Last weekend I had the privilege of working with Lewis Conway Jr. on several photos for his campaign for a position on the Austin City Council.
Lewis isn't your typical candidate by any measure of the imagination. When Lewis was 21 he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. For his crime he spent eight years in prison and another 12 years on parole. Lewis, now 48, works for Grassroots Leadership, an organization focused on ending mass incarceration, deportation, and criminalization. Previously he worked with the City Council in 2016 to pass the Fair Chance Hiring ordinance which prohibits an employer from using criminal background as a condition for making a job offer.
As Ava DuVernay outlines in 13th (which is amazing and can be found on Netflix) our prisons act as contemporary slave plantations condemning people, even once they've served their time*, to an extremely difficult life after prison. This life after prison often results in a loss of public housing, the loss of voting rights, the loss of someone's rights to serve as an elected official, and very high odds of recidivism. These are just the tangible impacts and it says nothing about all the intangible and unseen threats affecting a person who has served time in prison.
Lewis and Grassroots Leadership are fighting against these stigmas and these "tough on crime" initiatives to try and ensure that the next generation of people serving time in prison, or those at risk of serving time, have a better shake than what Lewis experienced.
The hitch to Lewis' candidacy is that he may not be qualified to run due to his conviction. A ruling has not yet been made and while he waits for his lawyers and the city to determine his eligibility, he's out doing meet-and-greets, talking on panels and ensuring that the community knows his story.
In November's elections Lewis aims to bring his unique perspective to the Austin City Council, challenging whether or not someone convicted of a crime has the ability to serve as an elected official and challenging what kind of world we share with those that have been convicted of a crime; people who have paid their debt and now want to run for office to leave a better world for those after them. I couldn't be more excited to see what Lewis is able to accomplish over the coming months and I'm absolutely rooting for him!
Lots of articles are better-written than this blog post and you should absolutely read them for a more-thorough understanding of how Lewis' background affects his ability to run for office and how our local, state, and national laws are setup to discourage those who have been historically underserved from running for change:
*that's not even to say whether they're guilty or not or whether they've received a fair trial due to not being able to afford a lawyer or parole