Mantell Stevens

Mantell Stevens is a life-long Kentuckian who's a smart guy, works hard, volunteers at Imani Baptist Church, and enjoys the outdoors. “I’m really a country boy. I like getting muddy and riding four-wheelers.” 

But what he can't do is vote.  Though he's telling his story to help change that.  

"I was born and raised here in Lexington and been here all my life. I've lived on the Northside of town for the past 33 years. Growing up life was pretty good. I grew up with both parents in the household. I was fortunate enough to witness a good marriage between my parents. I’m really grateful for that."

"In the early years I was into theatre. In elementary school I was a student in SCAPA - the school of creative and performing arts student. When I transitioned to a public middle school is when I started to have more behavior problems – coming from a structured environment to a more chaotic environment. And struggling with a lot of identity issues coming from middle school to high school. I would get called “white boy” a lot because I had light skin, I talked “different” and tucked my shirt in. So, in my neighborhood I felt I had to prove myself and started getting into trouble. I was a big guy so I started trying to prove that I could intimidate people and that I wasn’t soft like they thought I was."

"Going into high school is when the drugs started – experimenting and selling drugs when I was a sophomore in high school. I really enjoyed math and this made me good at selling drugs. I really, really liked selling drugs and was really good at it. I was able to plot and plan so that I wouldn’t get caught. I didn’t get caught for awhile. But then I got caught. And that’s when I got a felony."

"My felony was back in 2000 – thirteen years ago. I was 20 years old and got a felony for possession of drugs. And that’s when my life changed instantly. It was crazy. I spent 30 days in jail and three years on probation.  And that's how I lost my right to vote."

"Voting is very important to me because I think anyone who is a member of the community and a citizen should have a say in their local, state, and federal government. If you don’t vote you really don’t have a right to complain. I think it’s the responsibility of every citizen to be able to have a vote on issues that concern them."

"I attempted to get my voting rights back. The first time I tried it was difficult because every time I went to gather the information or talk to someone about what I needed to do I always got a different answer or got directed to a different office. I think people had good intentions, but there was not consistency and a streamlined process. After a few weeks I got discouraged and gave up. Also, I had to worry about work, food, and other struggles in my day to day life and let it go. I tried several times throughout these past thirteen years, but it was always the same inconsistencies and obstacles."

"I hate the fact that I became a felon, but if I had the choice to go back and change it I would probably make the same decisions because it has made me who I am today and given me the insight that I have today. Former felons have life experiences and insight about a side of the system that others do not understand. And they need to use that insight and experience to voice what matters to them in their community and use it to effect change."

"My experience going to Frankfort to lobby for former felon voting rights helped me realize the importance of our rights. Not only do I want to vote on issues that matter to me, but I want to run for public office and I can’t do that. I can’t be a doctor, a lawyer, or in law enforcement. All of these things I’m interested in – I can’t do it. It’s really embarrassing when someone says “you should be a lawyer” and I have to think about why that will probably never happen for me."