Former Felon Voices
But despite this service and more, James Snyder does not have the right to vote here in Kentucky.
Ed West, a forever resident of Lexington, Kentucky, is a community mentor, loving father of three, professional welder, supportive husband, part time preacher, and a car restoration enthusiast. Among all of Ed’s defining qualities, he also wears a stigmatizing label: former felon.
"First and foremost, I'm a mom," says April Browning, after mulling over my vague introductory question, asking her to tell me about herself. She subconsciously looks through the trees in the city park we're meeting in to make sure her son is still close by.
Tayna Fogle is a mother of 2, grandmother of 6, former UK Lady Kat, powerful leader in her community, former felon, and one of KFTC’s most powerful spokespeople on the issue of restoring voting rights to former felons who have served their debt to society.
Katrina Byrnes is a life-long resident of Louisville, a mother of four, and is very involved in her community through the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and other community organizations.
"I've lived a lot of places in my life," says KFTC member and new former felon spokesperson Jim Shepherd. "All over the U.S., really; but my family is from Hazard, I've lived here for the last five years, and I'm planning on staying."
"I haven't always been a minister, you know. At one point, I was a gang member and a drug dealer. I ended up getting arrested in 2003 and again in 2004 when I was sentenced to 12 years for drug trafficking."
"It was a little after that that I realized that the lord was calling on me to preach. I really changed my life around. I did a lot of preaching in the penitentiary and it really felt like the right thing to be doing."
But it wasn't an easy path getting there, he told us.
"I'm a former felon," Says Sandy Holbert of Scott County," …but that's not all I am. I'm a mother of four, daughter, a sister, a Sunday school teacher, a social worker and so much more."
Like 243,000 others in Kentucky, Holbert can’t vote because of something she did wrong in her past, paired with Kentucky’s extreme felony disenfranchisement laws. Only Kentucky and Virginia take away voting rights from all former felons unless they can get a partial pardon from the Governor.
When I received notification that I could no longer vote... I opened it up and the shame and embarrassment flooded me. Even though I was the only one home I the time, I went to my room and shut the door and cried... I felt like someone had just stripped me of my voice."
Stories are Powerful
We've found that the stories of individual former felons can go a long way to connecting with people throughout our Commonwealth, so we've collected this series of interviews over the years.
Kentucky's 243,000 former felons include people from your community, people you know, and people you can relate to.
If you are a former felon yourself or a family member of a former felon and if you'd like to tell your story, please contact your local KFTC organizer or KFTC's Deputy Organizing Director of Voter Empowerment - Dave Newton, 859-420-8919, or via email.