While sitting in the Birmingham jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in longhand his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Within this letter, he stated how he couldn’t sit idly by in Atlanta, his home state, and not be concerned about what was happening in Birmingham. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
In my 23 years of incarceration, I live with the direct result of an injustices I created. This injustice is now effecting me and many others and that injustice is: “NOT VOTING.”
In November of 1994, my late father-in-law warned me of not voting. It was during this time that Mr. George Allen was campaigning for governor. His campaign was fueled by the ‘tough on crime’ mantra, with the abolishing of parole as the prize for electing him as governor. I never paid much attention. And to be honest I really didn’t care. Never in a million years did I think that abolishing parole would become like a modern day genocide.
I know that crime must be dealt with, and we all want a safe society. However, many make mistakes, are remorseful and seek rehabilitation to become a better person.
Now in 2023, I find myself facing a very lengthy prison sentence, without the possibility of parole. During these past 20 years, I have met many individuals, some guilty, and a few not guilty. I’ve also met many who, through the rehabilitative process are better and different people today. But the majority of us continue to find ourselves at the mercy of the governor to one day enjoy the freedom that we took for granted and forfeited.
I didn’t vote in 1994, the following year (1995), he fulfilled his promise and abolished parole in Virginia. I’m living in the results of not voting. Many think that my one vote doesn’t matter, just think in a small town, someone won a school board seat winning 3 to 2. Voting matters from our local elections to the highest elections. Voting is actually your voice!!
I lost my right to vote; now, I try to inspire others to vote. I speak to inmates often telling them to encourage their family to vote. Yes, we’ve lost our rights to vote. But think if each of the 37,000 plus inmates in Virginia would inspire 10 people to vote, that would be would be 370,000 votes cast. Yes, it would be in different districts, but I promise you this would make a difference.
So inspire your family and friends to vote. When they ask if they can help, say yes, Vote!! Also tell them to get in touch with their elected officials, from their local representative (senate and delegate) to your national (senate and delegate) prior to elections. If these elected officials will not return your email, letter, or call, then thats a blatant example of them not EARNING your vote.
It’s time that they realize that our votes must not be taken for granted but must be earned.
Let them know what issues effect you and your community. These elected officials are there because of you and for you.
It’s time that we stop being “Democrats, Independent or Republican.” We are humans with a voice, and the loudest voice is our VOTE. It’s time that they stop taking us for granted. Many have gone before us before us, oftentimes being jailed and treated harshly for wanting to vote. We no longer have to count the “jelly beans” in jar. We just have to register. Pass on the importance of voting on to your kids.
To my fellow ex offenders, vote for us! Make getting your rights restored a priority. Speak out for change.
Its time that we stop giving away what many others earned through their blood, sweat, tears and some death.
Many died for us to have the right to vote, don’t give it away, because this injustice is a threat to justice everywhere.
Samuel E Harris #1026738
Lawrenceville Correctional Center
(Sam) a successful car salesman in the Tidewater Area who suffered an accident while in service to his country and later diagnosed with PTSD by the Department of Veterans Affairs, but later denied treatment due to bureaucratic red-tape, caused him to self-medicate and lead to his incarceration for robbery with a 220 year sentence, with 60 to serve. In spite of his situation of incarceration, he has used the last 23 years to rehabilitate and become the devout man of God he is, that has served others through the positions and platforms he’s held within prison. He’s also co-authored several books :”Beyond The Shackles” and ” Speaking Out for Change” as well as authoring his own book ” A Double Minded Man” soon to be released. He can be contacted via US mail or email @ JPay.com Samuel E Harris #1026738