by Tara Belcher
Joining the discourse on the topic of voting currently permeating American thought, I want to address a point overlooked and ignored, that Alabama Constitution Article VIII Section 177 (a) and (b) are contradictory. The former states, “Every citizen of the United States who has attained the age of 18 years … shall have the right to vote.” The latter, however, states, “No person convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude … shall be qualified to vote until restoration of civil and political rights.”
The language purportedly separates “citizens” from “persons.” This creates a disjunction, disjointing members of one nation: All are citizens, yet some are deemed by the framers as lesser persons. It is our God-given right for all humans to partake in the electoral process in the land that affects every citizen, every person, prisoners included.
I posit that for Alabama to make progress, what’s required is transformation, as opposed to modifications, to right the wrongs of the colonizers who shaped this society and created the baseboard for poverty and inequality which led to an upsurge in crime. The continuity of the greatest crimes of humanity have been perpetuated over generations under color of law against African Americans. Alabama has a dark history.
The antiquated white supremacist dominance and adamant spirit of Alabama to perpetuate it by disenfranchising people of African descent is captured in the statement of one Delegate Heflin, made at a proceeding of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Alabama, which was held from May 21 to Sept. 3, 1901. It reads:
“We want the white men who once voted in this state and controlled it to vote again. We want to see that old condition restored. Upon that theory, we took the stump in Alabama, having pledged ourselves to the white people of Alabama upon the platform that we would not disenfranchise a single white man, if you trust us to frame an organic law for Alabama, but it is our purpose, it is our intention and here is our registered vow to disenfranchise every Negro in the state and not a single white man.”
In the U.S., African Americans are both arrested and imprisoned at six times the rate of whites. In Alabama, one of five states with an incarceration rate higher than 600 per 100,000 residents, the number stands at 647 per 100,000.
As of December 2014, 2,679 inmates were admitted to ADOC (Alabama Department of Corrections) jurisdiction. Of them, 1,272 were African American, 1,384 white, 23 race unknown. Herein lies the impetus for the prison reform proposals.
There is now an influx of white offenders due to the methamphetamine epidemic. Initiatives are formed for the redemption of the poor whites who, by their status, dismantle the “platform” proposed and instituted by Delegate Heflin and embraced by Alabama’s consciousness as a whole. In truth, these modifications will only serve to improve a fraction of the overall problem in Alabama.
“Here is our registered vow to disenfranchise every Negro in the state and not a single white man.”
Current laws disenfranchise those convicted of felonies except for those of possession of drugs and felony DUI. The times are ripe for mass awakening and awareness of the core of the problems which exist not only in Alabama, but America altogether.
Transformation is paramount for effective change. In A.D. 60, a prisoner, Paul, appealed to his audiences to be “renewed in the spirit of your mind [having a fresh mental and spiritual attitude], and put on the new nature [the regenerate self] created in God’s image [God-like], in true righteousness and holiness, therefore rejecting all falsity and being done now with it, let everyone express the truth with his neighbor.” I appeal to the masses in Alabama, every citizen, every person.
When President Obama made a statement during his visit in Alabama commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March, of how, “Right now, in 2015 there are laws … designed to make it harder for people to vote,” I pondered that “every citizen,” every person, prisoners included, are people.
One may argue that many minorities whose path to the polls does not have high hurdles still don’t vote. As of January 2015, of the 2,991,562 registered voters in Alabama, only 780,025 are African American as opposed to 2,022,660 whites.
Think of the many African American prisoners silenced in our nation and compare that with the history of the percentage of African American prisoners of Alabama alone. With that in mind, think of how the colonizers have shaped society and positioned African Americans at a disadvantage in education, employment, health, housing etc. These oppressive forces contribute to the rate of crimes committed.
Once African Americans convicted of crimes lose the right to vote, this loss ensures the furtherance of a loss of pride, purpose and dignity as an individual and as a group, as if now obsolete. The rejection is even more internalized, a rejection by the very society we’ve been forced to live in by the colonizers.
This concretizes the sense of alienation. For many, this alienation further abandons all internal compelling forces to become law-abiding citizens and also contributes to the rate of recidivism. The laws serve as another form of branding.
The colonizers have shaped society and positioned African Americans at a disadvantage in education, employment, health, housing etc. These oppressive forces contribute to the rate of crimes committed.
As the slaves who defied their slaveholders were branded like cattle so as to teach them to stay in their place, these laws taking away voting rights of convicted felons serve to keep African Americans in place, beneath whites and subhuman as viewed by the framers of the Constitution. It’s a psychological mechanism of neo-colonialism.
To complain that many don’t go to the polls to vote is not enough. Efforts can be made to rectify the low turn-out by restoring the right to vote of the 2.3 million prisoners of America.
Alabama can lead in assuaging the oppression by spearheading change with a transformation of consciousness which will result in changing the laws that hinder society’s political progress. Current modifications in the making merely target the crimes and components of institutions which warehouse convicts. In contrast, transformation of those who create and impose these laws would target the consciousness and, thus, lead to an ethical overhaul which could best serve Alabama as well as America as a whole.
Quoting Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, addressing the United Nations in 1963: “Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes … the dream of lasting peace … will remain but a fleeting illusion.” So too will the expectations of political and socioeconomic progress right now in Alabama, in America, if changes aren’t made to restore the right to vote to every citizen.
This right should include the 30,000 disenfranchised prisoners currently in custody in ADOC, as well as those reintegrated into society, struggling to be reinstated as registered voters.
Alabama can lead in assuaging the oppression by spearheading change with a transformation of consciousness which will result in changing the laws that hinder society’s political progress.
I’m an African American woman, a prisoner. I speak on behalf of all my fellow prisoners in Alabama, in America. We are included in the passage of the Alabama Constitution that indicated “Every citizen …” I appeal to all people, lawmakers, laymen and laywomen, common, elite, every class and ethnicity to take on a transformation of consciousness and join in a concentrated effort to right the wrongs imposed upon Alabama, upon America.
Send our sister some love and light: Tara Belcher, 211925, Tutwiler Correctional Facility F1-21A, 8966 US Hwy 231, Wetumpka AL 36092.