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The Alternative View

By Hieu “Rocky” Nguyen

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“You killed my son! You robbed me of the only thing that I ever wanted in my life! You stripped away my son’s right to graduate from high school! You took away his right to become a father! You have no right to say anything here!” he proclaims in a hurt and angry tone as tears stream down his cheeks. My victim—the father of the person I killed—is trying to gather his breath as he speaks to the court. His words are directed at me. Every one he uttered was painful to hear, and lingers like a sharp knife stuck deep inside my soul.

It echoes in my ears to this day.

On July 20, 2000, I took the life of a human being, and for that I am deeply remorseful. No matter how much I try to make amends for what I did, things will never be right again. I have no right to be among the people of California. I owe a debt to my victim’s family and to my community. There should be no voting rights for incarcerated individuals until their debts are paid, meaning the offender must complete his prison term and be released from prison.

Instead of having the right to vote for himself, an incarcerated man owes that right to the victim.

I not only killed a human being, but, in doing so, I also took away his ability to vote. Voting can have important consequences, and, if the man I killed can no longer vote, that can impact his family. Elections can be decided by a single vote. In 2008, an Indian politician name C.P. Joshi lost by a single vote while pursuing an assembly position in the Northwest Indian state of Rajasthan. Elections affect what laws and bills are passed. They, too, are matters life and death.

Why should I be entrusted to have an impact on his family all over again?

It is not fair if prisoners can vote while victims and the community are still suffering from the tragedy of losing their loved ones or witnessing a crime. After the crime I committed, his parents became ill. They could not work for over two years. They carry hurt and pain with them everyday. Some might argue that certain felons should be allowed to vote, depending on their crimes. This is wrong because it doesn’t take into account the pain, hardship, hurt, grief, stress, fear, and heartbreak that the victims endure everyday.

An offender can pay his debt to society, regain his right to vote, and move on with his life, while the family and community affected by the crime will have to live with the loss for the rest of their lives. I believe that the most just policy is for felons to regain their voting rights after they are released from prison. His voting rights should be restored but only then.

If my right to vote were restored right now, I would feel wrong about exercising it.