Producer / Reporter: Shannon Green
Director / Editor: Sarah Espedido
Somewhere between middle school science experiments and first kisses, Davion Hampton remembered being introduced to cocaine in the sixth grade.
No one in his immediate family sold or abused drugs, but in the early ‘90s cocaine polluted communities across the country like his hometown of Sanford
In fact, Florida is still one of the top drug markets in America with Central Florida and South Florida serving as the main point of entries.
“I’m watching my friends come to school with wads of money and that became very, very appealing to my eyes,” said 40-year-old Hampton. “I wanted to know, ‘How do you get this type of money?’ And they told me how they get this type of money, and of course, like any other child you want to do the same thing.”
By age 25, Hampton juggled parenthood – he fathered a son before he finished high school – worked as an electrical lead supervisor and sold cocaine to an exclusive upper-class clientele who helped bankroll his lavish lifestyle.
Six years later, he was arrested and sentenced to state prison from 2009-12 for conspiracy to traffic cocaine — a felony offense.
“...In prison, [I] was just thinking about the fact that the decisions I was making in the streets, in society...I thought I was making those decisions based on me not knowing that I was dragging my mom, my family, my brothers and everybody into everything I was doing,” Hampton said.
Prison, he said, motivated him to turn a new chapter in his life absent of drugs. But the felony conviction on Hampton’s record meant he joined the population of 1.68 million disenfranchised felons who cannot vote in the state.
In Florida, a felony conviction permanently strips your ability to vote as a result of the state’s constitution written 150 years ago.
People convicted of felonies can individually petition to have their civil rights restored through the clemency system. But the average person can wait up to 10 years or more just to get a response to his or her application.
Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia join Florida in felony disenfranchisement, which dates back to the Reconstruction Era when many politicians sought ways to prevent African Americans from voting after the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870. Following the Civil War, states and the federal government were prohibited from denying citizens the right to vote based on race, color or previous conditions of servitude.
Black codes and Jim Crow laws, however, systematically prevented African Americans from voting until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.
But residents could see a change in Florida’s constitution if at least 60 percent of citizens vote yes to Amendment 4, which would automatically grant voting rights back to convicted felons after they’ve served their time, paid restitution and finished parole and probation.
People convicted of murder and sex crimes are excluded from this ballot initiative.
“Listen, there are going to be millions of families across the state that are going to the polls that are going to be voting for their loved ones,” said Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC). The organization is responsible for gathering more than 800,000 petitions to get the measure on the November ballot.
The constitution can be changed by the Constitutional Review Committee, which meets once every 20 years, through legislation or by a citizen’s petition — which requires a minimum of 766,200 signatures.
“The decision to decide which American citizens get to vote and which ones don’t get to vote should never be left in the hands of any politician,” said Meade, who obtained a law degree from Florida International University after beating a drug addiction. “Whether they’re Democrat or Republican, or whatever, you don’t leave that in the hands of the politicians because it leaves room for partisan politics to play a role in something that should not have politics in it.”
Hampton didn’t realize how much the consequences of his choices would affect him after prison until he tried to vote in 2012 alongside his four brothers.
Coincidentally, one in five black men can’t vote in Florida because of prior felony convictions. White men, however, actually make up the majority of Florida’s felony disenfranchisement population — the total of which accounts for more than a quarter of the nation’s total of 6 million.
“I really didn’t see the sincerity of it, or the importance of it. I was like, “Oh well, whatever.” And as time went on, I realized I have children here that go to school in Seminole County,” Hampton said. “I can’t represent them in any kind of way of saying who would be over their agenda here in Seminole County School Board or Commissions.”
Frustrated by his inability to vote, Hampton joined Meade’s grassroots movement to restore voting rights back to convicted felons — or as they prefer to be called, returning citizens.
Hampton is the president of the FRRC’s Sanford chapter, which meets regularly at the Midway Safe Harbor.
He’s been working alongside FRRC members who have canvassed across the entire state to educate the public about the issue of restoration rights.
The Washington Economics Group, a consulting firm based in Coral Gables since 1993, projected restoration rights to convicted felons would save Florida $365 million because of lower prison costs and more jobs.
Many proponents of Amendment 4 argue that restoration rights leads to fewer people who reoffend, also called recidivism.
Out of the 992 people who had their civil rights restored from 2016-2017, just two people returned to the Florida department of corrections as of July 1, 2018 in the most recent clemency action report.
“I just believe when people understand that they were on the wrong side of the law they go through a tedious process in correcting that,” said Gadsden (Fla.) County Sheriff Morris A. Young. “They understand they can’t reoffend and they know what they've gone through so I just believe that because of when folk receive a pardon they are less likely to reoffend.”
Tampa-based attorney Richard Harrison argued that the recidivism numbers being touted from 2016-2017 are misleading since they're so recent, and will actually increase over time for convicted felons.
“That’s not the same as following people up to a fixed date on a calendar,” Harrison said. “When you look at the data, the longest any of those people were out was about a year and a half. The shortest any of them were out was about six months...When you track it to what it should be, the rate of recidivism goes up to what it normally is.”
There are no registered organizations to oppose Amendment 4, but Harrison leads a small organization called Floridians for a Sensible Voting Policy. He plans to vote against the ballot initiative.
Overall, the measure has statewide and national support from both Republicans and Democrats alike. The Koch brothers, known for donating millions of dollars to conservative causes, publicly endorsed Amendment 4. The Vermont-based ice cream company, Ben and Jerry’s has also supported the amendment.
Vermont and Maine are the only two states in the country where prisoners can submit absentee ballots.
“I go into all kinds of different communities. I went to Trump rallies to get petitions signed, I go to Trump events, and Republican events, and conservative events all the time,” said FRRC Political Director Neil Volz, who is also a Republican. “And you see the breadth of support for Amendment 4 and for second chances when you walk into a room and you have a conversation with someone and you realize that deep down we all believe in second chances.”
Polls from both the University of North Florida and North Star Opinion research show that Amendment 4 is polling over 70 percent with voters from both parties who want to see the measure pass. The Florida Chamber of Commerce conducted a poll in May and June showing just 40 percent of voters support Amendment 4 while 43 percent are undecided.
Hampton feels confident the measure will pass. He still won’t be eligible to vote after Nov. 6 because he’s still working to pay off the more than $52,000 bill in restitution fees as part of his felony conviction.
But he’s looking forward to his future and wants to remain a part of the fight to help successfully transition people like him back into society.
“I always want to help people, but becoming a community activist and fighting for restoration of rights, I never [saw] it coming,” Hampton said. “I am glad that I am a part of this fight. I am glad that I am going to be a part of many more fights to come in the future, and I will stand up and do what’s right to change the landscape of my community.”
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