What’s Free 2023!? – Voting.

Editor’s Note: What’s Free is a column that began in 2020, that asks the incarcerated community what freedom means to them. Inspired by the movement of enhanced earned sentence credits, we have raised the topic every year to keep the momentum alive as more brothers and sisters remain behind bars in the Virginia prison system. This year, Q has decided to talk about the freedom that comes with participating in our political system.

Virginia criminal justice reform has been shifting back in forth between a full, most needed overhaul and virtual crumbs to keep the majority of our loved ones seeking more from our state leaders. This year though, one hundred seats in the Virginia House of Representatives are up for reelection. This is where the power of the vote will have its greatest chance to reflect the voices of the incarcerated in the form of our loved ones active participation in the voting process.

When it comes to voting and change as a whole, all of us who have been dejected by the losses we’ve taken must be wary of a most destructive attitude – political skepticism – which only serves to keep the chains on the mind, soul, and in our case, the body.

It’s no secret: every stride gained in regards to who gets to vote in America, has come by way of combat. Normally, this form of combat has placed minorities in position of a proverbial David versus the very real Goliath of bigotry and racism. Continuous combat of this nature will leave a sense of dread and despair no matter how many times we have overcome…

For example, for the last 10 years, Virginia governors fought to ease the path to Restoration of ex-felons rights. In a single term, Glenn Youngkin secretly rolled back automatic expungement without ever addressing the public about the change. But why? What does Glenn Youngkin have to fear from a fuller version of the right to vote? He has to fear YOU!

Political skepticism is the biggest threat to change. Feeling like your vote doesn’t matter, your voice won’t change anything, that the vote is ‘rigged,’ are all thoughts that trap you in a form of political slavery where you willingly give up your fate to the hands of those who’ve already condemned you.

We’ve already heard the stories about how vicious southerners became when former slaves were granted the right to vote. Through those acts of brutality and intimidation, we can surmise how important and powerful the vote is in this country. Even in modern day – look at how Donald Trump played with the idea of the vote being rigged to charge up his base and turned them on the capitol.

Minorities often complain about how politicians are constantly pandering them – encouraging them to get out and vote for them – yet minorities are still skeptical about whether their vote even matters. The fact is that Democrats need a large portion of the minority vote to win the presidential office in any given year.

Let’s look at it this way: if the vote is real (which I most certainly believe it is), then not going out to vote has very real life-costing consequences. The greatest threat that must be overcome is the captive thinking of political skepticism.

What’s Free!? Freedom in this country looks like every single American voting in EVERY election – whether they’re an ex-felon, incarcerated, or free.


Prompt Questions (Thought Starters for the Incarcerated Population):

  • Can you identify examples of political skepticism in your every day life? Does it affect you? Why or why not?
  • How do you feel about the recent changes Govorner Youngkin made to the restoration of rights?
  • Being ineligible to vote yourself, how do you plan to be involved in the upcoming state elections for the Virginia General Assembly members?
  • How do you think that society can benefit from every American being able to vote?


by Lord Serious

The Black vote in America is constantly under attack. For this country to proclaim itself as the greatest democracy in the world – while at the same time it systematically devises new schemes and policies to dilute and undermine the Black vote – is not only hypocritical, it is also criminal. Since being kidnapped and brought to these shores, our people have had our Black skin criminalized and have been forced to live in chains and shackles by our White enslavers. These White overseers have consistently used the institution of slavery to dehumanize us and to justify their undemocratic suppression of the Black vote!

I remember the first time I registered to vote. It was in the summer time and I had just stopped at the neighborhood community center when I was approached by someone who asked me if I was registered to vote. I was not registered and I really hadn’t given much thought to it until that moment. I was 18 and I would be turning 19 after the upcoming November election. So as I filled out the form, I grew excited about having the opportunity to vote. I didn’t know anything about the candidates or their policies and truthfully, I didn’t care. My mother had told me we were democrats and so I was planning to vote for every democrat who name appeared on the ballot. This was in the year 2005.

As time passed, the election had totally slipped my mind. So when the first Tuesday of November arrived and I seen the line of people waiting to cast their ballots outside of the community center, I suddenly remembered that this was my chance to vote. So I parked my car and I got in line. The experience was new and exciting. There were people electioneering telling us which candidate we should vote for and why their policies would benefit us more than what their competitor had to offer. But they were only allowed to go a certain distance with us before we left them behind as the line progressed closer to the entrance. This wasn’t a presidential election so I didn’t have to wait for hours, I made it inside within maybe 30 minutes. And then, I finally reached the person who looks like they’re the gatekeeper. This person was sitting at a table right in front of the doors that led to the gym area where the voting machines where stationed and they had a list of names. When they asked for my name I proudly told them, “James Rickey Boughton, Jr.” and I gave them my address. But when they asked for my ID I stuck my hands in my pants pockets and I could not locate my ID anywhere! The gatekeeper then asked if I had my social security card with me? But I did not and when I could not produce any form of identification, I was turned away.

I was disappointed and frustrated by the whole ordeal. I had totally forgotten all about the election and the only reason I did stop was because I saw the people standing in line and the signs in front of the community center. But, had I left home with the intentions of going to vote I would have taken the proper identification with me. But I had other business to attend to, so I didn’t have time to go back home to retrieve my ID and then spend another 30 minutes waiting in that long line.

My next experience with voting was just as disappointing as the first. This time, I was detained in the city jail awaiting trial for the charges that eventually sent me to prison for the sentence I’m currently serving today. The 2008 Presidential election was projected to be the most historic election in modern history, and inmates in the jail who had never been convicted of a felony, technically still retained their right to vote. So we were informed by employees of the Sheriff’s department that we could vote in the upcoming election. This was exciting news and I couldn’t wait to vote for Obama and help elect a Black man to the highest seat in office. I asked Captains, Lieutenants and Sergeants about when I could I register and I was eventually provided some documents to sign. But no one ever provided me with an absentee ballot or a mail in ballot. And on the day of the election, I asked members of the Sheriff’s department when would I be able to vote and they claimed that the organization who was responsible for organizing the entire thing never provided the jail with the ballots for its inmates. So once again, I found my efforts to exercise my right to vote thwarted by red tape.

Today, we see states like Georgia passing new laws to target and discourage Black’s from participating in the voting process. And I can speak from experience that restrictive ID laws do discourage people and interfere with their right to cast their ballot. Furthermore, mass incarceration (our generation’s version of modern day slavery) has been used to deny many Blacks access to the ballot box. As I’ve shown you from my own personal experience, I had been denied bond, therefore, I was being detained in the city jail before I had even been to trial. I had never been convicted of any felony prior to the 2008 election, and I had every right to exercise my right vote. But due to what I believe was voter suppression being committed by the Sheriff’s department, I was denied access to the ballot. So if laws are being passed that will make these kinds of undemocratic practices illegal, then I think they are very necessary to protect the Black vote.

Lord Serious is an author, a blogger, and a podcaster. You can follow him on Instagram and Facebook at Lord Serious Speaks and you can learn more about him by visiting his website www.LordSeriousSpeaks.com.