WILMINGTON, Calif. — After spending 10 years in prison for a crime he said he did not commit, Efrain Ortiz no longer takes spending time with his family or friends for granted.
Released last year, Ortiz is now trying to turn his life around by going back to school to get a degree, having a job, and even being an advocate for criminal justice reform.
“Through my incarceration I spent five years fighting the justice system trying to prove my innocence, which I couldn’t do,” Ortiz said. “In that process I realized that I still had some character flaws and some character defects in which I needed to change. I utilized my time inside to do just that.”
A member of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition – a criminal justice reform nonprofit based in Los Angeles – he volunteers his time to share his story about life in prison and on parole. Ortiz is currently on parole for a minimum of two years and a maximum of three years.
A new initiative he is advocating for is a ballot proposal that would help restore the right to vote to him and roughly 50,000 other parolees across the state.
According to the Secretary of State’s website, people who are in county jail serving a misdemeanor sentence or serving a felony jail sentence can vote. But people who are in state or federal prison, in a county jail for a parole violation, or currently on parole with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation cannot vote, and only once a parolee is done with parole can they register to vote.
Ortiz said it troubles him that he can enjoy all the advantages of being free, and be an essential worker during a global pandemic, but because he is on parole, he doesn’t have the ability to vote, adding that it is a constant reminder of his past.
“How does California deem me essential enough to be an essential worker for my labor yet, come November, California is not going to allow me to vote?,” Ortiz said. “That is something that just doesn’t sit well with me.”
Proposition 17 will be on the November ballot for California voters to decide on whether parolees should have voting rights restored to them.