FORT MYERS, Fla. — It’s often described as a second chance.
Former convicts being released from their prison sentence and stepping back into society. A St. Petersburg man, who had a sentence previously commuted by President Obama, was arrested this week in Southwest Florida. It's something one local organization says happens often.
“Sometimes the toughest day for somebody is the day they get out,” says Neil Volz, Deputy Director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.
It's something Volz knows about all too well. FRRC is a grassroots, membership organization run by returning citizens who are dedicated to ending the disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions.
“As much as they want to be successful, they realize that it’s much harder to move forward than they had hoped," says Volz.
Which can sometimes lead back to crime. Similar to what happened with a St. Petersburg man earlier this week. Florida Highway Patrol Troopers on Monday arrested 42-year-old Eric Lemon in Collier County on charges of stealing more than 20 identities. According to the arrest report, troopers stopped Lemon for driving a white Maserati with excessively dark window tint. Lemon has since posted bond but it’s a cycle Volz and the FRRC look to prevent.
“This is really something that strikes to the heart of so many of us who have been through the criminal justice system," Volz says. "We do know that this is a win-win for the community. The quicker we’re able to get people reintegrated in the community, the better it is for everybody. It creates safer communities and, at the same time, it improves the economy and helps to change lives.”
According to Volz, the path to employment for former convicts is difficult. Often times, many want to be a productive member of society. And that starts with something as simple as having the right to vote.
"When somebody has a say in their community, we see a real drop in recidivism- that people aren’t going back to the way that they used to live because they feel ownership over their community. They feel like they have a say in the policies and what happens with their neighborhood and we know that has a real, powerful impact.”
The best method, as Volz says, is to take it one step at a time.
“When we’re talking to returning citizens, we want to provide hope," he says. "We want to show that, yes, the path is tough but many of us have walked it out and we want to help you on a personal basis. We also work to change the policies so that we can create a more vibrant and healthy community and a stronger economy by creating better pathways for people to access jobs.”
And the Florida RRC is always looking for help, whether that be members or volunteers. You can find more information on how to get involved by visiting their website right here.