On January 30, 2022, at 9 pm, Ladji Ruffin received the call that would forever change his life.
“Hello. Yes, this is Ladji.”
On the other end of the phone, his community supervisor echoed, “Your petition for time served has been commuted.”
With eyes glazed over with tears, Mr. Ruffin exhaled for the first time as a free man.
Mr. Ruffin entered the criminal justice system at 19, bearing the weight of a life sentence. For 23 years, he lived within the confines of the criminal justice system each day, holding on to a belief that his story was not over. He became educated in prison through daily visits to the prison library. For those with life sentences, the library is one of the few places they are allowed to visit. He recalls reading the dictionary to enhance his ability to communicate. Expanding his vocabulary changed how he spoke and set him on a path to self-improvement. Through this journey toward self-improvement, he mastered computer science and business concepts. He even learned braille, subsequently obtaining the coveted NEMETH Braille Mathematical Certification.
On August 23, 2016, he was released from prison and placed on parole. Upon release, he launched Authentic Braille Masters, LLC. He became a certified peer specialist in addictive diseases, a psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner, and a justice-involved life coach.
Mr. Ruffin states that all other achievements pale in comparison to the sticker he received after early voting in Georgia’s recent primary election.
It is important to note; Parole does not set aside or affect the sentence but instead provides an opportunity to serve the verdict outside the prison. The parolee is still technically under the state’s legal custody, and therefore, the parolee does not enjoy the full benefits of U.S. citizenship, such as the right to vote.
“As I walked toward the voting booth, I felt like all my ancestors celebrated me. Voting is what they fought and died for, and now the right to vote has been restored to me. I want more than anything for the rights of formerly incarcerated persons to be fully restored to share in this moment.”
Mr. Ruffin credits God, his wife, grandson, and the Offender Alumni Association for positively influencing his journey toward becoming the person he is today. He is looking forward to voting in his first presidential election in November 2024.
Courtney S. Thomas