Restoring the vote to ex-felons is a start

April 29, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

Backers of the new law allowing more than 50,000 ex-felons to register to vote in Maryland say they don't expect many of them to exercise the right, and Senate President Mike Miller sounded a pessimistic chord about it the other day. "People that have a history of not voting are not going to just pick it up on their own," he said.

You're right, Big Mike. So, tell you what: How about launching a voter education drive aimed at the ex-felon? Go ahead. Do something grand before you retire. Record some public service announcements. Make it widely known that felons who have paid their debts to society now have the right to vote. Welcome these men and women back to honorable citizenship. What the General Assembly did was important - and long overdue. Thirty-eight other states allow ex-cons to vote, as long as they've completed their sentences, including parole and probation.

Step back from this a minute and you have to ask why this issue was so hotly debated in our allegedly liberal blue state.

We make people who commit crimes to go to prison. We make them serve probation.

After that, we hope they become productive, law-abiding citizens, though no one I know expects that to happen. To paraphrase Mike Miller: People who have a history of not obeying the laws are not going to just pick it up on their own. So we spend billions on prisons that warehouse the vast majority of criminals while doing little to prepare them for life after incarceration. We make it difficult for them to find employment, holding their criminal records against them for years. We do this when clearly such policies contribute mightily to our stubborn and costly recidivism rate.

And until only recently, we denied ex-offenders the right to vote - denied them fully restored citizenship - when it's clear such a thing further alienates them from mainstream society.

Slowly, maybe we're starting to smarten up and figure this out.

It takes bold and magnanimous leadership to create reform in the vast world of the ex-offender.

Let's face it: This is not an area of society that has received much attention or support from the political power class because, in part, felons haven't had the right to vote. To paraphrase Mike Miller: Politicians who have a history of ignoring a chronic social problem are not going to just pick it up on their own.

Maybe now they will.

The shad are back

The shad have landed in the Susquehanna River, and they've started running up Deer Creek in Darlington again. I saw the "founding fish" flash silvery through the riffles and pools the other day, completing their annual migration from the Atlantic. People who remember the good old days of shad fishing around here - my neighbor says her dad allowed her to play hooky once every spring just for that reason - also remember the long period when the shad seemed to have disappeared. We left them alone, and they came home. Now, let's do something about global warming.

A shot at glory

I don't write letters to famous people I admire - not much for fan mail - though I tell myself I should. And, of course, I always seem to arrive at this thought when it's too late. I should have taken the time to write to Charles Kuralt a long time ago, or thanked David Halberstam for that book on the Yankees and the Red Sox right after I read it. And now it's also too late to tell Parry O'Brien what a cool guy I thought he was.

He died the other day at 75, and his death made the Sun sports briefs. Allow me to elaborate.

Parry O'Brien revolutionized the art of shot-putting. He broke 17 world records and won three Olympic medals, including a gold before I was born.

I first saw him heave the 16-pound ball in the 1960s, probably on ABC's Wide World of Sports. It was one of the most exciting few seconds in athletics at the time - Parry O'Brien uncoiling, skipping, twisting, screaming in the process of heaving the shot more than 60 feet.

Those of us who aspired to do this saw him in training films and in books. O'Brien was the one who invented the glide style of shot-putting that was in wide use by the time I hit high school.

Of course, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, another muscleman, Randy Matson, reigned as the next big shot-putter in the world because he had broken the 70-foot barrier. But Matson used the O'Brien Glide to get across the shot put circle, and it's that maneuver - the athlete facing the back of the circle, shot to chin, body coiled, then one leg extending to the front of the circle, the other pushing off, torso spinning - that fascinated me. You had to be strong, of course, but also nimble and quick across the circle.

I worked at this for two years in high school, and everyone, including my tough and sarcastic track-and-field coach, told me I had great style - that I was technically perfect in the O'Brien Glide. And I had a ferocious scream at release. So I looked like Parry O'Brien, and I provided appropriate sound effects. There was only one problem: I could only heave the shot half as far as he could, and then only sometimes.

My junior year, I switched to baseball.

I liked baseball. But the shot put was cooler. Parry O'Brien made it so. Rest in peace.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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