In 2005, Desmond Meade writes in his book, “Let My People Vote,” he was a drug addict just released from prison after a felony conviction who considered throwing himself in front of a train to end the misery of his life. In September 2021, Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition won a prestigious Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation, putting him among the ranks of “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and author Ibram X. Kendi.
Meade helped helped shepherd through passage of Amendment 4 in 2018, which requires automatic restoration of voting rights for felons who complete their sentences.
The latest priority for Desmond Meade and the Rights Restoration Coalition: Ban the Box, which would get rid of the check-off box to declare a felony conviction on job applications. Meade says that’s something that should be done later in the hiring process, so returning citizens have an opportunity to talk about their job qualifications before being painted as someone who has been convicted of a crime.
“These are people who make some the best employees. These are the people who allow you to get tax breaks. Let’s give them a shot,” he told MidPoint host Janet Scherberger in an interview that aired Dec. 1. “Let’s give a person the opportunity to prove their worth or value to your organization before you automatically discard them because you are requiring them to check a box with a question have you ever been convicted or arrested.”
The organization also continues to help returning citizens pay off their fines and fees so they can vote, they’re registering people to vote, helping them find Covid vaccines, and holding returning citizen expos to connect them to services and job training.
Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera called into the show to talk about what he’s doing to help returning citizens.
Listen to the entire program here or by searching for WMNF MidPoint wherever you listen to podcasts.