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Who Is Keeda Haynes? Inspirational Details About How She Went From Prison Inmate To Congressional Nominee

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Who Is Keeda Haynes? Inspirational Details About How She Went From Prison Inmate To Congressional Nominee

As the United States sees a record number of Black women running for Congress, Keeda Haynes is looking to break records in her own state of Tennessee.

Her campaign is not only inspirational in that, if elected, Haynes will be the first Black woman from Tennessee to hold a congressional seat, but also because of her background as a convicted felon.

Who is Keeda Haynes?

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Tennessee has only had two African American candidates to be elected to Congress ever in the state's history, the last of which was in 1999 — and both were male.

Here's what we know about Haynes and her campaign.

1. She has a degree in criminal justice and psychology.

Haynes is a graduate of Tennessee State University. She has two degrees, a degree in criminal justice and psychology.

A 2016 interview reveals that Haynes originally planned to pursue a career in criminal psychology, and particularly the study of serial killers. However, Haynes reported changed her mind about that career path after taking a Legal Methods course at Tennessee State.

2. She spent almost 4 years in prison.

Just two weeks after graduating from Tennessee State, Haynes' parents dropped her off at Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, West Virginia, where she spent four years on marijuana charges. 

According to Haynes, she got caught up in a drug distribution conspiracy after accepting an offer to sign for packages that reportedly contained marijuana.

“It was just so unreal, like it was happening to somebody else,” Haynes said of her time in prison. “You never in a million years think that this is something that would be happening to you.”

Haynes maintains her innocence on the charges.

3. She has pursued a career fighting for justice.

Haynes time in prison wasn't all bad — she was able to study for the LSAT while incarcerated. CNN reports that after her release in 2006, Haynes worked as a law secretary while attending law school and eventually took the bar exam. She then spent years working as a public defender.

“I’ve seen her in action in the public defender’s office, and she is just an excellent lawyer — tenacious, cares about the people she represents,” says Haynes' attorney Strianse said. “She knows what it’s like to be incarcerated, to feel helpless and have to rely on a lawyer. That gives her an empathy that most lawyers just don’t have, because they’ve not gone through that experience.”

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4. She works for a nonprofit.

Right now, Haynes is working as a legal advisor at the non-profit organization Free Hearts, which focuses on racial and social justice for those who are or were incarcerated.

According to her website, she "Offers help and support to other formerly incarcerated women, and to children whose parents have been incarcerated or deported. Additionally, I educate our community of families on various legal issues and assist with Free Heart's legislative agenda."

5. Why is Keeda Haynes running for Congress?

Haynes is running against the incumbent Democratic Representative Jim Cooper, who has held that congressional seat for 17 years.

She decided to run against Cooper after she offered to work with him on criminal justice reform.

She said, "I met with him for 15 minutes and then I never heard anything else from him. Looking at the inaction for everybody in this community I started to say, 'We've got serious issues here, in this district and in our community and we need somebody in Washington that first and foremost understands that.'"

That was the start of her campaign.

Haynes told CNN, "I don't even focus on being the first Black female or any of that kind of stuff. I'm just focusing on trying to win — trying to get to Congress so that we can all have a better quality of life and so our communities can really experience the healing and the justice that we are all calling for."

She is passionate about justice for those who were wrongly incarcerated, just like her.

Haynes is running in a district that "is roughly 25% Black and 66% White."

The only thing Cooper had to say was that "In 2016 I received a letter from Keeda Haynes requesting to meet, and we did. She was passionate about criminal justice reform, and I was already working on voting rights issues — including restoration of rights for formerly incarcerated individuals — so we had a good discussion. I have continued to work with local judges and our DA on these issues, and we are making progress in Nashville."

6. Haynes' congressional platform is based on justice.

On her website, Haynes' explains that her "fight for justice was only beginning" as she left prison.

"Serving on the front lines of the criminal justice system as a public defender, I saw from the other side how our system is not based on justice, but on race and economic status," she writes. "I fought for my clients in the courtroom, and I have continued to amplify their voices in the community, through education and advocacy in Nashville, across Tennessee, and around the country."

Criminal justice reform

In criminal justice reform, Haynes wants to repeal mandatory minimum sentencing laws and she wants to work on breaking down the barriers to successful re-entry into life after being incarcerated.

Economic justice

On economic justice, Haynes wants to make access to affordable housing easier, raise the minimum wage, and reduce student loan debt.

Health Care Justice

For health care, she wants to make strides in reducing prescription drug costs and Haynes wants to make access to quality healthcare easier for rural areas in the United States.

On top of those causes, she is working for racial equality, incarcerated women's rights, voter restoration, and other critical issues.

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Emily Francos is a writer who covers relationships, pop culture, and news topics.