Desmond Meade, a lawyer and voting rights activist seeks a presidential pardon. PHOTO COYRTESY OF CITIZEN.ORG

MIAMI, Fla. – From serving a prison term for drug abuse and being homeless to turning his life around to finish law school, spearheading a successful movement to restore the voting rights of ex-felons in Florida and being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Desmond Meade’s journey can be punctuated with a presidential pardon.

U.S. Congresswoman Fredricka Wilson, a Democrat from West Park, is urging President Joe Biden to pardon Meade, who was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Army following his crime.

Meade was convicted by a court-martial in 1985 for drug use and grand larceny and served three years in federal prison.

Wilson said Biden should reverse his dishonorable discharge based on his record of achievements in civilian life, epitomized by his Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

In a letter to Biden, Wilson said Meade, who once lived in Miami and now resides in Orlando, has unequivocally atoned for the 30-year-old offense during his service in the military.

"He has transcended his past to become a civil rights leader and a champion for millions of formerly incarcerated people," Wilson said. "We wholeheartedly believe that Mr. Meade deserves a second chance."

Wilson said Meade was stationed in Hawaii when he began substance abuse that affected his behavior.

Following his release, he struggled with drug use and was homeless. "Hitting rock bottom, he frequently contemplated suicide," Wilson said. "Thankfully, he managed to turn his life around."

According to his bio, Meade graduated from Miami-Dade College and earned his juris doctorate degree from Florida International University.

Despite his turnaround, Meade said he faced a host of obstacles including securing his law license, gaining employment and voting because of his conviction.

The setbacks became the impetus for perhaps one of the biggest constitutional amendment changes that automatically restored the voting rights for ex-cons in Florida once they have completed their sentences except those who were convicted of murder, sexual and violent crimes.

Meade founded the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union

(ACLU), lawmakers, entertainers, pro athletes and entrepreneurs to launch a massive petition drive to place the constitutional amendment change on the ballot in 2018.

It was approved by 65 percent of the voters with 60 percent being the threshold.

However, a federal appeals court ruled in 2020 that Florida can bar exfelons from voting if they owe court fines and fees and restitution to the victims linked to their crimes.

But Meade came through again.

Meade and his Florida Restoration Rights Coalition raised more than $3 million to pay off their restitution allowing them to vote.

"Restoring voting rights to thousands of returning citizens in the state of Florida," Meade said.

The coalition was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by The American Friends Service Committee and Quaker Peace and Social Witness, the groups that successfully nominated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for the prize in 1964.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama also won the Nobel Peace Prize which is awarded to those who have made an impact in their countries on issues such as civil society, civil rights, medicine, literature, economic sciences, chemistry, physics and efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between countries.

“The Nobel Peace Prize is the highest recognition that any individual organization could receive in the world,” said Meade. “And we want to take advantage of this opportunity to really highlight the power of second chances, that even though people like me have made mistakes in the past, there’s still an opportunity for us to be contributing members of society.”

Meade also was inducted into MiamiDade College’s Hall of Fame, is a recipient of the Floridian of the Year award from former governor and senator Bob Graham and the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at Florida University, and Orange County proclaimed September 10, 2019 as Desmond Meade Day.

Wilson said he asked Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who served in the U.S. Navy, to restore Meade’s civil rights on several occasions but was snubbed.

"Ron DeSantis refused due to his court-martial conviction and dishonorable discharge," Wilson said.