A (Belated) Cry for Voting Rights

10/20/19

Guy Fawkes’ Day is approaching rapidly and with it election day. I want to encourage everyone to vote because I cannot. As an incarcerated person in Washington state I am not allowed to have a vote, and by extension, I am not allowed to have a voice.

This year my lack of voting rights feels particularly burdensome. It is only a matter of time before number 45 turns his attentions to the people already in prison, as opposed to simply pushing for people to be thrown in prison for the crime of not fitting in to his white supremacist patriarchal capitalist vision of American empire. Thus, I have the following to say to voters and elected officials:

Please stand in support of giving incarcerated people the right to vote.

I believe this is important because by not letting incarcerated people vote the state has created conditions where the exploitation and oppression of incarcerated people is inevitable. This takes many forms. Some examples are:

– Incarcerated workers are paid $0.42 per hour for a class 3 job and between $0.60-$1.70 per hour for a class 2 job. These wages are too low for us to be able to support our loved ones or save for the future. We have not (as far as I know) had a raise since the 1970’s.

– Incarcerated people are not able to engage in the common discourse. We do not have internet access and those of us (like myself) who are writers by trade, find our first amendment rights to free speech and freedom of the press actively opposed by the WA DOC.

– Incarcerated people are not allowed to have loving relationships with each other. Physical intimacy and affection is criminalized to such an extreme degree that even holding hands and hugging can be subject to a WAC (Washington Administrative Code) infraction and punishment.

Harms and violations of basic human dignity of this sort would not be able to remain unchallenged, as they have for decades, if incarcerated people were able to vote for politicians who will support our interests and against politicians who support the “tough on crime” rhetoric which has created mass incarceration.

All of this is compounded by incarcerated people being, in effect, “wards of the state.” The decisions of elected officials have a greater impact on incarcerated people than on other citizens. If a given service is not provided or is under funded, we do not have the ability to seek out other options. If there is not enough funding for the prisons’ kitchens, then we go hungry. If there is not enough funding for the prisons’ clinics, then we go without medical treatment. If there is not enough money for the prisons’ schools and libraries, then we remain in ignorance and, most likely, return to prison.

Because incarcerated people cannot vote, we are not able to insist on having our needs met or hold elected officials accountable when they sacrifice us on the altar of political expediency. This is why I am asking that those who have a voice, those who have a vote, and those who hold office to publicly speak out in favor of incarcerated peoples’ voting rights.

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