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May 14, 2016

"Inside a prison where inmates can actually vote for president"

160504-voting-in-prison1The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy Fusion article discussing voting realities in Vermont. Here is how the interesting piece starts and ends:

On February 16, 2000, Scott Favreau, then 17, committed a crime that shattered a family and shocked the state of Vermont.  In the early hours of the morning, he walked up to his foster mother, who was up grading high school English papers at the kitchen table, and shot her in the head with a .22 caliber rifle, immediately killing her. After leading police on a high-speed car chase, Favreau and his accomplice, the foster mother’s stepdaughter who was later found to be implicated in the crime, were arrested.

For the small community around West Burke, Favreau’s murder of his guardian, Victoria Campbell-Beer, represented a rare act of violence that robbed it of one of its beloved schoolteachers.  For Favreau, the crime marked the deplorable end to a tumultuous childhood largely defined by neglect and abuse, both physical and sexual, allegedly at the hands of his biological father.

Upon settling into his new day-to-day life as a prisoner, he came to believe that, for all practical purposes, his life had ended. During these first years of incarceration, Favreau says, his identity became defined by his status as a non-entity in society.  “It teaches you to be just an inmate,” he said of prison.  “There’s not a lot of responsibility in here. You can sleep all day.  You can do nothing at all. And that’s what a lot of us do.” Favreau says after his first years in prison he even began to see the guards — “the closest thing we have to society” — as strange, unrelatable visitors from the outside world.

During the first years of his term, Favreau began to mend ties to his biological mother, talking to her over the phone with some frequency. More often than not, their conversations would wind back to her financial struggles and desperate search for a well-paying job.  Incarcerated with no way to help, Favreau says that these conversations often underscored his sense of powerlessness behind prison walls.

Ahead the 2006 election, partially propelled by the economic woes of his family, Favreau did something he describes as pivotal: He registered to vote, a rare privilege available to United States prison inmates in only Vermont and Maine.

Favreau says that participating in the electoral process brought a new feeling of agency in and connection to society at large. This, he said, helped to change his life.  “It was one thing I could do that I can have control of, the one thing that could let me feel that I can make a difference in something.”  After registering, he gradually began to follow developments in the news, informally debating other inmates about current events. He even began talking politics with prison guards, who eventually became a lot less otherworldly. “It helped me accept them because it gave me something in common with them,” Favreau said. “You can bond through a shared experience.”

Maine and Vermont — the nation’s first- and second-whitest states, respectively — provide America’s only opportunity to see what happens when prison inmates vote.  In Favreau’s telling, however, the largest significance of voting as an inmate might go beyond his relationships with prison guards, his conversations with other inmates, or even any effect his vote might have on an election outcome. Favreau believes it has improved his chances of reintegrating with society upon his release, which he expects will come in roughly two years. “I grew up in prison and voting helped me learn responsibility,” Favreau said. “It taught me how to be a part of the community, and how to prepare me for it.”...

Having made an ill-fated attempt to rebuild his life in society in Vermont’s closely supervised probation program, Favreau has personal experience with the difficulties of reintegration.  After his release in 2013, Favreau found a job in a warehouse in Brattleboro, and soon met and moved in with a girlfriend and her young son.  Yet, Favreau was struggling with a large debt he had incurred largely during his first few months of freedom and, to ease his anxiety, he had begun to smoke pot, a fact he knew would become known by his probation officer because of required urine tests.

“One night I was at work and I felt like my life was a failure because I was thousands of dollars in debt,” Favreau said. “I figured I would be better off back in jail.”  That night, Favreau violated his probation by crossing into Massachusetts, where he quickly called his girlfriend and told he what he’d done.  By the end of the following day, Favreau was back in custody.

Favreau, who began making art in prison, said he has been using his failed year of freedom to work on strategies for his second try at reintegration, which he anticipates will come in approximately two years.  In the meantime, he says he will continue to vote whenever an opportunity arises.  “It’s my lifelong goal to make amends for what I did and to give back to community and to the people I hurt,” Favreau said. Being able to vote has “taught me about my responsibility,” he added. “I can get out and make a difference one day.”

May 14, 2016 at 10:44 AM | Permalink

Comments

"In the early hours of the morning, he walked up to his foster mother, who was up grading high school English papers at the kitchen table, and shot her in the head with a .22 caliber rifle, immediately killing her."

Call me odd and unfeeling, but I have zero sympathy for this man. That he should be released after 13 years for cold-blooded murder is inexplicable.

Posted by: AFPD2 | May 14, 2016 2:14:24 PM

He "pleaded guilty to second-degree murder" is it "inexplicable" that someone is out of prison after thirteen years for a second degree murder conviction even if the person wasn't 17 when he committed the act? My fairly uneducated understanding is "no," but perhaps Prof. Berman etc. knows the "going rate" (to use a term I first saw years ago in a book on criminal justice; no disrespect intended).

http://www.reformer.com/localnews/ci_25696522/rsquo-what-i-did-was-horrible-rsquo-man

It is not surprising really if one has "zero sympathy" for him but don't think it unjust he was released in that span of time. Prof. Berman is probably particularly interested in the voting in prison angle (he thinks that is a good policy) but the link notes he took place in a "restorative justice" program. This interests me too since I recently read a book entitled "Forgiving My Daughter's Killer" where that principle was discussed.

Posted by: Joe | May 14, 2016 3:25:37 PM

He "pleaded guilty to second-degree murder" ... is it "inexplicable" that someone is out of prison after thirteen years for a second degree murder conviction even if the person wasn't 17 when he committed the act? My fairly uneducated understanding is "no," but perhaps Prof. Berman etc. knows the "going rate" (to use a term I first saw years ago in a book on criminal justice; no disrespect intended).

http://www.reformer.com/localnews/ci_25696522/rsquo-what-i-did-was-horrible-rsquo-man

It is not surprising really if one has "zero sympathy" for him but don't think it unjust he was released in that span of time. Prof. Berman is probably particularly interested in the voting in prison angle (he thinks that is a good policy) but the link notes he took part in a "restorative justice" program. This interests me too since recently read a book entitled "Forgiving My Daughter's Killer" where that principle was discussed.

Posted by: Joe | May 14, 2016 3:43:52 PM

America needs a penal colony where folks like this can work during the day and stay in an army barracks like place at night. It needs to be an island far off shore. The colony could have some recreational activity and the mates would work for pay and pay for goods. If they screw up then back to a prison somewhere else. America is a better place because Georgia was once a penal colony. We need an island penal colony.

Posted by: Liberty1st | May 15, 2016 2:24:56 PM

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