Ex-Offenders ARE Eligible to Vote (in all but 2 U.S. States)

“Can someone convicted of a felony register and vote? Can a person confined in jail or prison register and vote?

These are two very valid questions regarding the rights of ex-offenders!  As most people know, the right to vote in the United States is a very important one.  It is a right which should never be taken lightly or taken for granted by ANY legal citizen of this country, especially if people have fought and lobbied to ensure that such rights are restored to ex-offender citizens upon their release. Yet many ex-offenders living in various parts of America unfortunately are unaware or unsure whether or not they can register to vote in their respective state!

An offender is told so much bullshit while serving his or her time behind bars. The longer the time served, the more bullshit that is fed. They are fed even more bullshit right before and upon their release; so much so that often it is very difficult to discern truth from fiction. I can understand certain things like “eligibility to vote” not being heard during an inmate’s out-processing or if he/she did hear it, then such information slipping the mind. Registering to vote is normally not at the top of ANY ex-offender’s list of priorities upon release (if ever)!  For the ex-offender, that list includes (in no particular order): housing, clothing, medical needs, cash in the pocket, meeting parole or probation obligations and much more. Just the same though, the probation or parole officer should give voting eligibility information to his client anyway, particularly during an election year. Family and friends ought to do the same. And for that matter, even before a felon is released, I think those “jailhouse lawyers” should have done it, too!  Re-involvement in the learning of and the decision-making actions of social and political issues is a healthy process of any ex-offenders reintegration into general society. Now, of course, there are ex-offenders who are very much aware of their voting eligibility. However, in my opinion, that awareness is only as good as their willingness to exercise their restored voting rights… meaning, that ex-offender has registered to vote and IS actively participating  in the election process.

Here in Michigan, ex-offenders CAN and SHOULD register to vote and, upon doing that, ex-offenders CAN and SHOULD vote! If you are an Michigan ex-offender, if you are awaiting arraignment or trial, OR you know someone who is, PLEASE READ THIS taken directly from the Michigan Secretary of State’s website. Another, clearer breakdown of the law is here.

I would encourage my blog readers living in other states to check the laws of their respective state to determine the specific voting laws regarding ex-offenders living in that state. To help you, here is a good website listing briefly, by state, the eligibility of voting rights for ex-offenders.

Ex-offenders are people, too! They’ve paid their debt to society and thus deserve every right and opportunity to rejoin the normal life enjoyed by general society. They also deserve to have a say in how an issue is decided and/or to have a say in determining which political candidate(s) – for ANY office – will best serve their interests.
Let’s get the word out so that EVERYONE has a chance to be heard in the voting process!

Keepin’ It…Real!

My Views on Religion* (Pt. 1)

*Another presentation in a KIR continuing series of articles of the Steppin’ On The Feet Jesus Washed (SOTFJW) Project-Mission!
[Click here to read MVOR* (Pt. 2)]
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I’m often asked why I have certain opinions or viewpoints regarding religion, particularly Christianity, and why I’ve chosen not to involve myself in a church membership anymore. I’m also asked why, for decades now, I no longer subscribed to certain “christian” (word lower-cased on purpose because not all TRUE Christians are assholes and judgmental) fundamentals and rhetoric… or worse, listen to or follow judgmental, hypocritical and the condemn-you-to-hell preachers and evangelists/televangelists like James Dobson, Creflo Dollar, Ted Haggard, Eddie L. Long, Joyce Meyer, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson and others. Well, I could start here but I won’t. It’s enough I’m even bothering to list some of the names of those people in this post! Anyway, here’s my answer to those questions.

I had a spiritual awakening at age 24 and I’ve never looked back. Let’s just say that certain events happened in my life up to that point which caused me to reconsider and revisit certain beliefs I had and which led me to turn me away from being a then semi-religious person. Years before, I had been a faithful Bible reader and researcher.Since childhood, I attended Baptist churches, had been baptized, taught Sunday School, sang in and with choirs in my church, participated in revivals, and retreats, and enjoyed a host of other good and fun things about being a good Baptist Christian young man. At 19, I left home in Philadelphia to join the Navy. For me, that was the best decision I’d ever made at the time.

In the Navy, I got to meet, work with, and befriend hundreds of people from all walks of life.  I got to travel to places on the globe I’d only read about. And I got to see – up close – the practices of other religions. It was all very enlightening! Somewhere between ages 22 and 24, I went through what I’d call, a “personal religious crisis” which, as mentioned earlier, woke me up… spiritually!  The events leading up to that crisis would take far too much time to write about in its entirety and frankly, it’s not really necessary for this particular post; however, I’ll touch on a few things. Keep reading.

During my religious crisis, it was as if a light was turned on in my life.  When people use the expression, “I have seen the light”, I know EXACTLY what they mean! The events of the crisis brought about my own significant AH-HAA! moment! And it was at that moment when I decided that as far as my personal religious position was concerned, things would be strictly between me and God.  I rejected any man, woman, and child in suits, dresses, robes or rags from ever again telling me what I should or shouldn’t do with my life. I had decided to never again listen to nor accept any “word of condemnation” from other people, especially the hardcore, bible-thumping and extremely judgmental Christians I always met and/or had been listening to. Regarding the things I’d done, had been doing, or wanted to do in and with my life, I had decided to never again allow feelings of guilt or worthlessness to continue shadowing my life, like some dark cloud of gloom. And, at that moment, and as the days and weeks passed, I clearly began to understand and accept that God, who created me, did so without error, and thus would accept just me as I am.

I had always been taught, if not directly told by others that some of the things I chose to do or desired to do were sinful and/or considered to be “abominable in God’s sight”. How could this be, I’d asked myself? I realized that I wanted to be ME and that being ME was natural and it was good!  I cussed when I felt like it. I smoked cigarettes when I felt like it. I bought, sold, and smoked pot. I consumed beer and liquor – sometimes in excess (but never drove home or back to the ship shit-faced). And sex? Ha! Ha! Many hard-core Christians are immensely hung up on, if not outright obsessed with sex and everything about it. Other than for reproductive purposes or intimate relations with a spouse, they preach and act as if they abhor the many other “sins” which, they say, sexuality seems to cause, forgetting that sex and sexuality is NATURAL and is a gift from God. Yet many are hypocritical in their preaching for they practice the very same things which they tell others are “unnatural” and “sinful”. I shake my head at their hypocrisy! Whenever I hear someone give Biblical references as to what is “unnatural”, “sinful” and an “abomination in God’s sight”, I halfway wish one of those “uber-Christian” folk would give me a clear and concise demonstration as to what they mean. LOL! Anyway, since I was no longer subscribing to certain strict Christian virtues where sexuality was concerned, I took it all to mean that I’d set myself free, to a certain extent and within reason, sexually. No more lying about masturbation or feeling ashamed that I was “polluting” my body, the “re-born temple” of God’s Spirit when I masturbated. According to Christian dogma, masturbating meant that I was actually making my body “unclean” or dirty for God’s Spirit to “live inside” me. Really? Give me a fuckin’ break!  Next, I decided there would be no more hiding the fact that I liked, no… I LOVED looking at ADULT pornography or that I enjoyed visiting strip clubs, whore houses, and nudist beaches, either alone or with my fellow Sailors and Marines during my world travels. And sexual freedom meant that I could fuck and have oral sex with whomever I wanted, however I wanted. Damn; with all the sexual freaky-ness I’d come to enjoy over the years, my body must be EXTREMELY too filthy to house the Spirit of God!  Now I’m not some alcoholic or some sexual deviant. I simply sought to have fun in life whenever and wherever I could. I still feel this way today. As people say, “you only live once!” I did all those things… and more and was very happy!  Mind you, I happened to be a very strong and independent thinker! And I’m stubborn, too. It’s hard to convince anyone of anything with that combination of traits!  People who are like me decide things all on their own! As time passed, I learned that being ME was so much better than pretending to be or needlessly working hard to be someone or some-THING else!

Let me be clear about something: my new-found awareness and revised thinking on the religious or spiritual sense does NOT make me an atheist, nor does it make me agnostic. I was then, and have always been, a kind, honest and trustworthy person; one who tries to treat and respect others as I’d like to be treated and respected. That’s it, really. I’d give anyone the shirt off my back if it meant that person needed it more.  These traits and others I have are a natural part of who I am. They have nothing necessarily to do with me being or not being a Christian, nor with being religious. It simply makes ME very real and very human. I did not then, nor will I now, or ever apologize for being me. In fact, if I became spiritually aware nearly 30 years ago, then over the years, surely I’ve become much more aware of who and what I am than ever before!

Because of my humanity, I am expected to make mistakes in this life. I have always learned, and continue to learn from my mistakes. However, I believe that so long as I acknowledge God as my Creator, Heavenly Father, Guide and Judge, and so long as I do my best to treat other people with respect and dignity (no matter how bad they may treat me), I will be o-k with regard to my personal relationship with God. I said PERSONAL because my relationship with God is no one’s damn business! I do not need someone to “save” my soul or to speak to me about “working out my soul salvation”. I do not believe Jesus Christ saves all because all people do not subscribe to Jesus, nor do all people feel the need to be saved. I touched on this briefly in this humorous post and on Facebook.

I talk to God regularly as I would any friend. I am often frank, sometimes a bit crude, but always to the point with Him. I can talk to God far easier than any person I know! I get mad at God too, just as I would any friend. As far as I’m concerned, I’m being neither disrespectful nor blasphemous. God knows my thoughts and feelings so why should I hide them? Why look for some formal or correct way to speak to God? That’s not being real! God knows me and expects me to be REAL with Him! If anyone hates true hypocrisy, it’s God and hypocrisy in itself, is blasphemous!

I acknowledge that I am but a helpless child of God and under God. And as a child, I am just like any earthly child with earthly parents; I am filled with human temperaments, attitudes, and expectations. Yet, I know my Father and Creator sees and knows everything about me! I’ve learned to NOT be ashamed to do certain things or feel ashamed to talk to my Father about anything. This has made life so much easier for me! My rejection of others attempting to judge or “condemn me to hell” has also made my life easier! And my founded ability to be able to discern hypocrisy and bigotry in most people has greatly protected and prevented me over the years from ever again experiencing another personal religious crisis. Thank you, God!

Finally, I respect people who are TRULY Christian as well as those people of other religions (and those who happened to be non-religious) who are truly following their respective religious dogma… so long as they all realize that they too, are still only human. Furthermore, I can and will RESPECT any religious group or organization’s freedom and their right to worship and believe as THEY choose, so long as they do not force-feed or impose their beliefs and practices upon me or other people and if they can refrain from being judgmental and condemning of myself and others.
Keepin’ It…REAL!

[Click here to read MVOR* (Pt. 2)]
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PS:
The song, Shallow Be Thy Game, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1995 album, One Hot Minute, expresses much of my sentiment about my views on religion, at least as I understand the lyrics.
Shallow Be Thy Game (1995)
(Lyrics by: Anthony Kiedis, Flea, Dave Navarro, Chad Smith)

I was not created
In the likeness of a fraud
Your hell is something scary
I prefer a loving god
We are not the center
Of this funny universe
And what is worse
I do not serve
In fear of such a curse

Shallow be thy Game
2000 years look in the mirror
You play the game of shame
And tell your people live in fear

A rival to the way you see
The bible let him be
I’m a threat to your survival
And your control company

[Chorus]
You’ll never burn me
You’ll never burn me
I will be your heretic
You can’t contain me
I am the power free
Truth belongs to everybody

To anyone who’s listenin’
You’re not born into sin
The guilt they try and give you
Puke it in the nearest bin

Missionary madness
Sweep up culture with a broom
Trashing ancient ways
Is par for course
It’s fucking rude

To think that you’re above
The laws of nature what a joke
oh, Purple sashes feeding masses
Smoke on which to choke

I might be a monkey
When it comes to being holy
Fundamental hatred
Get down on your knees and

[Chorus]
You’ll never burn me
You’ll never burn me
I will be your heretic
You can’t contain me
I am the power free
Truth belongs to everybody

I was not created
In the likeness of a fraud
Your hell is something scary
I prefer a loving god
We are not the center
Of this funny universe
And what is worse
I do not serve
In fear of such a

[Chorus]
You’ll never burn me
You’ll never burn me
I will be your heretic
You can’t contain me
I am the power free
Truth belongs to everybody
(repeat 2x)

Anniversary of September 11, 2001

Today, September 11, 2012, marks the 11th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, aka 9/11. In fact, today is Tuesday, the very day which September 11 fell on back in 2001.

Regardless whether or not you believe the events leading up to, on, and beyond that day were “planned by our government” or were actually done by America’s domestic and foreign enemies (or both), the fact is, HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE DIED that day. Hundreds have died and/or as a result of the effects of 9/11, STILL suffer health and mental issues to this very day!

Before getting into the meat of this post, let me first say that as far as I know, I did not lose any relatives in the 9/11 attacks. I say that because of situations regarding my limited knowledge and awareness of some of my maternal and paternal relatives. I’ll post something about my status as a foster child later. Also on September 11, 2001, I had only been recently retired from the Navy for two years. Due to the constant change of duty which often occurs in the U.S. military, if is quite possible that a few of my Navy shipmates and acquaintances from other service branches were stationed at the Pentagon on that day. Just the same, the events of that day still affect me quite emotionally, particularly now as I write this blog post. I had the same emotional feelings of loss when the USS Stark (FFG-31) was struck by Iraqi Exocet missiles back in May 1987, but…I digress.

Lay aside, for a brief second, any conspiracy theories and divisive ideas you might have. Lay aside your political allegiances and your social and religious prejudices. Try to bear in mind that none of it will ever bring back the many family members, friends, lovers, co-workers, or rescue workers who tragically died that day, nor will it bring back those people who would die days and weeks later because of the effects of 9/11. And conspiracy theories and prejudice won’t help the hundreds of people, the remaining families and friends who, every year, has to remember what happened on this date. They, the rest of the country, and the world, is made to remember 9/11, in huge part thanks to media and internet rebroadcasts of the two planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York, the plane crash at the Pentagon in Arlington, VA, and the audio recordings from the black box and passenger cell phone calls of hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Somerset County, PA. All three sites had tragic loss of lives.

On this day I’m asking, no…I’m TELLING you, to get over yourself for a moment. You are still alive and, I assume, healthy enough to at least read these words. Let’s remember that survivors of 9/11 are NOT asking for, nor do they want our pity… however, UNDERSTANDING AND RESPECT go a LONG way! With that said, I give thanks and props (aka accolades) to both President Obama’s and Governor Romney’s presidential campaigns, and to the campaigns of others running for office throughout the country who have decided to hold or cancel any media campaign ads and/or speeches in observance of 9/11. Good move. It is the RESPECTFUL thing to do!

Some of us can and will eventually accept and deal with the death of a loved one if that person is:
1) expected to die and
2) dies peacefully and/or without further pain and suffering. However, there are others who have serious trouble dealing with the death of loved ones who die suddenly, unexpectedly, and tragically. Months and years could pass and still some people cannot completely move on with their lives. It’s important to consider that this is especially noteworthy if, for example this scenario were to occur:

  • On any given day, you’re seeing or speaking with the person and/or saying or waving goodbye, with the natural expectation of seeing and hearing from that same person again. Perhaps you had plans to do something wonderful later in the day with that person. Perhaps you and that person parted on a bad note. Maybe you argued, said or did some mean and spiteful things to the other person in the heat of the moment. You’ve since had time to cool off, with every intention to either apologize or make things right with that person the next time you saw or spoke to said person. Now imagine, hearing only minutes, hours, if not days later, that person died; he or she lost his or her life suddenly and tragically!

Now sure; anyone can argue that all death is tragic;  but to me, that’s a semantic which can be debated later. The point is to simply note one thing we all need to remember: be it peaceful or given to us abruptly, death is a mere heartbeat away.

People, teach your children and grandchildren about the events of this date. For many of us, the tragic event of September 11, 2001 was our Pearl Harbor. On this date, we got to experience what our parents and grandparents experienced some 60 years before many of us were born. Some of the elder folk who were children or young adults during the December 7th, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, probably never imagined that they would ever see ANOTHER attack on American soil in their lifetime! I’m sure veterans of WWII never imagined it either! Pearl Harbor is STILL being talked about and observed to this very day! So I say again, teach your kids about the PLAIN facts, not theories about 9/11, how to treat others, and about the importance of life.

Here are some other things to teach a child about and which we, as adults should also remember:

  • Treat others in the manner and way you would like to be treated. A person’s nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or economic status should NEVER matter.
  • Never depart from the presence or end a phone call from/with someone, particularly a relative, friend, classmate, co-worker, or acquaintance – on a bad note or having said or done something or ugly to that person with first offering to apologize. Also, try to never go to bed at night without clearing the air with the person(s) with whom you had a disagreement.
  • Remember the heroic gestures of others at all three attack sites; those who died in the rescue efforts and how other rescuers and aid workers would get ill, suffer and die days, weeks and months later as result of the effects of the 9/11.
  • Tell your kids, (and we too, should try to remember) that for a moment, on that fateful day, and extending some days and weeks afterwards, AMERICA came together in a crisis: the free world JOINED us in our tears of sorrow and loss and they supported us in our efforts to recompose ourselves and continue on as hurt but still UNITED and vibrant nation. We proved to our enemies that American resolve could not be crushed.
  • Tell your kids how, sadly and shamefully, before all the dust of 9/11 was settled, and before all the bodies could be found, and before we could even begin a search for those responsible for the attacks, we allowed FEAR and IGNORANCE to bring about religious and racial stereotypes of a people and religion many knew or understood little about, let alone, respected. (If you, dear reader, are a minority and/or in a religion OTHER than “christian”, you ought to understand what the innocent Arabic people and/or those worshiping Islamic teachings went through – and are still going, eleven years after 9/11! ) It’s important that our children know that how FEAR and IGNORANCE caused many CLOSED-MINDED individuals to be and to do very nasty things to many innocent Arabic and Islamic people living here in America and abroad, and to other immigrants living (legally or illegally) in America. It was wrong then; it is wrong now.
  • Tell your children to study the history of their country, and to learn more FACTS about 9/11.
  • Finally, teach the children to learn to understand and respect the people, cultures and religions of others on this planet. America may be a world leader and world power but there are many times when we are simply arrogant or come off as such to other countries. We tend to sometimes forget that more than 236 years ago, we were once a young little nation experimenting with freedom, democracy, and independent thinking! That same experiment continues! And let’s teach our kids how important it is to NEVER allow prejudice to cloud their view and discernment of what is right and what is wrong.

Think about where you were and what you were doing 11 years ago this date. Then try to keep in mind that some 30 short years from now, We and OUR children will be telling our descendants about 9/11.
May God’s Spirit comfort the families and friends who lost loved ones eleven years ago today, September 11, 2001.
Keepin’ It…REAL!

Notes of a PROUD Dad

Like most fathers, I enjoy teaching and sharing my knowledge and/or opinions of things to my son. And, like most fathers, I naturally tend to think such efforts go on the wayside. Yet, there are occasions when I’m happy my son (G) proves me wrong in that thinking. For example yesterday, during a visit with me at work, he and I had some very good discussions about the presidential race and BOTH the Republican and the Democratic National Conventions. Can you believe that? We also discussed Iran and its relations with the world and that country’s desire for nuclear capability. We discussed World War II and how the winners of that war (U.S., Russia, and Britain) divided up the spoils of war. We talked about President FDR’s National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) and how THAT idea or portions of it might be useful to help today’s economy. We discussed the Korean War, and even touched on former presidents Carter and Reagan, among other things, which any stranger in the room would find deeply intriguing! At 16 years old, G often reminds me of the way I was at his age!

I suppose I can take some credit in starting him off right many years ago (and up to the present), when I had with him (what probably seemed to be boring) talks about the things that will affect him as a man, as a Black man, and the things that affect everyone in this world.

My son CONTINUES to make me PROUD! You go G!
Keepin’ It…REAL!

A Message to Young Voters

I realize that for many young people politics is probably “boring” and that they probably “could care less” or they simply “don’t give a damn” about political conventions. That’s ok…to some degree.
Here’s a personal message to those young men and women, ages 18 to at least 30 years old.

People, if you have nothing better to do (like HOMEWORK or a JOB), why not watch and/or listen to some of the events happening tonight, the LAST night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC)? More importantly, why not make sure you stay up to watch and listen to our President, Barack Obama, and his vision for CONTINUING the work he started four years ago? Choosing to make silly comments on Facebook, or to send silly text and tweet messages, or choosing to play video games, or even “fapping” (!) are NOT the things that will matter come Election Day in November, especially if YOU, who are old enough to vote, do not vote! For many of you, Election Day will be your FIRST TIME ever voting for a president, let alone for an issue or two in your respective city and/or state!
Ask yourselves:

  • Do you really know the candidates running for office?
  • Do you really know AND understand their stand or position, or voting record on the issues that could affect you now, your future, and those of your family?
  • Do you really understand WHY you are choosing to vote for either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama for President of the United States?
  • Do you really know and understand the issues in your community that are up for public vote? What exactly is Proposition “”X” about?

Think carefully now! Consider whether the CHANGES that could happen under a Romney or an Obama presidency over the next FOUR YEARS, will be those in which YOU, who will then be four years older, will be proud to say you voted for “Candidate X” and/or for “Proposition X”.
Do NOT be the one who comes to regret not having educated yourself on the political happenings in your community and country or worse, who regrets not having exercised your constitutional right to vote!

Do I have your attention? Good! Now check out how young voters participated in the 2008 election here.
Keepin’ It…REAL!