Why You Should Vote Yes on Prop 17

by Aziz Brown

My life sentence was commuted by Governor Jerry Brown in 2018 and I was eventually found suitable for parole by the Board of Prison Hearings. After serving 23 years in prison I was released back into society on parole. I was incarcerated as a 17 year old who had no knowledge of the intricacies of criminal justice or political systems in California. During my incarceration, I invested in my own personal education, earned my GED and pursued a college degree which helped give me a  broader perspective of life and my duties as a citizen.   

 

I’ve been out of prison now for two years, still on parole, working, paying taxes and being a productive member of society. My work is around providing legal information in regard to new sentencing reforms, specifically around Senate Bill 1437 to incarcerated people and bringing together survivors of crimes and currently incarcerated people to engage in restorative justice. 

 

To my chagrin, my parole status currently prevents me from being able to participate in the upcoming elections. While I have paid my debt to society, it’s still important to me to continue to make amends for the harms that I caused to my community. 

 

Racial injustices and inequalities have been deeply ingrained in our systems and it governs our everyday life. The spirit of the black codes that prevented enslaved people from fully becoming productive citizens is alive and vibrant today. It’s been strategically masked in the “tough on crime” laws that continue to target black and brown people. 

 

We continue to be underrepresented in our elections due to the higher incarceration rate of black and brown people, which strips us of our rights to vote for meaningful issues and elect people that are most qualified to represent our communities. Voting is important to me because I understand now how the system should work to address the needs of the people in my community. 

 

It’s crucial that we restore the voting rights to people like myself who were convicted of felonies, currently on parole, but are now contributing members of society this November. Voting Yes on Proposition 17 will ensure that we are included in the decision making and not excluded based solely on our criminal status. 

 

As for me, having the right to vote will be an honor. Being a contributing member of society, it’s my duty to be able to partake in the historical process that will affect people for generations. 

 

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