Advocacy Day gives formerly incarcerated citizens a platform

Neil Volz (left) and Desmond Meade (right) listen to Tanaine Jenkins tell of the difficulties she faces trying to restore her life after incarceration.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Standing in front of the Capitol building with hundreds of people listening, Tanaine Jenkins told her story about struggling to be a business owner.

She is making headway, but it’s slow because of her criminal background. Jenkins went from serving 11 years in the Air Force to being incarcerated for financial fraud.

She’s been trying to rebuild her life since serving two years in prison, with eight years of probation for the crime she committed in 2010. She speculated that she’d never be able to get a job as an air traffic controller, the position she held in the Air Force. 

“I went from making $60,000 a year to making $6.25 an hour,” Jenkins said after addressing the crowd.

Hers and the struggles of thousands to find normalcy after incarceration were front and center on Advocacy Day last Wednesday. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition brought about 300 formerly incarcerated people and their supporter to show support for bills that benefit them.

SB 1732 and SB 1862 are two of the main ones.

The first one is the Landlord Liability Bill that would lay out that a landlord cannot be held liable solely for leasing a housing unit to a tenant convicted of or found guilty of a criminal offense, except for under specific circumstances. The bill is intended to increase opportunities for returning citizens, while protecting landlords.

SB 1862 is better known as the “Desmond Meade Bill,” named for Meade, a former felon who is director of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. It’s a background screening measure that would require that any entity that contracts with the Florida Department of Corrections for prison labor may not exclude a person once they are released from prison from consideration for employment or disqualify them from a job because of their criminal record unless certain conditions are met.

Essentially the bill calls for companies to hire former felons, just like they would have if their labor was used while they were incarcerated.

Meade, who was among the speakers during a press conference, said it was essential to have the backing of people who showed up at the Capitol. They held placards that read “Our vision” or “Our voice.”

“We want to make sure that we leave no doubt in any elected official’s mind about how we feel,” Meade said. “We are sharing our vision on the things we need that would not only benefit our lives but also all of the citizens of Florida.”

Meade, who successfully led a campaign in 2018 that won passage of Amendment 4 to restore the voting rights of former felons, said people returning from incarceration should have resources for adjusting back to the community. Fathers are especially affected when employers won’t give them work because of their criminal past.

So, the FRRC continues to push for change that Meade hopes will follow last week’s rally.

“It might not move all legislators, but it will move some legislators and fortifying their commitment to advocating for the people.

 


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