The Public Square

Aaron Ammons from Urbana on changing felony conviction laws


Peace be upon you all. My name is Aaron Ammons, also know as Brother A-Dub. I'm a local activist, husband, father, and published poet. I am also co-founder of CU Citizens For Peace and Justice which is just one of the reasons why I will give you the following information concerning felony convictions.

When one hears that someone has a felony conviction, images of murderers, rapists and pedophiles might come to mind. But did you know that a person can receive a felony for minor crimes such as possession of a small amount of marijuana, video and audio taping of traffic stops of police officers or giving the police a false name.

Why should someone who smoked a little bit of pot in Illinois, for example, lose the following rights:

The right to apply for a Pell Grant to pay for college tuition and books.

The right to bear arms or be around guns or bullets.

The right to work as a firefighter and police officer.

The right to be a Public School teacher, principal, counselor, bus driver, coach or janitor.

The right to hold municipal elected office such as Mayor or city council member or President.

The right to obtain licenses for cosmetology, such as Barbers or Beauticians.

The right to volunteer at places such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

The right to serve in any of the armed forces or reserves.

The right to work as an insurance agent.

And these are only some of the rights taken from a person convicted of a felony.

Furthermore, in Champaign, if a felony crime is less than five years old, landlords are allowed to deny housing to people who have been convicted of felonies. Felons are also tax paying citizens yet are denied many of the rights other tax paying citizens enjoy even after paying their debt to society.

It is unconstitutional to repeatedly try and convict an individual for the same crime. People with felony records need to earn a living and yet there are many jobs denied to them even after serving their time. There are local businesses such as convenience stores home improvement stores who refuse to hire people with felony conviction. You won't be hired for a job with the city or park district even after serving your time.

This sweeping perpetual noose must be re-evaluated, after all the numbers of felons certainly are not decreasing.

And, in 12 states people with felony convictions are banned from voting for life. Florida is one of those states. Thankfully, people with felony convictions in Illinois can still vote.

The Illinois Constitution Article 1 of the Bill of Rights says: "all men are by nature free and independent and have certain inherent and inalienable rights among which are LIFE, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness."

However, a man cannot have LIFE and be sentenced to Death! Ex-States Attorney John Piland once said that the consequences of a felony conviction are a death sentence! One cannot experience Liberty when he is harnessed like a horse and controlled by the bridle of a felony conviction, and it is inescapably true that ones pursuit of happiness is more like a veil of misery and stress.

In Illinois we want amendments to laws that prevent felons from working as firefighters, bus drivers and counselors. We must allow citizens who have made mistakes to still receive Pell grants for a college education, and we absolutely must allow them to participate in the making and enforcing of the laws that govern them. Finally, we want full voting rights restored to all felons who have paid their debts to society by serving their time.