Northern Kentucky Returning Citizens Forum | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Northern Kentucky Returning Citizens Forum

The Northern Kentucky chapter of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth held a forum on March 15th raising awareness about the challenges facing former felons upon returning to their community. Member Rick Traud opened the event by welcoming the 40 people who attended, and talking about his personal expreience dealing with former felons trapped in a cycle of poverty as the result of mistakes in their past while working as a volunteer with Saint Vincent De Paul in Northern Kentucky.

The panel consisted of four individuals deeply invested in the work of helping former felons turn their lives around, and to make sure that communities provided a way to help all of its citizens become a vital part in the places where they lived. This included two former felons sharing their stories, and two people actively work to help former felons prepare for life after they are out of the court system.

Missy Roberts shared her story of working in a corporate office making over $16 an hour before her felony. After her felony she lost the house that raised her kids in, and the only place that has been willing to hire her is a local McDonalds - where she makes minimum wage.  

Rickey Curry is the Program Director for Transitions, INC,., an organization that has been instrumental in the work of People Advocating Recovery, especially their work in northern Kentucky. Working with the male population in Transitions housing, he stressed to folks the need to mainstream people as they reenter society. This includes stressing the importance to young men the need to engage in pro-social behaviors like voting, and ensuring that they have their right to vote.

Richard Young, another member of the panel, talked about how Rickey Curry was one of the counselors who helped him become clean and sober for the past 8 years. Richard also stressed how lucky he was to be able to find a place that was willing to employ a forklift driver with a record almost right after his time in prison. Meanwhile, he pointed to folks like Missy, who have served their time, are working full-time on minimum wage, and trying to pay off court costs, fines, fees charged from living in jail, fees for soap/shampoo, extra for doctor visits, etc. while incarcerated. Richard told those in attendance that former felons are set up for failure when they return.

The final member of the panel, David Phillips, shared his experiences working with the Northern Kentucky Reentry team and with Catholic Charities helpling former felons find work and housing. He also mentioned the difficulty people in certain counties have getting their voting rights restored through the current process because of the outsized say that Commonwealth Attorney's have in the restoratioin process, and spoke of the need for an amendment to make restoration a simple process.

Those in attendance asked about updates on campaigns around voting rights and ban the box, both for what is happening locally and nationally. Were pleased to hear that regional leaders like Louisville and Cincinnati have banned the box, and moves from some national stores to ban the box. Many were disappointed to learn that voting rights looks likely to not pass again this year, and expressed support for working on practical local solutions to challenges for former felons like Ban the Box.

John Fischer of the Covington Human Rights Commission spoke about Kentucky's history to the crowd, about how for years we were ahead of other states in the south on civil rights, and how the persistence of those working on these issues is what will bring about the change our community needs. David Phillips followed up his response by mentioning his past experience as a police officer in North Carolina, and highlighting the importance of thinking about these issues through a civil rights lens, especially because of the disparate impact on non-whites in charging and sentencing.

Member Serena Owen closed out the event by asking those in attendance to get involved with organizations Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, the Human Rights Commission, visiting City Council, and meeting with their elected officials. People leaving the event were excited about it, and looked forward to more events focused on these issues. Sister Mary Joyce described the event as necessary, and especially enjoyed hearing from people like Richard Young and Missy Roberts. Remarking on how these issues are often played out in the public, Sister Joyce felt that," More people need to realize that these laws impact living, breathing human beings."

The chapter is looking forward to doing a follow up event in October.

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