The Virginia Supreme Court decided Friday that governor Terry McAuliffe’s blanket order restoring voting rights for certain felons was unconstitutional, but one local felon said his criminal history should not have so much impact on his civic duty after he’s served his time.
According to Chris Feezle, and inmate at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center in Winchester, he’s come a long way since he decided to “take accountability for [his] problems.”
“Each individual day that I wake up, my decisions will not involve a court date, they won’t involve a police officer, they’re going to involve something positive for my family and the community,” Feezle said.
For the last seven months, that “something positive” for Feezle, who is a master horticulturist and a certified landscape architect, has been teaching gardening and landscaping to other inmates at NRADC; giving them something positive to do in jail, and maybe a career option when they leave.
But for Feezle and some who work with him, what won’t be an option for some time after he leaves jail is voting.
“We pay taxes, we work hard, and especially if you’ve been an inmate and worked hard and have gone through a transitional program and have been released, you’re missing out on a lot of good ideas and a lot of good people that should have the right to vote,” he said.
Feezle has felony drug convictions, but was going to have his voting rights reinstated once he’s out of jail, and off probation.
But since the Governor’s blanket order reinstating voting rights for felons who have served their sentences, are off probation and have paid court fees was overturned Friday, getting rights back as a felon isn’t so straightforward.
Now, anyone with a felony conviction in Virginia has to be considered on a case-by-case basis regarding restoring voting rights.
If Feezle’s input as a professional can be trusted within the jail community, he questions why his input as a citizen can’y be trusted when it comes to elections?
“I mean we’re trusted to work for the prison, we’re trusted to go outside the gate and work for different companies on work release, and as time goes on, it doesn’t make sense why our opinion would not be trusted,” he said.
After Friday, Virginia is again one of four states whose constitution “permanently disenfranchises citizens who have felony convictions,” and Feezle said this is bad for everyone – not just those who have felony convictions.
“Some of the most intelligent and artistic people I have ever met have been behind these walls, and to lose out on the opportunity to have input from these people I think is a huge mistake.”
The more than 11 thousand felons who were registered to vote under McAuliffe’s blanket order have to be unregistered by August 25th,
McAuliffe says he will personally restore these rights, which he can legally do under Virginia’s constitution.