“I’m a felon.” This declaration was made more than once as Second Chance Day on the Hill speakers introduced themselves at the podium. It was a simple statement of fact – not meant to shock, though perhaps meant to challenge. That was the theme of the rally: challenging the notion that people impacted by the criminal justice system should be denied housing or employment or the right to vote, long after they’ve paid their debt to society.
Second Chance Day brings together people who are committed to getting the 57,000 Minnesotans with felony convictions a fair shot at redeeming themselves, fully supporting themselves and their families and contributing to their communities to their full potential. At Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota, 30 percent of our program participants cite their involvement with the criminal justice system as a barrier to finding work. That’s why GES takes a leadership role in organizing the Second Chance Day on the Hill rally and connecting our participants with their legislators in one-on-one meetings.
If you missed Second Chance Day 2017 but want a glimpse at the experience, we excerpted some of the rally speeches below.
With great trepidation, and the GED I earned in federal prison, I enrolled in college at 43 years old.
I often refer to the first day of college as the second scariest day of my life, with the first, self-surrendering to prison. I enrolled in college to become an addiction counselor, something that was a dream of mine since receiving the gift of recovery.
I’m now a counselor for RS EDEN, the very same program that provided me the gift of recovery 12 years ago. I never imagined the life I live today would ever be possible. I often ask myself, when will I wake up from this dream? Well, the fact is: this is no dream. This is the life that I live. It’s only possible because I was given a second chance.
I like to offer a different interpretation of “second chance.” Second chance for whom? I believe that this is our second chance as a society to get it right. This is our second chance at taking care of all God’s children, and our second chance at a true democracy. Only when everyone has the same rights as others can we have a democracy. That’s the definition of democracy. So I’ll leave you with this: this is our first chance at getting it right, but our second chance at becoming whole.
In the beginning I had so much resentment toward the family that adopted my daughter. The adoption agreement granted one visit a month, and today we love each other. We’re a big part of each other’s lives, and I’m happy to say I’m a positive influence in my daughter’s life.
I’m an active member of my church. I am now the live-in manager at the sober home where my whole journey started. I do volunteer work–I go back to the treatment center that I was in and tell my story. I finally got a credit card, and my credit is slowly showing some progress.
I’ll be graduating this May with a degree in addiction counseling and a 4.0 GPA. I am currently a counseling intern at Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge and I’m determined to help people suffering from addiction. I’ve fought an uphill battle to get where I am today, and the hard part is still to come: finding housing with no rental history and a felony on my record. My felony conviction could ultimately prevent me from being licensed in the field I’m so passionate about and can make real changes in.
I’ve turned my life around. I have the right to be able to vote for the person who I think will make policy changes that will enable people in my position to be successful. But instead, I am disenfranchised. There is absolutely no reason that I or any other felon who has served time should be stripped of our rights to participate in our democracy. Especially given the voices of the people struggling are the voices that should be heard the loudest.