Does Florida Really Want Ex-Felons to Vote?


“All my friends I hadn’t seen in a while, this is where they were,” he recalled after being shown his cell block. “I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t know where you’d gone, and, well, this is where you’d been the whole time.’”

He was released that year. But the arrest had led to his mother’s being kicked out of public housing, and the family moved to a part of Gainesville called “the Bottom,” a largely black cul-de-sac where the family could afford rent.

Mr. Irving wasn’t able to find work. So he began to deal drugs in earnest, mainly marijuana, which was easy to find. He eventually moved in with a half sister, Jhody Polk, whom he was close to, and her infant son’s father, who had recently gotten out of jail after robbery charges. When Mr. Irving was about 21, the police found drugs that belonged to Ms. Polk during a search, he said. Mr. Irving said he confessed instead, allowing his sister to keep supporting the family in her work as a licensed bail bondsperson.

“If I go to jail, I don’t lose anything,” he recalled saying to Ms. Polk. “If you go to jail, you lose your job, your family falls apart. We’ve got to do it this way.”

But by the time he was released after yet another arrest six months later, Ms. Polk, who had began selling drugs during an ecstasy boom in Florida and served a previous prison sentence, was back in prison too. Mr. Irving’s brother was also in jail, leaving only Mr. Irving, his mother and two small nephews on the outside.

This wouldn’t be for long, however. In 2008, Mr. Irving received a one-year sentence, this time in state prison, a period of time that he said would leave him changed for the worse.

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