Felons who have paid their debt have a lot to teach Kansas about democracy | Opinion

As a formerly incarcerated individual who successfully navigated the justice system, I understand firsthand the importance of restoring voting rights to citizens returning to public life.

Restoring voting rights to Kansans with felonies isn’t just about second chances. It’s about acknowledging our fundamental humanity and our stake in shaping the society we seek to reenter successfully. Denying the right to vote to those with felonies — whether through textual disenfranchisement as in other states such as Florida, or through other barriers such as misinformation — further perpetuates a cycle of disenfranchisement, hindering our reintegration into civil society.

Meanwhile, allowing people with former felonies to participate in the democratic process actually makes us safer. And by doing so, we not only recognize the capacity for rehabilitation in all of us, but also foster a more inclusive and representative democracy.

We should be sincere in our belief in second chances.

It’s been 15 years since I was released from prison. After paying my debt to society, being able to exercise my right to vote was part of a long process of returning and integrating into the community in a positive capacity. Connecting with others who are in similar situations, with help from the ACLU of Kansas on this critical issue, has helped me understand that I am far from alone in my experience with the transformative power of second chances.

Many of us with felony records who have served our time have a far deeper understanding of the shortcomings and limitations of current policies in addressing the needs of our communities. We know firsthand the chain of events that can lead to crime, such as lack of economic opportunity, access to mental health services or substance use treatment, and the cycle of violence and trauma. The real-life experiences of ordinary Kansans transcend the partisan and political squabbling that dominates lawmakers’ decisions, from what gets criminalized, to how the sentencing grid looks, and to which communities get the resources they need.

Our voices should be actively and enthusiastically included in the democratic process.

It’s time to recognize that the principles of justice and equality that our society purports to hold demand full restoration of rights, including the right to vote, and the active inclusion of those reentering society.

I urge people with felony convictions who are eligible to vote to seize this opportunity and make their voices heard at the ballot box. (Be aware that in both Kansas and Missouri, you must re-register after completing your sentence and any parole or probation.)

By raising awareness and shedding light on the issues that concern us directly, those of us who have paid our debts to society can inspire more individuals to participate in the democratic process and advocate for the changes we believe in — and build a Kansas that better serves us all.

Latanya Goodloe is executive director of Ladies That Lean — Living Excellently After Negativity, a Kansas City 501(c)(3) nonprofit that offers incarceration prevention and society reentry support for women in the metropolitan area.