How My First Felony Leads Me To My First Time Voting (By Steeda McGruder)

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Steeda McGruder shares her testimony at a Yes on Prop 47 event with labor and youth advocates.

My first charge as an adolescent was a petty theft. When I think back 19 years ago my reasons for my actions seem so juvenile — peer pressure, lack of adult influence in my life and simply boredom growing up in a small town population 26,000 and a huge drug scene. A petty theft was simply entertainment to young people back in those days. When I turned 18, I was super excited to have shook the juvenile system. I had many great plans and ideas of what my life would be like now that I was free from the juvenile system. I guess you could say I had hope for my future, but to my surprise shortly after I turned 18 I was incarcerated for another petty theft.

My behaviors had never been addressed, just pushed aside. I had time to serve, but never the support or tools needed to be truly corrected. I’m sure you can imagine at the age of 18, my ideas about life are completely different than at the age of 12, especially being a single mom at the age of 18. Life showed up, and when it did, I behaved in a way that screamed “just survive.”

What went from being entertainment quickly turned into survival. I was arrested in Berkeley, California for stealing baby clothes for my daughter. I spent several years in the criminal justice system, simply surviving up until about three years. I am now 31 years old. In the past three years, I have managed to turn 19 years of being in the criminal justice system into three years of “you never would’ve guessed that I’d ever been incarcerated.” That change could have happened much earlier if I was seen for my potential, rather than just a felon to lock up.

Today, I run my own organization called Sisters That’s Been There, which is a support group for women who were recently released from incarceration. I work for the County of Santa Clara. I work three jobs all together. I raise two kids, I’m a single mom, and I still have a felony from 19 years ago on my record. When I heard about Proposition 47, I got excited about the possibilities and the opportunities of putting some of my old ways completely to rest. Although I found a new way of life, that charge is a constant reminder of my life in the old days.

Today, I work not one, not two, but three jobs. One of my jobs is in retail, and I see people on a daily basis being took into the back of the store for petty theft. My heart breaks for them only because I know that today’s system is much harder than it was 19 years ago. Today you can be took into prison for a petty theft. After my first incarceration as an adult for a petty theft, I never stole again, lesson learned. Some people will never get that experience. They will go straight to prison and get caught in a cycle of incarceration.

When I heard about Proposition 47, I got excited not just for myself but for my peers. If California votes in Proposition 47, we will have helped redirect the direction of many individuals lives. Proposition 47 will help many of my peers get the chance I never got. And if Proposition 47 passes, I will get the opportunity to have my old charge removed from my record, and then my record will represent my reputation today, not just behavior from a long ago past.

I’m voting yes on Proposition 47 because today I choose to be a part of the solution, not the problem. I often sit here and think about what my life would have been like if Proposition 47 was already in place. My charge could have most definitely been expunged a long time ago, and I’m sure I would have got many jobs that I didn’t get the opportunity to have because that felony was sitting on my record for so many years. Position 47 reminds me that people change and when they do they deserve the opportunity to have their records represent that change. Please help me break the cycle and vote yes on proposition 47!

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