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Former prison inmate joins Florence rally for voter registration

September 26, 2018

FLORENCE, S.C. – Lester Young Jr. doesn’t look old enough to have been 19 years old on Christmas Eve 1991.

Yet, on that day, according to reports from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department, at 19, Young shot and killed another man in a “drug deal gone bad.” He was convicted of murder after a short trial in April 1992 and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years.

Young talked about his eperience on Tuesday at a voter education rally in Florence.

During his stay in prison, he said, he learned that his actions were wrong.

Determined to redeem those people his actions hurt and himself, Young, who was reading on a seventh-grade level when he entered the prison system, earned his GED and an associate’s degree in business management. He also formed several programs to educate other inmates.

Young served 22 years and five months before he was paroled in 2013. After leaving prison, Young founded his own nonprofit organization. Two years ago, he joined forces with Just Leadership USA to get his message to a wider audience.

Tuesday evening, Young was part of the voter registration rally organized by Florence County Democratic Party Chairwoman LaShonda NeSmith-Jackson and her nonprofit organization, Embrace.

Young said it was important for those returning home from prison to know their rights and the power voting provides in a democratic system of government.

“The more people that are more informed about it, they’re less likely to offend,” Young said. “Now, you don’t have to rebel against the system. You’re a part of the system. You have a right to vote. You have the ability to change. You have the ability to share what you’re passionate about. You have that right to either vote a candidate in or vote them out.”

Young currently works on the Working Future campaign of Just Leadership USA.

“I’m personally impacted with incarceration,” Young said. “I believe that that a working future should be something for every man and woman returning home from prison.”

The campaign helps those previously incarcerated to ask politicians about what the politician plans to do for the formerly incarcerated. The campaign also works toward legislation that would help prevent employment discrimination toward those who have been convicted of felonies.

The rally was held in conjunction with other rallies throughout the United States to celebrate National Voter Registration Day on Tuesday. Embrace was one of a few nonprofit organizations to receive a grant to help organize an event in Florence. It featured tables of information to help people register to vote online, to help people request an absentee ballot, and to register to vote via paper.

Several politicians also made appearances at the rally including South Carolina Reps. Terry Alexander and Robert Williams and school board candidate Hannah E. Parker.

Alexander, a Democrat, is the current representative of House District 59. The district includes northern Florence and eastern Darlington counties. Alexander is running unopposed for re-election to the seat he has held since 2008.

Williams, also a Democrat, is the current representative of House District 62. The district includes central Darlington County including the city of Darlington and a small part of Hartsville and two small parts of western Florence County including Timmonsville. Williams is running against Republican Billy Baldwin to keep the seat he has held since 2007. He is also running for Congressional District 7 against Republican Tom Rice.

Parker is one of two challengers to Bryan Chapman for Seat 8 on the Florence County School District 1 Board of Trustees. Seat 8 represents South Florence. Also running is Terry B. Law.

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