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Like, Can I Vote?

and by the way, is a felon still a felon when the sentence is over?

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, March 14, 2007.

I got involved in a small debate on our local newspaper’s virtual editorial forum this week. A bill is before the Colorado government to grant people on probation - and, I guess, parole - to vote. It’s Senate Bill 83. This was of high interest to me, because I am a felon who has completed his sentence, and the one punishment that was most painful was not being allowed to vote. Well, that and having to explain I was a felon when people approached me to sign petitions or to offer work or a social engagement. I always informed people of my legal status, and insisted that temp agencies do so as well, but they did not always do so.

This happened because in every case they were responsibly trying to keep me employed, and there is a lot of accepted don’t ask/don’t tell in the relationship between temp agencies and their clients, who are not the workers but the businesses that hire them. I was sensitive to this, because I’d once been - even more embarrassing - a booking agent for bands, and I realized that although, legally, I represented the bands and was paid by them, most agents - in reality and how they presented themselves - were working for the clubs. Long time ago. But, after mentioning to one company in Niwot that it was ironic, no?, that I worked for the people who made ankle bracelets for home arrest, and was then promptly escorted off the premises and let go, I became more adamant that people be told before employing me. Not a pleasant experience, and unnecessary.

When released from jail and put in the half way house for two years I wanted to vote, because I’ve always been politically active and always, I think, have voted when I could. While still in jail, sheriff deputies had tried to encourage me to vote for expanded jail facilities when I got out. Apparently they didn’t know I could not legally do so. Perhaps they did know and were encouraging me to so I could be punished for it. People who choose to be jail guards and such to the exclusion of other careers nearly always have a sadistic side. Not always, but more than average.

As do some who worked for minimal wage in the halfway house. When I inquired about voting, neither my case worker nor anyone else knew whether I could vote or not. In both jail and halfway house I’d been allowed to do this radio show every week, which remains inexplicable to me and others, and no doubt that discombobulated them. Opinions varied, but most thought that, as a felon, I’d not be able to vote again, ever. That didn’t seem logical to me. A sentence was finite, and when over, it’s over. So I went to the County Clerk’s office and discovered the reality.

Probation and parole are part of your sentence and, further, the phrases are a legal and social sleight of hand. Legally, someone on probation from prison or probation from jail is on nothing more than an extended overnight pass. Legally, you are still in jail, or incarcerated. People incarcerated are serving a sentence and cannot vote in Colorado. When your sentence is completed, you’re a regular citizen again. Well, with an asterisk.

Within a day or so of my sentence being over in 2002, I went to re-register and found that despite not having voted for eight years or more, I was still on the roles. That’s rather scary, because if me than likely everyone who’s a felon remained at that time on the voting roles even if on probation. And could vote. We were trusted with that, somehow.

The reality is that most people I knew in jail or halfway house or any of that weren’t voting types anyway. They had never voted or cared about The Man or the System because, I concluded, to do so was to admit the System worked and The Man did value them and a great deal of their time was spent blaming the two for their own failures and predicament.

But just as it seems the only people who care about the First Amendment are potheads trying to legalize their addiction while denying it’s an addiction at all - at least till the nearly predictable appearance of the forms of cancer, like brain and lymphatic, that seem to attend chronic pot smoke the way lung cancer is the stigmata of tobacco’s – many of the people who are concerned that our physically ambulatory but legally jailed population get to vote also spend a lot of time in the stoner giggle. They figure with the numbers in jail for minor pot possession, they can eventually get them to vote to legalize it. Or something. But it won’t happen, because, like, they’re stoned, and because it should not. We need to focus on the stupid, victimless laws we have on the books and not waste energy on sentencing issues.

If we trust them to vote, why are they in jail at all? Or don’t we think voting is important?