Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

— President Barack Obama

In 2012, at 41 years old, I was granted full restoration of my voting rights and was able to vote for the first time in a presidential election.

At that moment it truly sank in that I was free to participate as a full citizen of this country in the political process. Even though I had been out of prison for 12 years and was working, paying taxes, married and raising my two children, obtained a bachelor’s degree in social work and bought a home, I still struggled with collateral consequences of past choices even though my life reflected a redemptive and resilient path from tragedy to triumph. After all, I went from being a 17-year-old college student, to dating a drug dealer, to surviving an abusive relationship, to being incarcerated and giving birth to my son while in custody. At 23, I was sentenced to 24.5 years as a first-time non-violent drug offender, even though the prosecutor stated that I never handled, used or sold the drugs that were involved with my case. I became a poster child for drug policy gone wrong.

Ultimately, we the people will be the solution to the changes we wish to see.

My case was one of many in the 90s that sparked a movement before social media existed to create policy that would undo the harms from the federal War on Drugs, which was disproportionally impacting people of color, and in particular black women. After I exhausted every court remedy, in December 2000, with the help of my parents, national organizations, the media and ordinary people who wanted to act, I was granted executive clemency from President Bill Clinton after serving 6.5 years in federal prison.

Since my release more than 18 years ago, I've been blessed to be a spokesperson for so many causes around criminal justice reform, domestic violence, and empowering women, youth and formerly incarcerated communities around the nation and internationally. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with various organizations, such as the ACLU, on federal criminal justice issues revolved around drug policy and sentencing reform, women and incarceration, prosecutorial misconduct, felony disenfranchisement, domestic violence, and reentry. This has been my passion.

In this next phase of my life, I want to continue being a national spokesperson, but I want to be a change agent to build equity and fairness within the Commonwealth. In my position as state advocacy campaigns director, I would like to use the skills that I have obtained from working on federal legislation to build a multi-year Smart Justice campaign that would aim to reduce the use of incarceration and significantly reduce racial disparities in Virginia’s criminal justice system.

I’ve been empowered by using my personal story to effect change. In this position, I want to work in collaboration with other organizations already in the field to build a campaign centered around the experience and voices of those directly impacted by the criminal justice system at every level. And even though some of us formerly incarcerated people in the Commonwealth still can’t vote, we still can influence laws and build restorative and transformational movements. These are the voices that have been missing in changing policy and transforming the electoral landscape that feeds and influences our current system of mass incarceration.

Ultimately, we the people will be the solution to the changes we wish to see.