Desmond Meade, President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), isn’t afraid to open up about his prior felony convictions, drug addiction and homelessness.
He’s come a long way since his felony charge for illegal possession of a firearm in 2001, and is now the face of the movement that pushed Amendment 4 into succession, granting voting rights for individuals with prior felony convictions.
In 2014, Meade earned his law degree from Florida International University Law School and has gone on to help returning citizens pay off crippling court fees and fines through FRRC.
Meade’s rightfully accepted a number of public acknowledgments including a feature in Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World for 2019, but was most recently granted the Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Public Service Award from Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport on Monday, February 22.
Meade may have moved on from his time on the streets, but he hasn’t forgotten those who are still struggling for stability. The Gabber spoke to Meade about his past and the future of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.
Q: You have several drug charges and a possession of a firearm felony from your time in Miami. That was over 20 years ago, but what factors pushed you into crime?
A: Point blank, I was addicted to drugs and it brought me to be homeless. Six months after my mother passed, I was living on the streets like an animal.
Q: What made you want to change your life?
A: I went into a drug treatment facility, and the entire time I was there I was planning my own funeral. I was at the lowest point of my life, and when I got out, I planned to jump in front of a train. When I was waiting at the tracks I thought about how many people would come to my funeral. It wasn’t a lot. That really showed the significance of my life. The driving force to change was a strong commitment to make the world a better place, and I decided to act on it.
Q: What was your biggest obstacle as a returning citizen? What is the biggest obstacle for returning citizens today?
A: An issue in America is that we justify incarceration and make everything difficult for the person returning into society. What if that was your son or daughter? It’s not about a lock and key, it’s about reintegrating. Should someone be constantly punished for something they did wrong five, 10, 15 years ago? There is this underlying narrative that committing a crime makes you unworthy of being treated like a citizen, and that is the biggest obstacle.
Q: Now that Amendment 4 is passed, how can the public help returning citizens?
A: Many returning citizens are too poor to pay their legal obligations. We are working to raise money to help them pay these off. If folks want to help, I encourage them to visit our website. These funds are going to people that really need it.
Q: You recently spoke at Stetson University. How does it feel to talk to people, law students, colleagues, about your experiences at this point in your life?
A: I went from homeless and addicted to drugs to law school. Whenever I have the opportunity to speak to law students, I take it. Life is more than just obtaining titles and degrees, it’s about the willingness to serve, and I tell students that.
Q: Anything you’d like to tell the public?
A: I’m so proud of this organization. We are just making society better. This helps not only the convicted, it helps the community, the taxpayer – everyone benefits.
Donate or learn more at floridarrc.com.