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. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Christopher Etienne

Christopher is a multimedia strategist. Educated as a documentary filmmaker at Columbia Journalism School and an Africana studies historian at Rutgers University, he uses journalism and storytelling to shed light on injustice and raise awareness about social issues. As a first-generation Haitian in the inner cities of New Jersey, he experienced both poverty and incarceration. His background inspired him to seek ways to create meaningful change through his work with organizations such as NJ STEP, Rutgers, the Renaissance House, and Brooklyn CRAN Network.

Joe Garcia

Joe is a journalist at San Quentin State Prison and a staff reporter for San Quentin News. A San Francisco native with no connection to the carceral system before his arrest, Joe first believed prisons were filled with the worst people imaginable. But within his first week in Los Angeles County Jail, he found himself surrounded by people with rich, complex stories. Joe requested a transfer to San Quentin with the express purpose of working for the prisoner-run newspaper and now helps fellow prisoners find their voices as writers. In addition to prison publications, his work has appeared in the Washington Post and the Sacramento Bee.