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Responding to Inequalities: Governor's pardons hope to give Milwaukee residents new lease on life

Posted at 6:54 PM, Jun 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-23 12:11:11-04

MILWAUKEE — Governor Tony Evers' Pardon Advisory Board will hear 26 Milwaukee area residents Tuesday as they hope to start a new life where their past doesn't define who they are today.

"When you have a felony, that's a lot on you when filling out an application," St. Claire Lee said. "I got stuff to do and got to keep it moving."

At 17 years old, Lee shot a man near 37th & Garfield. He spent six years in prison for it. He doesn't shy away from his past transgressions.

"I don't blame anybody for me being in there but me," Lee said. "Because I made the decision to do that."

However, he doesn't think that decision as a teenager should have lifelong impacts. He has not had any run-ins with law enforcement since getting out of prison in 2001.

"I got out in 2001," Lee said. "December of 2002, I finished my parole and December of 2007, I finished my probation. I paid my debt to society and I don't think that should be over my head." I haven't been arrested or charged with anything since I've been out. I own a house. I have a 700 plus credit score. I have a wife and take care of my kids."

In an almost ironic way, he compares what he's done to students going to law school.

"When you go to Marquette for law or to become a doctor, you have to finish those courses to get that certification," Lee said. "I think it's something that should be removed off my back because I took care of that."

Tuesday, Lee is one of the 26 Milwaukee area residents looking for a pardon from the Evers Administration. Lee said a pardon could change his entire world.

"There are obstacles," Lee said. "There is certain stuff you can't do. I wanted to be a dentist. You can't be a dentist or anything in the medical field with a felony. If I can't be the governor or the president, I at least need to be at the table."

Stories like this were the inspiration to a new mural inside the Milwaukee County Courthouse. The mural portrays Lady Justice for a new generation. It was done by six artists with Latinas Unidas eN las Artes (LUNA). It takes the idea of Justice being blind to a different level; with butterflies over her eyes instead of a blindfold.

The artwork was done by six artists at LUNA, including Katie Avila Loughmiller, Taylor Herrada, Lauren Medina, Irma Román, Debbie Sajnani and Whitney Salgado.

"We want to transform the way we look at our justice system," Katie Avila Loughmiller said. "They are extremely unique. That's important when thinking of justice. We take everybody at who they are and not grouping them in based on race, gender, or anything."

"Lady Justice doesn't have a blindfold for nothing," Lee said. "Lady Justice has a blindfold because she's not looking for the truth. She's looking to win."

Lee is one of many African Americans in Wisconsin who have been imprisoned. Despite only making up 6.7 percent of the state's population, African Americans account for 38 percent of the state's prison population. These kinds of disparities are why Lee hopes to get his felony removed. He wants to have a seat at the table.

"I need to be at the table to let them know what they're doing is not working," Lee said. "I would be helping the people who sit up high know what's going on down low. It would open a lot of doors for me to venture into those types of areas. Lawyers and judges can become politicians who make the laws. How are you not able to tip the scales, but you're the ones making the laws?"

Lee and the other 25 residents will have their cases heard in Madison on Tuesday starting at 8:30 a.m.

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