Advocating for the expansion of voter access in jail and prison should be a part of your National Voter Registration Day.

In Illinois, the last remaining group of disenfranchised citizens is people serving convictions in prison, contributing to the decades-long neglect of the state’s prisons and the needs of those in custody and overpoliced communities. When people in prison cannot vote, influence policy, or hold elected officials accountable, inhumane prison conditions proliferate.

However, this is not unique to Illinois. Across the country, people in jail and prison are disenfranchised, whether it’s written in statute or de facto inaccessibility. If increasing participation in our democracy is the goal of National Voter Registration Day, it is paramount that we advocate for the expansion of voting rights to people experiencing incarceration.

National Voter Registration Day was first observed in 2012, with more than 5 million voters registered to vote on the holiday to date. Across the country, this day is celebrated through voter registration drives and public education campaigns. But if we aren’t actually engaging and uplifting the voices of our disenfranchised community members, the holiday rings hollow.

William Jones, incarcerated in Stateville Correctional Center, reminds us, “It took years to get this right to vote, but we can’t forget that this is something that can be taken away. We must get out in the streets and let our voices be heard. We can’t rest, nor take a long break; this is a fight for our rights.”

Ahead of National Voter Registration Day, we asked our colleagues in the Stateville C.C. Think Tank to send us letters about the importance of voting and expanding access to people in prison. Here is what they wrote:

“Why Should I Vote” by William Jones

Because I don’t want to be up the creek when things go wrong without a boat. Why should I vote, because when things come up, I don’t want to be label the escape goat.

Why should I vote? Because I want someone to stand up for me, and for what I believe. I want to have in place a democratic system where my children can achieve.

This can’t be done if you stay home and allow others to participate. For Dr. King said, “It’s never too late.”

Dr. Margaret Burroughs said, “What will your legacy be?” How can you keep it strong? It all starts with you casting a vote. You can’t sit at home and laugh like this is a big joke.

It took years to get this right to vote, but we can’t forget that this is something that can be taken away. We must get out in the streets and let our voices be heard. We can’t rest, nor take a long break; this is a fight for our rights.

“To Vote” by Rob Guyton

A great majority of individuals in custody of IDOC have been in captivity since teenage years or their entire young adult life.

I myself was arrested at 17 years old and convicted for a class 2 felony of possession of a stolen vehicle. I was stripped of my constitutional right to vote then. Since then, 25 years later, I have never been afforded opportunity to vote on the very people that control not only my everyday life, but my future life. From judges, political figures to prison administrators such as review boards, etc.

Being in prison makes us wards of the state. This fact does not take away from our humanity and out voice. A voice should be heard, humanity that should not be ignored. This cycle of oppression tends to strip society of equality on many different levels.

To continue to deny procreation not only stops/mutes my voice, it kills the voice of my bloodline that has yet to come.

In America, Blacks are the minority in most states yet the majority in most state prisons. This takes away the Black voice and the Black vote.

Advocating for the expansion of voter access in jail and prison should be a part of your National Voter Registration Day. Get involved with #UnlockCivics and the #VotinginPrison campaign!

The Chicago Votes Monthly: September 2023

Summer may be coming to an end but the fun is absolutely not letting up. From events to volunteer opportunities, we have lots planned. 

If you’re in a hurry, here are the topline items to know! 

If you have a lil more time, keep reading for all the deets on our programming, volunteer opportunities, and ways to plug into movement work in the city!


You are invited to the second annual Partner and Funder Briefing which will take place on September 14th from 3 – 5:30 pm at Chicago Votes’ office (1006 S. Michigan Ave. Unit 606). A Give A Sh*t Happy Hour (drinks, music, and art) will follow!

At the Partner and Funder Briefing, we will share updates on the work we have been doing as part of our current strategic plan, our vision for the upcoming year, the perspective of young leaders on the current state of youth civic and political work in Chicago, and have some fun!

Please RSVP and/or contribute to Chicago Votes at

Unlock Civics

House Bill 39, Voting In Prison

In Illinois, the last remaining group of disenfranchised citizens is people serving convictions in prison, contributing to the decades-long neglect of the state’s prisons and the needs of those in custody and overpoliced communities. When people in prison cannot vote, influence policy, or hold elected officials accountable, inhumane prison conditions proliferate.

On August 25th, the Unlock Civics Coalition hosted a press conference on voter rights restoration in prison, kicking off the national voter restoration conference, “Civic Power: Challenging 50 Years of Mass Incarceration” at the Wit Chicago. Speakers included Illinois State Senator Mike Simmons and Senator Robert Peters, Illinois State Representative Lashawn Ford, Representative Theresa Mah, and Representative Marcus Evans, and directly impacted advocates, King Moosa, and Avalon Betts Gaston.

We won’t let the momentum for Voting in Prison subside. The Unlock Civics Coalition (made up of organizations, directly impacted people, and advocates) meets weekly. In this space, we discuss strategy and needed advocacy. If you are interested in joining our weekly Unlock Civics Coalition calls on Tuesdays from 4:15 to 5 p.m., email

Interested in Court-Watching?!

Chicago Votes and the Illinois Alliance for Reentry & Justice have launched a court-watching program, sending community members inside Cook County Criminal Court to watch judges and collect data on bias and misconduct. Judges wield a lot of power over people’s lives. They can decide who gets custody of a child, if a family gets evicted, or how long to sentence someone to prison. That is why observing them and their courtrooms is so important.

If you are interested in court-watching, please complete the online, self-paced Court-Watching training! You can also reach out to if you have any questions about the program. 

Cook County Jail Votes

In August, we registered 100 voters inside Divisions 5 & 6 at Cook County Jail. 

We are ALWAYS seeking new Cook County Jail Votes volunteers. To become a volunteer, you must complete the fully online, self-paced Cook County Jail Votes training. To access the training, go to our volunteer portal. Once you complete the training course, you will start receiving monthly CCJ Votes opportunities in your inbox! 

Give A Sh*t

Sh*t Talks return on September 21st!

An all-new season of Sh*t Talks returns Thursday, September 21st with a new host 👀 Stay tuned for our host announcement coming in the next week!

Sh*t Talks are candid conversations with influential Chicagoans about issues young people care about. They uplift and center the voices of young Black and Brown Chicagoans, and provide viewers and listeners with opportunities to take civic action around issues. 

Episodes drop weekly on Thursdays at 8 p.m. You can stream them on Youtube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts, or Sh*t Talkin’ Central. 

Sh*t Talkin’ Central 

What do you know about your Alder? Claire Kaczanowski, a Humboldt Park resident, interviewed Alder Jessie Fuentes, sharing their experiences growing up in the community and their hopes for it.

Read the full interview with Alder Jessie Fuentes on Sh*t Talkin’ Central!

Alders are elected to represent one of fifty wards (or city districts). Together, all 50 alderpeople serve on the Chicago City Council, passing ordinances and serving our communities. Look up your alderperson here!

Get Paid to Create!

We publish stories submitted by young Chicagoans, a.k.a. you! You can submit op-eds, digital content, poems, and photos. Selected contributors will be paid $100 per published piece. Pitch us a story here. 

Come Through to C Space 

Each month, we open up our office to artists to share space and craft alongside and in community with one another. We call it C Space. Light refreshments are provided! September’s C Space is September 29th from 7-9 pm. Pull up for tacos and stay to craft and engage with other Chicago creatives. 
Sign up for C Space updates and reminders here!

Give A Sh*t Creative Collective

Our Give A Sh*t Creative Collective is a hub for creatives to rethink how we engage young Chicagoans in the political process. The Collective is made up of a diverse set of artists, including designers, musicians, poets, and videographers. Join the community and receive access to paid opportunities, including mini-grants, meetings, and events. September’s Give A Sh*t Creative Collective will take place during C Space, on September 29th from 7-9 pm in our office. 

Join the Creative Collective here.

An Interview with 26th Ward Alder Jessie Fuentes

This interview was conducted by Claire Kaczanowski, 24-year-old queer woman living in Humboldt Park. She teaches English to adults at the City Colleges of Chicago and is a drag performer who enjoys staying engaged with local politics.

“We don’t need multi-million dollar developments to beautify our community. We have artists, we have developers who build affordable housing, we can build things that do not include the displacement of our people,” said Alder Jessie Fuentes. I sat down with Alder Fuentes to talk local politics, art, and community development. Alder Fuentes is the first woman and the youngest person to lead Ward 26 (Humboldt Park) and is a strong advocate for uplifting young people through public school funding, developing the community through affordable housing and street beautification, and prioritizing mental health and public safety.

What was it like growing up in Humboldt Park?

Fuentes said, “Yeah, I was born and raised in Humboldt Park. My parents were separated. Both of them suffered from substance abuse. My dad spent a good chunk of my life in prison … And, you know, I think it took me a while as a young person to really know how to navigate my social and emotional temperament. I was really angry, about particularly my mom’s addiction, because that’s who I spent the most time with … as a young person, I think that you take on a lot of the responsibility for why your parent is the way they are.” Fuentes, who also uses they/them pronouns, further discussed the struggles they encountered as a young person, “Someone made a comment about my mother’s drug addiction because she would, you know, occasionally appear up at the school and it was very evident, right, that she was struggling. And I couldn’t take it … so I had gotten into a physical altercation that led to my expulsion from high school, and I ended up at a small alternative high school… And that school changed my life.” Fuentes is a huge advocate for cultivating a culturally and linguistically competent curriculum for public schools because of the experience she had at this alternative high school, “I remember sitting down with a mentor … The first comment that he made to me is, ‘We’re not here to treat you like a prisoner or an animal. You are a young person that’s worthy of an education.’ This is the first time I felt seen, dignified, humanized. And I didn’t feel judged for what I look like, how I dress, the zip code that I grew up in. … the Puerto Rican studies class really taught me about the colonial history of Puerto Rico and what it meant to be, you know, a colonial being of an island that had been a property of the United States for about a century. And then for the first time, my mom’s drug addiction, even my father’s, made sense to me, right, like what they were going through was a cycle of historical and generational trauma that they couldn’t break out of. And I feel conscious enough to want to do the work not just for myself, my family, but for our community. And I had become an activist thereafter.”

I love your ideas on street beautification and uplifting the community through art. What kinds of projects are you working on related to that goal?

Fuentes responds, “So we’re going to start convening monthly meetings to really outline our vision for North Avenue and that will look like several different things: murals on buildings, to pavers on the ground, to the type of light poles we want to see to really create a dramatic, artistic and creative corridor for North Avenue… North Avenue is really like a Latin American village. Right? And so it’s about how do we take art and creative architecture to really kind of make folks feel like they’re in Latin American village. And the reason that physical appearance is important is … it has an effect on your social emotional ability to find belonging in a space. And so when we do things like build affordable housing, it makes Puerto Ricans feel a little more at home.” Fuentes expounds upon why art is so important to them and the community, “I come from the culture of hip hop, poetry, and breakdancing and you know, all of those elements of art really saved my life … I acted in a couple of plays and those spaces were so liberating. And so it’s about like, how do we use our artistic community as a space of resistance, right? Like how do we use art to really articulate our experiences?” Fuentes concludes with, “We don’t need multibillion dollar developments to beautify our community. Right, we have, we have artists, we have developers who build affordable housing, we can build things that do not include the displacement of our people.”

I know you’re a big advocate of public school funding and supporting the development of a culturally and linguistically sound curriculum, what does that look like for you?

Fuentes said, “Yeah, you know, I attended public schools most of my life and I got expelled. And I didn’t realize the void that existed in my educational experience until I went to the Puerto Rican high school. And learned about black history, it’s so much more revolutionary than the version that you get in textbooks and Chicago public schools, or even when you learn about Latin American history, in this perspective, that is not really the Eurocentric version of what happened in those moments in history, I think if I had stayed in a CPS school my entire life, I probably would have never learned about the colonial experience of Puerto Ricans or the Spanish American War.” Fuentes explains the importance of multicultural education in CPS, “There’s an importance to have a bicultural and bilingual type of education in the city of Chicago. I mean Latino students make up the majority of Chicago Public Schools, and yet who they are, where they come from, is nowhere in the curriculum. I mean, think about how many students from Venezuela and Ecuador are going to be enrolling in the upcoming school year in the city of Chicago. Will they find who they are in those classrooms? Will they see a sense of belonging? Or will they get a version of history, right, that doesn’t speak to their humanity and their resistance. And so that’s that’s really important to me…. And if we are talking about healing the city of Chicago, healing young black and brown people, building a safe city, then that means providing proper education to our young people. Allowing them to politicize themselves and build consciousness so that they can become agents of change in the city of Chicago, not internalize… And for me, I think it’s extremely important to begin doing that in the classroom.”

The last issue I want to touch on is your advocacy for mental health resources. Can you expound upon your goals related to mental health?

Fuentes states that they believe that mental health should be a public service and states that, “There are no resources, mental health resources that we’re providing our young people that doesn’t require some comprehensive health insurance, or an insanely expensive copay that all families can afford … and the investment in the mental health of the residents of the city Chicago should be a priority for all of us. But more importantly, we just don’t have systems that allow us to de-escalate or create spaces of healing for individuals who are on the brink of a mental health crisis, or a breakdown. In fact, we have systems that exacerbate those situations and often go from an individual experiencing a mental health crisis to a crime real quick. And, you know, it’s unfair to the individual that is struggling with their mental health. It is unfair to the entire community, to not have systems in which we are able to truly care for our residents.” Fuentes also emphasizes that “We need to have a response system that doesn’t include the police. Specifically when it’s not needed, right. We need a police free system that allows experts who know how to de-escalate or know how to respond properly to individuals that are in the middle of a mental health crisis.”

Final question. It sounds like you deal with a lot of heavy topics every day, so what do you do to unwind after a long day of advocacy?

Fuentes said, “I’m someone who listens to a lot of music. My partner is really great… We have dinner together and reflect and decompress. And I like to work out.”

Thank you for all that you do for Ward 26, and for the city of Chicago, Alder Fuentes.

Post photo credit to The New Day \ Daniel Delgado