Editor’s Note: In honor of Nola to Angola opening their registration on July 1, 2018, we are publishing content about prison justice and mass incarceration in Louisiana. For those who want to get involved in Nola to Angola, which is a three-day fundraiser bike ride that benefits the Cornerstone Bus Project (the organization that provides free bus trip for families to visit their incarcerated loved ones), you can register on their website. Registration closes on July 20. First up on in our series is a piece on Dofinette Martin and VOTE.
“People with convictions are human beings and we have hopes and dreams like everyone else we just need the tools afforded to others to achieve them.”
This is Voices of the Experienced (VOTE) Statewide Organizer Dolfinette Martin’s challenge to the stigma surrounding incarceration. Martin, a native of New Orleans, is familiar with the injustices associated with life after incarceration, as she spent nine years in the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women.
Joining VOTE in 2016, Martin’s path to activism arose naturally. She describes herself as an “African American formerly incarcerated woman who has spent many years inside of our injustice system.” She has dedicated her life to helping those who now face the very same injustices she faced for so long.
Martin has spent much of her time striving for the rehabilitation of those who are on parole in New Orleans. She works to give formerly incarcerated persons back rights that are integral to everyday life and yet often so hard for those affected by the justice system to obtain.
Martin aims to “fight for the full restoration of human and civil rights for people with convictions,” and states that, “there are many barriers put in place for people with convictions like access to safe affordable housing, employment, as well as much needed mental health services. All of which are very intricate in the process of getting people reacclimated back into society after prison or a mere conviction.”
VOTE’s mission is to restore the rights that were taken from them after incarceration and to grant incarcerated persons a fair reentry into society. The members of VOTE host a monthly meeting in which they talk about the what they are fighting for and what events they have coming up.
Walking into a VOTE meeting, one is immediately surrounded by what can clearly be thought of as a family. The men and women of VOTE are closely rooted to one another and bonded by their cause. Between the home cooked style opening meal and the influential motivational speeches, one leaves a VOTE meeting enthused by their cause.
In 2017, Martin, along with VOTE, helped to pass legislation which resulted in 1900 people getting released months before their original release date. They have also helped those convicted as juveniles who, “were sentenced to life in prison, who have been in at least 25 years, and [need to be] at least 45 years old get a parole eligibility date.” Both of these pushes for legislation are monumental steps forward for the criminal justice system.
Dolfinette Martin’s story and mission is an inspiration to all who hear of it.