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Meeting's subject: A second chance

In 1924, Mary Brooks Picken, a woman who would become better known for her sewing skills and publications about clothing design, wrote a little book of musings called Thimblefuls of Friendliness.

In it was a poem titled Stepping Stones, in which she said we build our own futures. The short poem ended with:

"To each is given a bag of tools,

A shapeless mass and a book of rules,

And each must make ere life is flown,

A stumbling block, or a stepping stone."

As long as we live there will be stumbling blocks we need to transform into steppingstones. It is not a one-time deal.

Ex-offenders and recovering addicts know that as well as anyone. While changing directions isn't always easy, the message ex-offenders and recovering drug and alcohol abusers want more people to know and understand is that change does happen.

We shouldn't have to live in the shadows of our stumbling blocks forever.

Or should we?

A panel of justice officials will discuss the rights of individuals in recovery, voting rights for ex-felons, and the recovery bill of rights at a town-hall meeting Thursday night at the Chrysalis Community Center, 1589 Hill Rise Drive.

Panelist include Supreme Court Justice Mary C. Noble; Fayette Circuit Court Judge Lucinda Masterton; Assistant County Attorney Duane Osborne; and Assistant Police Chief Mike Bosse.

The moderator will be Mike Barry, a former Lexington TV anchorman who is a recovering alcoholic. Barry believes laws and stereotypes shouldn't be one-size-fits-all.

"The first picture people have of recovery is of street-corner drugs and crime," he said. "But treatment does work and there are millions in recovery across the country."

But a person in long-term recovery can have a difficult time moving past that image, he said. Add to that the numerous crimes committed in connection with drug and alcohol use, and the problem is multiplied.

Like a recovering addict, an ex-felon who has paid his or her debt to society still has a long row to hoe to be accepted back into the community. Jobs can be difficult to get if you've got a criminal record, and getting the right to vote again takes some time.

Kentucky and Virginia are the only two states that take away the voting rights of convicted felons unless they get the permission of the governor to vote again.

This year, Gov. Steve Beshear has approved the restoration of voting rights for 1,486 ex-felon offenders. He also eliminated the required fee, character references, and essay that proved to be a hindrance to some.

But, Barry said, some laws do not differentiate between non-violent ex-felons and those who commit a violent crime.

"The felony could be writing a bad check," Barry said. "Or the person could be clean and sober for a good number of years. But the law still prevents her from attending school with her grandchildren."

People in long-term recovery or those who have fulfilled their debt to society and are now law-abiding should be given a second chance to be a full member of society, he said.

Perhaps one of the biggest helps will be if the ex-offenders and those in recovery are willing to tell their stories publicly, he said. It is a private matter, however, and should be left up to the individual. There is a stigma and discrimination that follows those in recovery and ex-offenders. "People are still judging the book by its cover."

Speaking out has helped him, though. Barry is director of advocacy and outreach at The Healing Place in Louisville; vice president of the board of Faces & Voices of Recovery, a national advocacy organization; and president of People Advocating Recovery, a statewide organization with six chapters and more than 3,000 members.

"By my silence, I let other people define me," Barry said. "It has become my job to speak out and let people know addiction is a disease. My goal was not to become an alcoholic and end up on the streets of Louisville."

The town meeting Thursday night is open to everyone, those who need information, those who are advocates, and those who are not, Barry said.

"We want them to come and participate," he said.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. For more information, call (859) 977-2502. Thomas Edison said, "Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless."