Thompson said. “I’m going to spread the word.”
Ann Brown, Managing Attorney in the Mobile Office and Task Force member, stated she is proud to be a part of the Initiative.
"Our first clinic went very well," Brown said, who assisted 25 individuals. "I am very grateful for the volunteers who assisted with the clinic. I feel we are making a difference in people's lives who are often left without a voice in our society."
Mobile County resident Darryl Frison, who served five years in penitentiaries throughout the state before his release in 2012, believes “the vote” matters.
“[This clinic] got me one step closer to where I am supposed to be,” Frison said. “I believe our voting effects our community. No matter what we’ve been through, we all have a right to choose to vote.”
Sponsored by Legal Services Alabama and the ACLU of Alabama, the clinics will be held in Birmingham and Mobile during the next several weeks. Clinics will be held in Birmingham July 26, 29, Aug. 2 and 8, and in Mobile, July 29. For a complete list of clinic dates, times and locations, please visit www.legalservicesalabama.org event calendar.