My name is Lance A. Woods, and I am a third year law student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I am a U.S. Army veteran and have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I attended the University of Pittsburgh for undergrad, where I earned a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in History. After graduating, I moved to New Haven, Connecticut where I helped supervise a juvenile correction facility. This past year, I served as a legal extern with the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Restoration of Rights office (ROR), which helps ex-felons reclaim their right to vote.
Given that this is my last year of law school, I wanted to earn class credit while also using the skills I acquired over the past two years, to better the lives of marginalized populations. Each day in the ROR office, I worked closely with probation officers and court clerks from all over Virginia to ensure that applicants completed the necessary steps to reclaim their voting rights. Additionally my supervisor, Carlos Hopkins, Counselor to the Governor, provided me with a number of interesting research projects concerning felon disenfranchisement. I also had the privilege of working along side the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Levar Stoney, who helped Governor McAullife set a new record by restoring the voting rights of 5,113 Virginians in 2014.
My most memorable externship experience occurred when I informed an applicant that his voting rights had been restored. The man, who was in his seventies, became overwhelmed with emotion and cried genuine tears of joy. Virginia’s 2014 general election marked the very first time this applicant had ever voted. Knowing that I contributed to this unforgettable event, serves as the most fulfilling part of my law school experience.
Although great progress has been made, there is still a lot of work to be done. Virginia is one of four states where convicted felons can permanently lose their right to vote. According to the Sentencing Project, it is estimated that Virginia is home to over 450,000 disenfranchised felons. The ROR office is always looking for enthusiastic volunteers to help alleviate the effects of this archaic policy. I would highly encourage everyone to take advantage of this extremely fulfilling opportunity.