Would you feel like a full citizen if most of your civil and human rights were denied you? If the privileges afforded to community members were withheld from you, would you feel like a welcome member of the community? Probably not.
As formerly incarcerated people, every day is another reminder that we do not have full access to our civil and human rights. Having served our sentences and returned home, we face circumstances that often seem designed to prevent our full participation in our communities and country: stigma for having a criminal conviction. Barriers to gaining meaningful employment and decent housing. Barriers to constructive educational opportunities. Lack of access to healthcare. Denial of our voting rights.
This is a widespread problem. Consider this: there are nearly 2.4 million people incarcerated in prisons and jails in the U.S. today. Most people currently incarcerated are coming home — according to the Department of Justice, over 700,000 people were released from incarceration in 2006 alone. Across the country, over five million people are under state supervision like parole or probation. There are millions of people who are currently and formerly incarcerated, and millions more who were never incarcerated but have a criminal conviction–all of whom live, every day, without our full civil and human rights.
What happens when people’s civil and human rights are denied for too long? Movements for change spark and catch fire.
As we near the 46th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday March over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, we’re reminded of the Civil Rights Movement. For nearly 100 years after the end of chattel slavery, Black people were denied their human and civil rights, including the right to vote. People got tired and organized all over the country to win their rights. In Alabama, the movement was especially vibrant.