Letters for February 20, 2003

John Schaff

via the Internet

Felon disenfranchisement is a crime: I think Wyatt Olson's December 26 article, "Barred for Life," was outstanding. By preamble: My wife and I are city of Miami retirees, and I am also a retired captain of the U.S. Naval Reserve with more than 35 years of service. We have two sons, ages 35 and 40. Our older son is an attorney here in Miami.

I write to you, however, regarding our younger son. He went "astray" in his latter teenage years, and when he was 20, he was arrested for drug trafficking, having been caught with 0.87 grams of cocaine. He was charged with and convicted of trafficking and conspiracy to traffic. Although he (we) retained a private attorney who came highly recommended by an attorney friend of mine, his legal representation was abysmal, and the judge, as I recall, initially sentenced my son to three years.

It was by pure happenstance that, while sitting in the courtroom, I was reading the Florida Statutes relevant to my son's case and came across a section referring to the youthful offenders. I somewhat maniacally acquired my son's attorney's attention and then brought his attention to the section. He then invited the judge's attention. A few days later, my son went to the "youthful offender" camp in Sumpter. Though he was sentenced to six months, he was released early for good behavior.

During this time, he was also a drilling reservist in the U.S. Naval Reserve. As luck would have it, he missed only two drill weekends and was allowed to make them up. Of course, the naval authorities were not aware of the reason for his absence. This was in 1988. He was still completing his obligated service when Hurricane Andrew hit Miami, and, as a hospital corpsman, he volunteered to help with the post-Andrew recovery efforts. He was awarded the U.S. Navy Achievement Medal for his participation.

He also began working on his associate of arts degree at Miami-Dade Community College, receiving it in 1994, and was subsequently accepted to the University of Florida's College of Business Administration. He received his BS/BA degree in 1994. My son soon became aware of the difficulties in securing employment in Florida given his declared felony conviction (further compounded by his voting disenfranchisement).

We conferred with another attorney friend of ours, and he advised us of many of the same things that Olson brought out in his story. Our son decided to go to Massachusetts and worked for three companies for short periods of time. In all three instances, he was eventually let go -- with the verbal aside that it was the felony conviction that precipitated the discharges.

Finally, on his fourth attempt, about two years ago, he secured a position with his current employer and is doing well. Additionally, he has registered to vote in Massachusetts and has recently passed the Massachusetts contractor's license exam.

What a shame for Florida that the state lost my son to Massachusetts. I want to thank Wyatt Olson for his story and New Times for carrying it. This disenfranchisement is a social travesty. And, finally, I suspect Olson is absolutely correct when he writes, "Gov. Bush, who with a word could clear the path..." If only Illinois Gov. George Ryan could be Florida's governor for a day.

Jon B. Lindeman


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