The Reason: Our Positive Actions Helping Inmates Regain Their Rights
By Pam Maldonado
On March 12th, I had the pleasure of giving a brief presentation on Amendment 4 for about 175 inmates at the Sago Palm Re-Entry Center in Pahokee. This was my second visit to this prison that houses men who are within three years of completing their sentences.
The inmates were thrilled that the League of Women Voters believes in second chances and that people should not be judged only by the worst thing they’ve ever done.
“No one understands the power of the State more than someone who has been through the system,” I said, reinforcing what a previous speaker had said. Former inmate Wilfred Dorsey had shared the shock of seeing the cover of his pre-sentencing documents stating: “The United States of America vs. Wilfred Dorsey.” “Boy, that’s heavy!” he said.
We’re proud that The League fought long and hard to get Amendment 4 passed and are committed to helping returning citizens to become full-fledged citizens with voting rights It felt good to give encouraging news about the willingness of the Public Defenders and Courts to cooperate in removing court costs from sentencing documents, allowing returning citizens to register. I stressed that one of the first calls they need to make when they are released should be to the Public Defender in order to determine their situation.
Keynote speaker Steve Simon, a self-described “5-time loser,” recounted his journey to getting his life back in order after his release. The inmates listened raptly as he recounted his journey. “When I got to Sago Palm, the first thing I did was to start working on myself. After 25 years of incarceration, I had no marketing skills so I started taking every available class. “The first thing you have to do,” he stated, is “STOP COMPLAINING!”
“Use the services available to you,” he counseled. He mentioned how, upon his release, Goodwill paid for his CDL training and license. Now he’s a truck driver who marvels at how many states he’s visited —something he never imagined being able to do. He’s realized everything he lost over the years and is determined to make the most of what he has now. Especially, he said, he’s happy to be able to help his kids pay for daycare for his grandchildren (he has 14!).
The inmates exploded with cheers and clapping when he announced that he even has credit cards, a bank account, and a credit score of 715. “Bank of America! Capital One! Chase!” he shouted as he pulled out his wallet and flashed the cards. One of the administrators who had invited me leaned over to tell me that Simon’s son had recently been shot and killed, but Simon did not mention that to the audience. He was very upbeat and positive and credited God for his new life.
Simon thanked each and every one of the employees at Sago Palm who had believed in him and gone to bat to get him released. He mentioned how thrilled he was in December 2017 (he remembered the exact date!) when he received a Christmas card from Mrs. Kurzen, the second in command at the prison. Small human touches make such a difference.
At the end of his talk, he enthusiastically noted how proud he was when he registered to vote early at the Supervisor of Elections office. “Biden, Biden!! Biden, all the way!” It was a perfect finale to my talk about Amendment 4 and how we are counting on returning citizens to participate fully in the electoral system. Although The League knows that we are doing something positive when we work on this issue, this experience put a face on how what we do benefits real people and their families.