Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Restoration of Voting Rights Goes Into Effect for New Mexicans Like Me


When you begin the process of exiting incarceration and re-entering society, you are faced with an insurmountable number of challenges and barriers which make it close to impossible to re-establish your life. One of those challenges is to get rid of the label of “formerly incarcerated”. This label stays with you and impacts your ability to find housing, get a job, and even take out a loan. Beyond that, it can be extremely isolating trying to build a life for yourself and knowing that many people only see your past mistakes. Many things about this process are contributing factors to the monumental rate of recidivism in US carceral systems.

The restoration of voting rights for formerly incarcerated New Mexicans is a big step in the right direction to fix this.

At the beginning of the year, the legislature passed the NM Voting Rights Act, which was then signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. This piece of legislation included many critical voting rights measures, one of which is the restoration of voting rights to formerly incarcerated New Mexicans, which are to be implemented immediately upon release from prison. Previously we did not get our right to vote back until our probation/parole term was complete, which could span several years.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it feels to be told to re-establish my life and become a productive member of society, only to also hear that I still don’t deserve my right to vote. It’s defeating and discouraging to not have a voice in democracy, especially when you’re trying to do everything right by the system.

But this won’t be the case in New Mexico anymore, and I’ll be celebrating that today.

Being able to vote can be a lifeline for someone leaving the carceral system. It’s a way to feel connected to the community, and to feel that your voice is important. Measures like this are related to lower recidivism, because it makes us feel like we matter and we’re part of the community. It’s a message that society is welcoming us back with open arms, which is what the experience should be like, even though that’s rarely the reality.

I sincerely believe that everyone benefits when formerly incarcerated New Mexicans are able to leave the carceral system and stay out of it. Incarceration is not only costly, it also damages our communities. When people get swept up in the system, it can break relationships, destroy families, and devastate entire communities who are targeted by racist mass incarceration policies. There is still much work to do to reform the criminal punishment system and establish policies that truly heal, rehabilitate, and lift up those who are likely to come into contact with the system.

Restoring the right to vote immediately after release from prison may feel like a first small step, but a resounding one that sets the tone for the fight to come.


DJ is a member of OLÉ who was formerly incarcerated in New Mexico. DJ recently joined the movement to fight for power for systems impacted New Mexicans


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