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Tennesseans vote to remove slavery from state constitution

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) – More than a million Tennesseans voted in favor of amending the state constitution to remove language that allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment on Tuesday.

The change is a victory for some, including Jeremy White, who was incarcerated for 22 years at several West Tennessee correctional facilities.

“I was involved in a home invasion. IT was probably one of the biggest mistakes of my life and I regret it every day, but it also made me into the person I am today,” White said.

White was released from prison 15 months ago. He’s a recent graduate of Nashville State Community College via the THEI program at Turney Center Correctional Complex, an Administrative Assistant with the Office of Reentry, a trainer and advocate for voting restoration with Free Hearts, a graduate of the Dismas House in Nashville, and co -Owner of Double R Strategies and Consulting. He’s a passionate seeker of reform.

He was glad to see the election night results regarding Amendment 3.

“I know what it’s like when you don’t want to commit to what they want you to do, but in an environment, you don’t have any other choice, so it’s almost similar or kin to slavery,” White said.

About 80% of people across the state voted in favor of the amendment, which bans slavery in all forms. Previously, slavery was legal as punishment for crime in the state.

“At some point, I want to make sure that we get across that the saying ‘Yes on 3’ is not the end, it’s the beginning because removing this language from the constitution is a step forward in addressing so many other systems of harm in this state,” White said.

While White doesn’t discredit the wrong doings of the men and women who are incarcerated, he doesn’t stand behind slavery-like labor and wages.

“No one is going to complain when you have doors being opened up to you and you want to take advantage of it, but you have a hoe in your hand or you have a plow or you’re running a tractor, you you’re running a weed eater or lawn mower and you’re landscaping or you’re cutting the warden’s yard or just some of the jobs, or even the ones going into the community with the local public works department,” White said. “That’s valuable to the guys who want to go out and participate, but it’s also in a way demeaning because they’re doing work in the community that people get paid a lot of money to do and they’re just doing it at wages that area a dollar.”

White is hoping this form of change will address other systems of harm throughout the state.

“I’m glad that they removed it and I hope that the governor stays committed to change,” White said.

Tennessee was one of four states where voters chose to ban slavery. However, the initiative will not force immediate changes to the state’s prisons, but it does invite legal challenges over prison labor under threats.