Richard says he is done being a criminal—but the law isn't done with him. Ever since he completed his four-year prison sentence for armed robbery, the 28-year-old from Montgomery, Alabama, has been struggling to get back on his feet. He admits to making mistakes—"I dropped out of school, fell into the street life … did things I shouldn't do"—but now that he has served his time, he's asking for a second chance.
He says he can't understand why Alabama has a lifetime ban on people with felony convictions getting food stamps or public assistance, or why people like him don't have rights when it comes to housing or getting hired. Although his skills as an electrician are in high demand, he has so far been unable to find a job or a home on account of his record. But the biggest insult of all, he says, is his lack of civil rights in the land of Martin Luther King. Together with around four million other former felons nationwide—most of them impoverished—Richard is legally barred from going to the polls. "Some people don't believe in second chances," he says. "No way my voice can be heard."
Andy and Maria were criminals of a different kind: They picked the wrong country of birth and decided to pick again when they grew up. Having spent the better part of their combined 177 years waiting to attain the holy grail of U.S. citizenship, the elderly couple from Mexico take pride in their legal status after a lifetime of unlawful labor in the fields and factories of Texas and California. Pooling their $700 a month in Social Security is enough to pay the mortgage on the 400-square-foot trailer they call home in one of the unincorporated colonias outside El Paso, Texas—but only just. In spite of their hard-won citizenship, Andy says that voting and getting heard is a stretch. "The politicians only come here when they're looking for votes—don't care about the little people," he says. Last election, for example, they waited outside in line for over three hours before casting a ballot because the state neglected to properly staff their polling place. "I guess they didn't think any of us would vote," Maria says. Still, she maintains that waiting in line is a small price to pay when a third to half of their neighbors—and 22 million non-citizens nationwide—are prevented from going to the polls.