To the editor:

Recently, the conversation has come up of restoring the right to vote for every American, such as those in prison.

Despite its impact on me, I have to this point neglected to give my opinion on this issue simply because I do not think it will ever actually happen.

Nonetheless, given the base topic is far greater than me, I have decided to share my own view and experience in hopes that others will understand, appreciate and utilize this precious gift they still hold.

Let us begin by agreeing to the fact that the right to vote is sacred to our democracy. The problem, I believe, is that those of us born into this beautiful experiment of freedom(s) have the same so embedded within us as Americans that we can’t help but take it for granted.

Such was the case for me personally. It was not until being on the verge of having my right to vote stripped from me that I fully comprehended its vitality. As I sat in jail facing charges of dealing in methamphetamine, I understood it all too little, too late. That is the critical consequence of playing a part in choosing my (our) lawmakers, rather than idly sitting on the sideline allowing those lawmakers to choose me and conclude to send me away with a 45-year prison sentence over the sale of a half gram of meth was even remotely justice or rehabilitative. Justice when I’ve been locked up since George W. Bush was president and my then-2-year-old daughter who grew up without a father (and make no mistake, I fault myself for that and bear that burden every single day) is now a 19-year-old college student. Or rehabilitative as if I will be better positioned to succeed by being released back into society as a 50-year-old man who has not known freedom since his early 20s.

For the first time ever, I was faced with the fact that my ability and willingness to vote could have a direct and literal impact on my freedom. 

I wrote then requesting a voter registration form, but was informed — incorrectly — that I could not vote while in jail. The law in Indiana specifies only that a person cannot vote while serving a sentence for a felony conviction. In other words, an individual known as a pretrial detainee who is in jail awaiting trial but not yet found guilty and serving a sentence can still vote. So, for the first (and last) time in my life, I voted, doing so by absentee ballot from jail.

A few years later, state lawmakers agreed that for a non-violent drug charge like mine, such a sentence was grossly excessive. As a result, they decided that a drug conviction with the facts identical to mine would now carry an absolute maximum possible sentence of eight years. I’ve served that twice over already.

Unfortunately, state legislators concluded that this change in sentencing law should only affect those moving forward and have no retroactive application. In other words, that even though they determined it unjust for a person convicted of such a charge to be handed what essentially amounts to a life sentence, those already sentenced for and to the same should continue to rot.

The right to vote, and that I no longer have that right, is one of the most consequential truths of my adult life. Though not everyone will be brought to this realization by such devastating circumstances as myself, the right to vote is no less important and impactful to the everyday lives of all Americans.

As such, this right should be enjoyed by everyone so that the ideals and laws pushed forward will represent the majority of our population rather than benefit the few at the top.

Larry Best Jr.

Bunker Hill