July is a month we’re reminded of our freedoms. To live in the United States of America is a blessing for many people, including Krystal Brown. Though she’s faced challenges, the Hand UP for Women graduate knows the importance of having rights and exercising them, including voting.

“Your vote does matter,” Brown said.

She works for the City of Knoxville; Mayor Indya Kincannon is her boss. Brown finds herself keeping up with current events more because of her work. Brown often works overtime helping with special events where she learns more about political happenings in Knoxville.

“I feel like I’m a productive member of my community when I have more knowledge about what’s going on. I am grateful to live in a place where I can be more politically involved,” Brown said.

But the 36-year-old hasn’t voted since she was a teenager and says she didn’t fully understand the power it had back then.

Before Hand UP for Women

Before Hand UP for Women Brown battled a drug addiction for nearly 20 years. She began using anything given to her as young as 12 years old. “I feel like I was brainwashed and taken advantage of at a young age, so I never learned ‘how to adult,’” she explained.

Her addiction spiraled into legal trouble and caused her to lose her voting rights.

Finding Inspiration

“Voting is really important to me,” Brown stated.

About three years ago her grandparents and her career were her inspiration to start getting this right back. She spent a year participating in and graduating from Hand UP for Women creating a new, sober and impactful life.

“In my new and improved life I’ve worked really hard,” Brown said about wanting to have her rights restored. Though she said she never understood politics because she never took the time to learn about that, she’s doing so now.

Her grandparents were super voters. Every election, big or small, they voted.

“I got clean in time to take care of them and revise my life. I strive to be like them,” Brown shared.

Extending her Freedoms

And that’s not all. She’s working on getting her record expunged and recently got a passport—some things she never expected she would do.

“I want to travel. And I want to be able to say I have it [a passport] and I want to be able to do things,” Brown said.

Brown said her best friend got her passport as well and everyone else in her immediate family has one. That way they can one day go to Jamaica.

It’s these hopes, dreams and ambitions that make her grateful to live in the U.S.

“I want all the things from my past to go away, because I am a brand-new person,” she said as she takes all of these steps to restore her freedoms.

Brown shared, “I had to work my butt off for it and it has been a journey.”

She explained she had to get old restitution resolved by going to court several times to pay or waives all of her fines. “I just don’t want anything to hang over my head and hold me back anymore.”

But since finding and graduating from Hand UP for Women she now believes and wants this right back.

How Hand UP Helps

Her mentor, Karen Mills, is who she calls her “other mother.” “I still talk or text my mentor every day. She is my Godly mother, and God waited for the perfect time for me to get her. She’s been encouraging and helped me find resources to get my voting rights restored,” Brown said.

Brown works with UT Legal Clinic which helps her through the process.

Her message for other people who may be experiencing a similar situation is, “Keep your faith through the process. Because nothing worth having comes easy.”

Brown is expected to have her voting rights restored before the 2024 presidential election.

If you know of someone interested in sharing their time with Hand UP for Women participants to learn about how to gain their rights back, contact us here.