A day of Love at the General Assembly

On Valentines Day, REAL LIFE led “A Day of Love for Recovery and Re-entry” at the Virginia General Assembly. REAL LIFE staff and clients visited the Virginia General for the second year (first was in 2017). We were joined by our friends at the McShin Foundation, OAR of Richmond, and True Recovery.  With about 75 people in attendance, it served as a wonderful opportunity for our clients to show the positive effects that rehabilitation and recovery can have on a formerly incarcerated individual, someone battling a substance use disorder, or that is homeless. Delegate Betsy Carr hosted and introduced the group on the House floor, and Senator Siobhan Dunnavant introduced us on the Senate floor.  

We were excited to have the opportunity to speak privately with Senators Creigh Deeds, Siobhan Dunnvant, and Ryan McDougle and Creigh Deeds, and Delegates Betsy Carr and Christopher Kilian Peace.  Attendees advocated for support of legislation that is aimed toward supporting rehabilitation and recovery, as a means to help and not hinder those in adverse situations. Sadly, there are several laws that continually hinder individuals who are trying to integrate into the community and build a new life, but are constantly handicapped due to policies within the Commonwealth.This includes areas related suspension of driver’s license due to non-payment of court fines, ineligibility for food stamps due to previous drug distribution charges, and other like laws. In the coming months, and prior to the 2020 General Assembly session, REAL LIFE will share more about this and what we need to do beforehand so that next session we can see a different result and not party line voting against such measures.

Additionally, we were able to meet Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Mayor Levar M. Stoney and share with them.

Our clients absolutely loved the opportunity this day provided – many have lived in Richmond their whole life and never set foot into the Capitol Building. They made comments about how they never thought “I could do something like this” and that they never realized their voice really mattered. Many never had encouragement until this opportunity to even register to vote – now they are all eager to do so.

clients were asked about their experience they all expressed feeling honored to have been a part of it and glad to have learned many new things about the Virginia General Assembly.

REAL House member Rodney shared, “I enjoyed talking with all the members. I have never experienced anything like this before; it was exciting and fun. I loved this entire event, especially when Dr. Scarbrough explained to us how lawmakers pass bills.” Derrick when on to share, “It was a great experience for me because I have never been to anything like that before. To sit in on some of the decision making was wonderful because I got to witness how the laws are made and how they make decisions. Now that I have an understanding of it, I may try to make my presence know when possible. If we don’t share our thoughts, we will never be heard and the lawmakers would not know anything about our struggle.”

William further commented, “I really had a beautiful time, I felt very important when I was asked to stand up. This was my first time being a part of listening to laws being voted on for a good cause.”  Ira shared, “It was a ‘wow’ moment for me because I never thought I would lobby for anything. It made me feel like a part of something larger than myself. I will do it again if I ever get the chance, and I will do it with a smile.” Ricky chimed in with, “I felt a bit awkward at first, but I gained some hope from the experience that if I do what I need to do I can be treated like a normal citizen again rather than a criminal. I really appreciate my eyes being open to a new experience.”

We very much appreciate those who attended, as well as those who took time to hear from us! They were able to see the human struggles and the human narrative behind something that is most often just looked at as negative statistics and terrible news stories.

Mark your calendar for Valentines Day next year, as we head back!