Commissioner tries to motivate other ex-felons

Commissioner uses his own difficulties to motivate others

  • Follow Crime & courts

A person convicted of a felony receives two punishments: a prison sentence and a prison record. The latter holds consequences for a lifetime.

Back | Next
District 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken says a pardon can restore a person's reputation in the community and sway prospective employers.   John Curry/Staff
John Curry/Staff
District 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken says a pardon can restore a person's reputation in the community and sway prospective employers.


In 2009, Matt Aitken was elected county commissioner for District 1. It had been two decades since he'd served a prison sentence for selling and using drugs. In the ensuing years Aitken had developed a prison ministry and maintained a strong employment record, but his credibility in the community he once wronged was still called into question.

"Some of the ministers said I shouldn't be qualified to run for office in this city, ... that a convicted felon shouldn't have this opportunity. That was hard," Aitken said.

Redemption is something ex-felons must always work for, even many years after committing an offense.

In October, Aitken held a meeting for ex-felons in his district and shared the steps he took to restore his own reputation.

"District 1 is a very high prison-producing population," Aitken said. "When I ran for office and went around knocking on doors, a lot people said they were having trouble getting jobs. Many have issues with their records."

Felonies, such as murder, theft and rape, are serious crimes. But some nonviolent crimes, such as drug possession (less than an ounce of marijuana is an exception), are also felonies.

In Georgia, felons lose the right to sit on a jury or run for elected office, unless those rights are specifically restored. The right to vote is denied while in prison or on probation but is reinstated afterward. Felons may not receive food stamps, welfare or school loans.

Most importantly, felons are often denied jobs. They can also lose or be denied professional licenses. That can affect whole neighborhoods in low-income, high-crime areas.

Tony Lowery is the director of policy and advocacy for Safer Foundation, an Illinois nonprofit that gives employment assistance to people with criminal records. He said giving ex-felons a chance to redeem themselves is not being "soft on crime." It increases public safety.

"Some people say being denied a job is just part of the punishment. But you can have someone who's completed his sentence, never committed another crime and is doing everything he's supposed to do. Is this person never supposed to work again?" Lowery asked. "Ninety percent of people in prison are coming home."

The Rev. Larry Fryer has spent a year helping ex-felons restore their standing in the community and improve their chances for employment.

In recent months he held a series of meetings -- and also coordinated with Aitken -- to teach ex-felons steps to get their lives back on track. Fryer took criticism for doing so. But the meetings were also well attended.

Fryer can identify with the critics. His family has been victimized by crime, and it's been hard to forgive. But sometimes drug crimes are driven by circumstance, he said.

"I learned in the Bible there is such a thing as a greater and a lesser sin. Being a murderer is a greater sin than selling drugs," Fryer said. "I think it would cut down on crime if we could get some of these people back to work."

An ex-felon must wait two years from the end of a sentence to apply for a restoration of rights, according the State Board of Pardons and Paroles Web site. Ten years must elapse without a conviction before he or she may hold office.

An ex-felon may apply for a pardon five years after serving a sentence, which implies that the state has forgiven the crime.

But neither a restoration of rights nor a pardon expunges a criminal record. Ex-felons must still admit to the conviction when they apply for jobs.

Even so, the steps help restore one's reputation in the community, Aitken said. An employer thinks differently toward someone who's been granted forgiveness by a state that had once condemned him.

"It's like broken relationships. We have to keep proving ourselves to society, that we're worthy of restoration," he said.

"People look down on (ex-felons), but we've all been affected by those things. ... We all want some type of hope when we're in hopeless situations. People want to see people who have been redeemed because you know there's been many people impacted by crime."

Comments (34) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/23/10 - 05:56 am
0
0
Felons can get jobs with the

Felons can get jobs with the county can't they?

johnston.cliff
2
Points
johnston.cliff 11/23/10 - 06:48 am
0
0
Being a felon as a child

Being a felon as a child isn't the same as being a felon as an adult. A child can go through major changes as he matures and may have none of the criminal tendencies as an adult. An adult felon can look at, and reevaluate, his life and go through major attitudinal changes, usually having to do with self confidence and maturity.
Because of the "all's fair" attacks of politics, it's very unusual to see a convicted felon in politics. There are a lot of businessmen who were convicted of felonies as a youngster.

1 Corinthians 13:11

dougk
3
Points
dougk 11/23/10 - 07:34 am
0
0
Redemption should be an
Unpublished

Redemption should be an opportunity not only to those who committed transgressions as a child, according to my Bibile.

justus4
111
Points
justus4 11/23/10 - 07:55 am
0
0
Please don't take one story
Unpublished

Please don't take one story and attempt to spin it about crime and punishment in the US, because it do not accurately reflect whats going on - but then again, who cares about whats really going on anyway. But how did this guy get his rights "restored?" First: If his sentence was, lets say fifty yrs then he would NOT be where he is - then, the process of getting rights "restored" is as corrupted as the system of getting them taken, so it only works in cases involving non-minorities. Want proof: Get this guy to find out the number of convicts of color who get rights "restored" versus people who look like him. Betcha the numbers will speak to a pattern and guess who will be harmed more by that pattern? Nothing new here, just a bit of spin that sends the wrong message to the uninformed.

ZenoElia
1
Points
ZenoElia 11/23/10 - 08:02 am
0
0
greater or lesser sin?..must

greater or lesser sin?..must be catholicism cuz I never heard anything but SIN IS SIN...PERIOD...sin separates us from God and justice determines laws have greater penalties when broken but as far as I know a Holy God can't be in the presence of sin no matter which kind or which sin cuz any violation of God's laws is sin be it by ommission or commission....so I ain't buying the one sin is worse then another...sin is sin....just like taking a penny is stealing as same as robbing a bank of millions....dishonesty is dishonesty...so sin is sin...I can forgive the offender, but the offense has consequences. Most lawbreakers don't consider the long range consequences before they act wrongfully...just as God forgives sin, He also in His justice paid the price for our wrongs...most of your local felons have yet to learn how to endure the consequences of their wrongs. I don't believe all felons deserve a second chance..some should stay imprisoned permanently.

Little Lamb
48010
Points
Little Lamb 11/23/10 - 10:54 am
0
0
Justus4 wrote: . . . the

Justus4 wrote:

. . . the process of getting rights "restored" . . . only works in cases involving non-minorities. . . .

Former Mayor Ed McIntyre got his rights restored so that he could run again for mayor after being convicted of a felony.

airbud7
1
Points
airbud7 11/23/10 - 11:13 am
0
0
justus4/ Did it ever cross

justus4/ Did it ever cross your mind that some people just don't care about living right? Maybe its got something to do with the way they were raised? (well Dad did this,or mom did that, so it must be OK) Ever notice when kids are raised with both parents who have good morals usually turn out to be good citizens.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 11/27/10 - 11:19 am
0
0
*

*

MakeADifference
0
Points
MakeADifference 11/23/10 - 01:28 pm
0
0
Since you know so much about

Since you know so much about what Matt Aitken is, isn't doing, and should be doing, why don't you 1) write to him about it if he's your commissioner OR 2) Go through all the personal and professional hurdles he's been through that got him elected, then face a major learning curve that he has to face IN ORDER for him to be ABLE to do his job to the best of his ability. If you can walk a mile in Matt Aitken's shoes, then do a better job, then I suggest YOU run for commissioner...and beat him. I doubt you can.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 11/27/10 - 11:20 am
0
0
*

*

MakeADifference
0
Points
MakeADifference 11/23/10 - 01:43 pm
0
0
Why don't you let me know

Why don't you let me know what you've done and how involved you, personally, have been involved in solving all of these community issues? Also, please let me know how much you've communicated your concerns to Matt, your commissioner? And also, before you go casting stones about who his "group" was who got him elected, you may want to 1) get a little better informed about the demographics of this "group" and 2) consider the fact that the "elite" don't even comprise the majority of the district's demographics who elected him...by popular vote. I know for a fact that he has been trying to figure out ways to help the crime problem in District 1, but if you have an overnight solution, please enact it! If you can do a better job, the community is waiting.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 11/27/10 - 11:21 am
0
0
*

*

MakeADifference
0
Points
MakeADifference 11/23/10 - 03:09 pm
0
0
It is everyone's personal

It is everyone's personal responsibility to change things that they do not like as much he/she can. What I find absolutely infuriating is the people who do NOT take personal responsibility for their own communities and the betterment of them. It is NOT solely Matt's responsibility to do all of the work. It IS his responsibility to act as a leader. So I ask again, what have YOU done about crime in the community? You said many people have contacted Matt, but have you? Have you tried to come up with a plan and tried to implement it?

PS When he voted to cut funding for police, I did not agree with that move, and I am waiting to see what the compensatory funding for that will be, as I have heard that there is a plan for that. Did you know that? Deputizing the DDA staff to issue the parking violations cuts down on police efforts in doing so, which means that the police can then allocate their attention to more important things, like CRIME, by the way. Did you think about that?

Before assigning all the responsibility to the government and elected leaders for how things are going, how about helping the elected leaders out by being supportive and being a responsible, active CITIZEN.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 11/27/10 - 11:22 am
0
0
*

*

MakeADifference
0
Points
MakeADifference 11/23/10 - 03:57 pm
0
0
Ahh...I love to see social

Ahh...I love to see social loafing and diffusion of responsibility in action...it makes me feel really GOOD about the future of Augusta. No personal responsibility for the future course of one's own life or community...and people wonder why things haven't changed in Augusta? I'm just BAFFLED.

I mean, CLEARLY, Matt's just a power-hungry person who wanted to be elected into office, not for the purpose of helping anyone or doing any good...not to bridge relationships or create unity within the commission. I suppose the group of only elites and the machine probably paid him to allow the DDA to police downtown ticketing...the site of their own businesses. Interesting. Furthermore, most elected officials I know try to extend a hand to ex-convicts through believing that people can change if they want to...terrible person Matt is!

Contradicting arguments about Matt's integrity as an elected leader, I'd say...tsk tsk. You're boring me with your flawed arguments. I have a community to make a difference in.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 11/27/10 - 11:23 am
0
0
*

*

Little Lamb
48010
Points
Little Lamb 11/23/10 - 04:29 pm
0
0
Emerydan wrote: . . . BUT in

Emerydan wrote:

. . . BUT in regard to his priorities as a COMMISSIONER, I do have a problem with his record.

Aitken may not be perfect, Dan. But if you remember back the intellect, integrity and record of Aitken's opponent in the last election, the people of the first district should be kissing Aitken's feet for winning that election.

Lori Davis
968
Points
Lori Davis 11/23/10 - 06:09 pm
0
0
I have nothing against Matt

I have nothing against Matt Aitken, however, I ran for Mayor and talked incessantly about crime upon which I was ignored. Not one Commissioner came out to defend me. I live in District 1 and had zero support.We have a real problem here and it needs to be addressed. It seems that we and all Commissioners dance around the issue in various other ways that are easy to stomach. It is time for strong leadership in this area. This was not an election year for Mr Aitken, so I expect him to step up and help our District.

Discussionstarter
495
Points
Discussionstarter 11/23/10 - 11:17 pm
0
0
Read what Emerydan and Lori

Read what Emerydan and Lori Davis are saying; it is the truth. Harrisburg's situation is getting worse... not better. Matt needs to refocus quickly. Matt and Deke needs to focus on the blight that is taking over; stop looking at 'The Hill' and who you can please up there. We deserve more attention to the real issues!

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 11/27/10 - 11:24 am
0
0
*

*

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 11/27/10 - 11:24 am
0
0
*

*

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 11/27/10 - 11:25 am
0
0
*

*

Lori Davis
968
Points
Lori Davis 11/24/10 - 10:49 am
0
0
Emery, He had nothing to

Emery, He had nothing to lose by coming out in support of me and my platform, but he chose not to. Anyone who spoke of crime was not elected. Matt did not have that fear to deal with.

Lori Davis
968
Points
Lori Davis 11/24/10 - 12:13 pm
0
0
I hate to say that you are

I hate to say that you are right Emery but you are. I have also heard that Matt is extremely frustrated. Welcome to my world!! What an incredible group of leaders this city has. I am looking to Joe Bowles for leaqdership. Even though he did not support me for Mayor, he is not afraid to do the right thing. He has asked Commissioners to support the efforts to change state code to allow a CNPO. I am going to hold him to this one. I just hope that no one gets to him.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 11/27/10 - 11:27 am
0
0
*

*

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 11/27/10 - 11:28 am
0
0
*

*

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 11/27/10 - 11:28 am
0
0
*

*

ameliaf
0
Points
ameliaf 11/24/10 - 12:45 pm
0
0
this is a good article that

this is a good article that raises an important issue. How do we re-integrate those who have been in prison so they can live a good life after serving their time?

We are not helping ourselves when we keep shunning the former prisoner. What other recourse does someone have who can't get a job, can't afford housing, can't afford a car - than to return to crime as a source of income?

In working with former prisoners, Aitkin is doing something Jesus would approve of. Why so much negativity?

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 11/27/10 - 11:29 am
0
0
*

*

Lori Davis
968
Points
Lori Davis 11/24/10 - 02:55 pm
0
0
I believe that his

I believe that his frustration comes from not being able to get things done that we all have been trying to do prior to his being elected. I believe he thought that once he was elected, he would be able to close known drug houses by virtue of the fact that he is now a Commissioner. He is beginning to see just how difficult this is when so many are making money from this industry. He has fallen in to doing what he can., which are things that are wonderful, but powerless. If we would clean up crime, those who are struggling would not have to look back to this as a way of life. Right now, this is readily available to them.

Back to Top

Top headlines

Lincoln County deputies injured breaking up fight

Two Lincoln County deputies were treated at an Augusta Hospital after being injured breaking up a fight at a party at an American Legion building in Lincolnton.
Search Augusta jobs