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Alachua County Workshop Attempts To Aid Former Felons In Receiving Rights

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A physical fight with his daughter’s mother cost Eddie Green more than just four years in prison.

Since being released, Green, of Gainesville, has struggled to secure employment despite many interviews and applications, he said.

The reason why? His background check and domestic violence felony in the third degree.

In an attempt to secure another job, Green attended the “Restoration of Civil Rights” workshop at the Tower Road library branch on Thursday. The workshop is part of the “Law in the Library” series hosted by pro bono practitioners from the Joshua T Wells Bar Association as well as student volunteers from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law.

The free workshops are scheduled monthly during the University of Florida’s academic year and are open to the public, said Taissa Morimoto, a law student who serves as the program’s administrative assistant.

Volunteers help former felons to apply for the restoration of their civil rights, which include the right to vote, hold public office and serve on a jury. Volunteers also aid in sealing and expunging criminal records, Morimoto said.

The one-page application for civil rights restoration is handled by the Office of Executive Clemency in Tallahassee, and can be found online, said Meshon Rawls, the founding director of the program and a professor at UF Law.

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A copy of the application needed to regain civil rights. “It asks you to fill out information about your prior history and other information related to your offense,” Rawls said. Zee Krstic / WUFT News

Felons are usually ineligible to expunge and seal records and that process is handled directly by the courts. There is a $75 charge for a certificate of eligibility as well as individual court filing fees that could depend on the applicant’s finances.

While more than 20 individuals were helped at a single session in fall 2014, November’s workshop only saw 13 participants — a decrease from October’s 16 attendees, said Nickie Kortus, the marketing and public relations manager for the Alachua County Library District.

Morimoto doesn’t see the dip in attendance as a coincidence.

Unlike former Gov. Charlie Crist, who maintained automatic restoration of civil rights to felons who had completed their sentences, Gov. Rick Scott prohibits former felons from applying for their rights five to seven years after their sentence is over, she said.

“We have people coming in who still have their sentence or just finished serving their sentences, and we have to tell them to come back in seven years just to even attempt to get cleared,” Morimoto said. “We used to help so many more people while Crist was in office, and that’s changed.”

Morimoto said that more than 11,000 Floridians have filed applications to regain civil rights, and while 150,000 former felons were granted rights under Gov. Crist, Gov. Scott has granted 1,500 restorations in total as of January since he took office in 2011. Crist served in office from 2007-2011.

“Before, people were eager to come in because they could do it right away,” Rawls said. “Today, we were helping a young man when we realized he had a pending case. The advice that I had to give him, ultimately, was to finish everything that the judge required him to do, and once he finishes that, the judge will determine whether he has to wait five or seven years before we can help him.”

Despite the lengthy process, Rawls said she still believes she can help restore another basic human right immediately — dignity.

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A informational display greets attendees at the reception of the “Civil Rights Restoration” workshop. There is no cost to reserve the meeting space at the Tower Road branch or at any library location, Rawls said. Zee Krstic / WUFT News.

“Even though it doesn’t guarantee them a job, I do think that it gives them a sense of pride, getting their rights restored and at least the option to vote,” she said. “Even if they walk away, and when we need to tell them to wait or to work on it, I still feel a sense of satisfaction in the sense that they felt heard.”

Green is unable to find extra work to cover child support bills and living expenses,  making only $227 a week working mornings with a local construction company. He’s returned to living with his girlfriend and daughter, but is scared of what will happen if his background check won’t allow him to get a new job, he said.

“I can’t find no work even though they are giving jobs to lazy people who, sure, might not have been to jail but they’re just going to quit anyway,” said Green, who has applied for clerical positions with a local Walmart, Winn Dixie and Discount Auto Parts. “All I need to do is work.”

Green said volunteers told him Thursday he was ineligible to apply for civil rights. He thought they would be able to help him find a way around a background check, he said.

“I don’t care about who is president, I just need work,” he said. “I’ve paid my restitution and I’ll never go to jail again. The one person who I got in trouble for is now relying on me. But these people didn’t help me tonight. What’s next for me?”

Rawls said she believes civil rights might help former felons in the job market.

“If you get your rights restored, especially since it’s more difficult in Florida than in some other places, they can at least write about rights being restored on an application,” she said. “And perhaps that will  be enough for an employer on the edge to give them a chance.”

About Zee Krstic

Zee is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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