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Saturday, July 18, 2020


by Jen Schneider

Florida Rights Restoration Coalition policy coordinators Sharon Madison, right, and Kellie Atterbury present Cynthia Craig with a receipt showing her last court payments have been paid at the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building in Miami in early March. (Scott McIntyre/For The Washington Post)

Washington, July 16, 2020 (CNN)The Supreme Court on Thursday said Florida can enforce a law barring ex-felons from voting if they still owe court fines or fees that they are unable to pay associated with their convictions. The unsigned order likely means the law will be in effect for the November election, although the court did not declare the law to be unconstitutional or limit ongoing court challenges. Liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissented. "This Court's order prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida's primary election simply because they are poor," Sotomayor wrote in the dissent. "This Court's inaction continues a trend of condoning (disenfranchisement)," she added.

She sat in her beat up Chevy on the right-hand side of the road. Window down, radio up. Oldies streamed ribbons of light in the unseasonably cool air. Beatles and Bruce, mainly. Billy Joel, too. Piano Man got her fingers moving. Her left arm dangled, fingers tapped the exterior car door panel. Striking notes a few inches above the door’s deeply dented exterior. Not unlike the beat she’d use for nightly rituals when imprisoned. She and the girls had a system. Tap, Tap, Tap. Intentional pauses and extended rhythms. A form of Morse code—of sorts. Everything was some sort of something in there. Generic and off brand only, of course. No matter. Always made them feel smart - smarter than the system. Only now, she realizes the system had them all along. Damn fines awaiting her release. The others’, too. Piles of unopened envelopes—stacked on the linoleum kitchen table. Most yellowed. Some stained in coffee, soda pop, and a mix of bitter jams. Never did understand how they expected her to pay those fines. Not until she could find work, that is. And even then. Didn’t they know she had babies to feed? Especially after having fed the mouths and egos of grown men for far too long and in far too many ways. Late at night, she and the others would dream of release day. Lofty talk of voting. Making change. In many ways the dreams got them through - and out. No matter most of them should never have been there in the first instance. Out was always the goal. On the other side, where the sun’s rays beat down on open backs, freshly washed heads, and bare feet - no socks, no shackles. Only to once again be silenced. And tied to a system with no conscience. She wasn’t having it. Sat curbside for upwards of six hours on primary day. Planned to do the same come election day. Until she’s welcome behind the curtain. No doubt, she’ll push buttons wherever permitted. Wherever tolerated, too. The passersby didn’t want to hear her talk. She knew it, but spoke no matter. Their voices mattered. Of course they do. As does hers.

When systems lay bare their many flaws and faults that serve only to penalize those for whom change is most needed, and work only to silence the voices of those for whom there is no recourse, and far too must resignation for there is too often no other way, on whom does the opportunity to speak rest and on whom does the responsibility to act fall—yet too often falter?

Signatures are checked
as licenses are confirmed.
Go ahead, Sir. Please.

Old fines resurface
to silence a right to vote.
Not today, Ma’am. No.

Dusty curtains drop
as inside voices whisper.
Seal the status quo.

Red painted fingers
tap as outside voices speak.
Time for change is now.

Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. She lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Philadelphia. Her work appears in The Popular Culture Studies Journal, unstamatic, Zingara Poetry Review, Streetlight Magazine, Chaleur Magazine, LSE Review of Books, and other literary and scholarly journals.