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As millions of Americans participate in the voting process during the 2020 elections both in-person and by mail, Prison Journalism Project contributing writer Joe Garcia called in this dispatch from San Quentin State Prison to shed light on the political climate behind bars.

Incarcerated men and women are keeping a close eye on both presidential and state elections, Joe said, despite their inability to participate as voters.

Felony disenfranchisement laws restrict millions of Americans, like those inside San Quentin, from voting due to their felony conviction. Incarcerated individuals, those serving felony probation or parole, and, in 11 states, even those who have completed their sentences are stripped of their voting rights.

But the impact of this election will be felt widely to those behind bars, Joe said. California’s Proposition 20, in particular, is raising concerns for incarcerated population inside San Quentin. The bill would roll back criminal justice reforms made by previous ballot initiatives and by legislation that was signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown.

While the aim of the previous reforms was to help reduce some of the overcrowding inside California prisons, critics in law enforcement have said they led to higher rates of re-offending. Prop 20 would restore restrictions on eligibility for parole for some non-violent offenders and eliminate the possibility of early release for some violent offenders. Sentencing would also be at stake as the bill would allow certain offenses that are currently treated as misdemeanors to receive felony sentences.

“Too many of us may never see freedom ever,” Joe said. “That’s our worst nightmare.”

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Christopher Etienne is a multimedia strategist who uses journalism and storytelling to shed light on injustice and raise awareness about social issues. Etienne's background as a first-generation Haitian-American who experienced poverty and incarceration inspires him to work with organizations such as NJ STEP, Rutgers, the Renaissance House, and Brooklyn CRAN Network. He studied documentary film at Columbia Journalism School and Africana studies at Rutgers University.

Joe Garcia is a journalist and PJP correspondent incarcerated in California. Garcia was previously a staff writer and the chair of the Journalism Guild for San Quentin News. In addition to prison publications, his work has appeared in The New Yorker, the Washington Post and the Sacramento Bee.