Angel on a skateboard, with a flag for felons’ voting rights

November 15, 2018 News , OPINION/NEWS , United States

 

By

Kanwal Abidi

 

 

Florida voters rejoiced amidst the midterm elections melodrama when the Florida ballot of Amendment #4 secured victory on 6th November 2018. It restored voting rights’ to 1.4 million released felons, including at least 180,000 Hispanics – potentially altering the political balance in the nation’s largest swing state.

 

Angel Sanchez, who was convicted in the past of a felony, spoke to world journalists along with a panel from the Florida Restoration Rights Coalition (FRRC), a few hours before voting closed in Florida on 6th November at a local hotel in Miami. Angel joined the FRRC panel as a member of advocacy.

 

They all were invited by the Foreign Press Center of the U.S. State Department to speak to the journalists about the restoration of voting rights and midterm elections.

 

After a short introduction by Desmond Meade, President of the FRRC and political director Neil Volz, Angel Sanchez started to speak and soon became the center of attention for all foreign journalists.

 

True to his name, Sanchez has proved to be an ”Angel” to thousands of released felons, for whose voting rights he has advocated a long way. A young man, aged 36, takes his skateboard to all his meetings to avoid the traffic and save time.

 

Sanchez credits his father for pushing him to get an education inside prison and he proudly couriered him his paralegal certificate which he obtained through correspondence courses.

 

His father was with him until his death a year before Sanchez was released from prison. “My dad was an instrumental force in me getting an education. But by the time I was a teenager, my peers had more of an influence over me than my dad,” he said.

 

Angel cited his knowledge of law as the reason to be released from prison before time, as he ultimately found a loophole in his own case. He is now a top student at the University of Miami law school, many journalists finding it hard to believe he was once a felon.

 

However, he spoke about his life experiences and responded to the reporters’ questions with such expertise and speed that it was tough for journalists to note their story points.

 

Further, he spoke about the difficulty for felons in having their civil rights restored, requiring them to wait up to seven years before they can apply to the Governor for clemency.

 

Angel spoke to reporters about his desire to reform society and restore the voting rights of felons. He reflected on the time he was in prison, a total of seven and a half years.

 

Sanchez had plenty of time to dissect what went wrong with his early life, arrested aged 16 after a gang altercation in Miami and sentenced to 30 years in prison for attempted murder with a firearm.

 

When Sanchez left prison, aged 28, he wrote his first narrative essay for a college course and discussed his need for emotional support.

 

Some people say that any prisoner can make it in society if he really wants to, but Angel believes that willingness to make it happen is only half the story, without a compassionate helping hand. All the sacrifice in the world would be meaningless, unless “will” meets “compassion” then success is truly inevitable,” says Angel.

 

Responding to one reporter’s question about what he does in his spare time, he cited his favorite activity was to visit public schools and prisons to give motivational talks about making the right life decisions.

 

But he sighed, yet with his academic prowess and sense of community service, there is one civic duty which he could not perform; as a convicted felon he was unable to vote under current Florida law.

 

Further, he said the amendment needed the support of 60% of voters to pass and recent polls had shown support topping 70%, which made him excited that later that night, victory would follow.

 

Also, he stressed the importance of being welcomed back into society by doing the necessary homework and right thing in life.

 

Angel wants at-risk youths to learn from his life that being involved in wrong doings and street gang activities can ruin one’s future. So he wants to send a message of “hope and redemption” and to respect your citizens’ rights, as when you don’t have them, you know what is missing in life.

 

Feeling so strong for those who are in prison, Angel has written a handbook for inmates about how to further their education. While he was in prison, he lacked guidance and it made him write a correspondence course handbook for Florida inmates.

 

In a recent interview with a student at the University of Miami, Angel said “I look at myself and I ask how much of me have really changed.”

 

Further, “One of the things that I realize has not changed is my desire to want to be accepted, to be loved by my peers, to be elevated and cared for and have people think the best of me.”

 

As Angel simply reflected, it explained how he got involved in gangs and shootings because it was the “environment he was in and that environment respected and valued someone who was willing to fight for his peers,” and shoot in retaliation for one of his friends who got shot.

 

He winded up his conversation saying “tonight victory will be for Amendment Four and it change the history and will restore voting rights to felons.”

 

Now in his second year at the University of Miami law school, he is among the top students and after graduation plans to practice public interest law. Angel has clerked with a federal judge last summer and is currently writing a paper for the Harvard Law Review on the “prison abolition movement” which seeks to reduce or eliminate prisons by relying more on rehabilitation programs.

 

He said “besides electing their members of Congress and other state and local officials, voters will have the chance to rewrite the state constitution by approving Amendment Four which would automatically allow released felons who have completed probation to vote, except for murderers and sex offenders.”

 

The State Department officials were thankful to the FRRC President Desmond Meade and Political Director Neil Volz for flying in especially from Orlando to brief the foreign journalists. A total of one hour was given for their remarks and Q/A session with the journalists as Desmond and Neil had to fly back to Orlando.

 

However, Angel exited the press briefing as fast as he came in like lightning. A journalist from the Czech Republic wanted to ask Angel a question and chased him to the door – but before she could, Angel was on his skateboard. Angel took off on his skateboard – to his next destination, probably a prison cell to tell the felons that you can vote now!

 

 

 

 

kanwal-abidi

Kanwal Abidi

Senior White House Correspondent and Bureau Chief, Washington D.C.

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