Editor’s Note: Vikki Hankins spent 18 years in federal prison for a non-violent crime. Today she is self-employed as a book publisher and has become an advocate for helping ex-felons find success and become productive members of society after they get out of prison. In her own words, Vikki tells us why it’s so critically important to give non-violent offenders an opportunity to have their civil rights restored soon after they get released.
It’s quite disheartening to spend almost two decades in federal prison for a non-violent offense, only to be released to a state government that says, ‘No matter your accomplishments or good works, we are waiting to see if you will commit another crime…’This was the translation I received from Attorney General Pam Bondi, a member of Gov. Rick Scott’s cabinet, when she justified her reasons for supporting the ‘5 year wait’ for non-violent offenders applying for restoration of their civil rights. Attorney General Bondi wants to be sure ex-felons have truly rehabilitated and, according to her, a five-year wait, will show proof that they’ve changed.
As many should know, rehabilitation is something that one has to want for themselves. But this does not negate the fact that when a judge hands down a sentence to someone who has committed a crime, there are three primary purposes for the sentence: punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation. I didn’t know there would be yet another level of sentencing/punishment from the governor’s office upon my release. Wasn’t it enough to serve almost two decades in prison for a law that Congress deemed racially biased? I don’t get it.
I’m the first to admit that I broke the law and deserved to be punished. But it’s a hard pill to swallow to realize a harsher sentence was given to me because of my skin color, and to make it worse, there’s a group of people who have made yet another decision that says to me, “Vikki we are determined to hold you back and continue punishing you by ensuring you do not vote, do not obtain gainful employment, etc.”
Unfortunately, I was released from prison during a very weak economy that left many law-abiding citizens jobless and homeless. While searching for a job, employers tend to select those who do not have a criminal history versus one who has. It’s understandable why most employers make these decisions; I would go so far as to say there are a great deal of employers who feel it’s the right thing to do (hire the law abiding citizen rather than the ex-felon). Either way, this situation left me unemployed and eventually led to living in a small storage rental unit for six months during the times Advocate 4 Justice could not afford a hotel room for me. Advocate 4 Justice is an organization that seeks reinstatement of federal parole for non-violent offenders. I am now vice-president of this organization.
It’s quite interesting that on one hand, Governor Scott’s cabinet speaks of rehabilitation and a crime-free life … but on the other hand, they take actions that promote a life of crime. When one can’t gain employment or transition into some form of normalcy after incarceration, what are they supposed to do for shelter and food? These are essentials for the animals of the earth — how much more so for human beings?
There came a point when someone finally gave me a chance as an employee, a general manager at Darden Restaurant, i.e. Red Lobster after my then-probation officer spoke on my behalf. Though I received excellent evaluations, a number of promotions, and exceptional guest comments Darden’s Restaurant felt it best to terminate me because of complications surrounding the employment of an ‘ex-felon.’
So you see, the punishment is never-ending, and Governor Scott, Attorney General Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam – who sit as Florida’s Executive Clemency Board — are continuing to ensure additional roadblocks for ex-felons. But you know what — I’m going to make it. My mother committed suicide two months before my 19th birthday, and within two years of that tragedy, I was standing in front of a federal judge receiving a 23 year federal prison sentence, blind and still traumatized from my mother’s death.
Eighteen years after my mother’s suicide, I came to understand why I went from a strong Christian background to becoming involved with illegal drugs, through writing about my life in my book, “Trauma.”
Today, I am not only active with Advocate 4 Justice, I volunteer for the YMCA Teen Achievers Program and the Crossing Bridges Program for young people; I’m days away from graduating with honors (Magna Cum Laude), I’m a legal assistant and motivational speaker. My three main objectives are to help people suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (through my book), and to help students stay focused on education and aid in the reinstatement of parole for non-violent offenders.
Though I have applied to have my civil rights restored, none of this matters to the governor’s office because after understanding the governor’s position, I feel the mindset is to wait and see if I am going to commit another crime within the next five years before I can go to the next phase of freedom. I’m aware of the fact that the governor’s office does not know me personally, but the decision they’ve made affects me and many others like myself who are doing exceptional work and not giving a second thought to committing more crimes.
Contact Vikki Hankins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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