Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 91 this year. As a formerly incarcerated leader, I can’t stay silent. I help people understand my experience, especially as public support for justice reform grows.
Formerly incarcerated people are consistently denied access to all MLK fought for, including employment, stable housing and other basic rights. Part of this is because Louisianans are almost never informed of barriers they will face with a conviction until after they have one. That was true for me, falsely accused and sentenced to 34 years in prison at 16. I didn’t fully understand the discrimination I would experience until I got out at age 34.
Because I was transferred between multiple facilities during my incarceration, I left with no accredited credentials. Luckily, I am one of the few who has been consistently employed since getting out. Despite this, I am still denied housing repeatedly, even after I pay hundreds of dollars towards application fees and background checks. Worse, private and public landlords leave me to deduce — instead of telling me directly — that, in their eyes, the stamp of felon makes me too dangerous to rent to.
I am not alone. Louisiana incarcerates more people than any other state in the country — especially when we also consider the outrageous number of people detained by ICE — and the U.S. incarcerates more people than anywhere else in the world. As a result, one in three Americans have a record.
FIP, formerly incarcerated persons, are 10 times more likely to be homeless than non-FIP, even though stable housing has been proven as crucial to successful re-entry. Discrimination from property owners, combined with a lack of affordable rentals, pushes FIP out of the housing market. Thus, the discrimination I and so many others face is a national crisis.
By ignoring the barriers associated with life post-incarceration, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. We need FIP to be among the list of protected classes that MLK fought for. We’ve done our time. We deserve basic rights like anyone else. Only when FIP are safeguarded against discrimination will we break the toxic cycle of recidivism. Only then we will be able to focus on what really matters: healing, transformation, and leadership.
I urge you to get involved in my campaign to ban the box on all housing applications in New Orleans. Currently, the city bans homeowners from discriminating based on sexual orientation, religion and disability, but not conviction history. Will you help me change that?
organizer, Housing Justice