Ella Baker Center: Drugs can be Hell. Being Labelled a ‘Felon’ is a Killer.

Here is a piece posted on “Ella’s Voice” from our friends at the Ella Baker Center. They are co-sponsoring a bill SB 1506 (Leno) that would treat drug possession for personal use as a misdemeanor rather then a felony. The bill would save the state tremendous amounts of needed resources, and take a step towards a more rationale response to drug use. As we know from the hundreds of families we have seen torn apart from overly punitive sentencing from drug charges, this bill could literally change the fate of families across the state. Check out the testimonial below.

By “Emily J” — It took me years to understand, but my history of drug addiction was a way to avoid dealing with issues I had. While I was in prison for a drug-related crime, my mother died. Then, my son was killed. I was devastated. No mother should ever have to go through what I went through. At that point, I decided I would do whatever it takes to overcome my addiction. I made a clean start. I moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone and focused on staying sober and finding work.

When I applied to for a job as a medical transport driver, I faced a question asking if I had a felony on my record. I have a felony drug possession conviction, so I checked “yes.” I was always honest with my manager and the company about my past.

For four and a half years, I worked as a driver transporting dialysis patients, sometimes starting at 5:45AM. I tried my best to be a model employee. I never missed work, never got disciplined, and even received employee of the month. Patients and nurses all knew me by name and complimented me on how hard I worked. When my company lost a big contract and other workers left for another company, I stayed out of loyalty.

One day, everything changed. I showed up to work and the general manager said I failed my background check. I told him that a lawyer was helping me clear the drug possession felony from my record. The general manager told me if that charge was cleared, I could re-apply and try to get my job back. But for the time being, I was out of a job because of the mistakes and pain of my past. 

I was overwhelmed with hurt. My job wasn’t just something I did for ten hours a day– it was my whole life.  I never really made friends after I moved from Monterey to the San Francisco Bay Area. I focused on work. It was a promise I made to myself – proof that I could make it. And I lost it. Not because of anything I did on the job, but because of a disease I had years ago and the label of “felon” put on me by the court.

People should not be locked up for simple drug possession – it does nothing to address the disease of addiction. Crowded jails are a huge waste of taxpayers money that we should be spending in our communities on schools, programs for kids, parks, and yes, drug treatment. And we should not have to wear a “felony” label for the rest of our lives – a label that makes it hard to find work, to succeed, and to stay off drugs.

Drugs can be hell, but that label is a killer.

That’s why I support S.B. 1506 by Senator Mark Leno. This bill would make simple drug possession a misdemeanor rather than a felony. It would be a big step forward for our state. It would bring some sanity back to our criminal justice system, save $1 billion in just five years, and give people like me a chance to restart our lives.

But it can’t happen without your help. The bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee. Now it faces a vote of the full senate. Will you send a message to your representatives urging them to support our campaign?

Emily J. is a member of Families for Books Not Bars whose name has been changed to protect her privacy.

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