(USA TODAY) Terrance Coffie, September 6, 2018 — In 2008, I sat in the cold day room of a prison in Gainesville, Florida, watching the election of the country’s first African-American president, and I, like so many other people across the country, felt a mix of pride and awe.
But as a black man who had never voted and had spent more than two decades rotating in and out of incarceration, I also felt a sense of shame — the acute sting of having wasted my life. I had bought into the notion I had grown up with, that blacks couldn’t achieve or succeed.
I’ve been a resident of New York now for eight years. And as our primary elections approach, I’m reminded of that time when, because of my history of incarceration, I was not able to vote at all.
I’m far from the only person in America who has had this basic right stripped away. Only two states, Maine and Vermont, maintain full voting rights for felons. California allows people in county jails to vote. But most states impose severe restrictions. And an estimated 6 million Americans who have been convicted of a felony (many of whom have served their time) are shut out of this year’s primaries and midterm elections