Crystal Mason, a Texas mother who was sentenced to five years behind bars for voting illegally, said she won’t be intimidated by the government despite her conviction — and vowed to use her experience to “educate the next generation” of voters about their rights.
“I never expected to be here as an advocate for voting rights. I had never been an activist before,” Mason, whose case has been highlighted by civil rights activists as a blatant example of voter suppression, wrote in a Monday op-ed published in The Washington Post.
“But now that I know what the system can do to people, I have to use that knowledge to educate the next generation and to let them know what their rights are. I want to let them know that we can make a difference as a whole,” she continued.
Mason, who is appealing her conviction, cast a provisional ballot in Tarrant County, Texas, in November 2016. She had recently completed a prison sentence for felony tax fraud and, though still on supervised release, was steadily rebuilding her life.
“I was enrolled in classes, working long hours to keep my home and watching my older children graduate from high school,” Mason wrote. “Voting wasn’t really at the top of my mind at the time.”
But, Mason said, her family had instilled in her a sense of civic responsibility; so “on Election Day, we went to the same polling place we always went to.”
Mason said she had no idea that she was ineligible to vote at the time (felons in Texas are prohibited from voting while they’re serving their sentences, which includes incarceration, parole and probation) and had accepted a volunteer election worker’s suggestion that she cast a provisional ballot after her name couldn’t be found on the rolls.
Mason’s ballot was never counted, but Tarrant County’s Republican District Attorney Sharen Wilson charged her for voting illegally nonetheless. Wilson alleged that Mason had knowingly flouted the law ― something Mason has vehemently denied.
“No one had ever told me I couldn’t vote. Not while I was in prison preparing to reenter society, and not while I was on supervised release,” she wrote in the op-ed.
As HuffPost’s Sam Levine reported last month, 12,668 provisional ballots have been cast in Tarrant County since 2014 ― and election officials have rejected 11,085 of them. Mason, however, appears to be the only voter among them who’s been singled out for prosecution.
“Crystal’s case is an effort in voter suppression. This has nothing to do with whether or not she was eligible to vote,” Kim Cole, one of Mason’s attorneys, told the congregation at Mason’s church on Sept. 8. “They don’t want folks who look like Crystal to show up at the polls.”
Two days after Cole’s remarks, Mason appealed her sentence before a three-judge, all-Republican panel in Fort Worth. The court appeared hesitant to overturn her conviction, Levine reported.
The ACLU has said that it will petition the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, to review Mason’s case if the panel declines to throw out her conviction. The court has yet to announce its decision.
In her op-ed this week, Mason said her experience has emboldened her to share her story with younger voters.
“When I had my welcome-home party after returning from prison this year (I had to serve extra time in federal prison because my illegal-voting conviction was considered a violation of the terms of my release), I had a voter-registration table there for younger adults. It was a party with a purpose,” she wrote.
“I see hope in the new up-and-coming generation. They’re loud, and they speak out about their rights. They’re making noise in a good way, because they know in their hearts that if our votes didn’t matter, the system wouldn’t be trying so hard to stop us,” she continued.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.