13 years after leaving prison, Pasco County man regains right to vote
Times photo -- Stephen J. Coddington
Mark Heidrich is a full-fledged citizen of Florida again, and he couldn't be happier.
Heidrich, 57, of New Port Richey made a serious mistake more than a decade ago and served his time. But he has been paying for it ever since he walked out of prison.
So when Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet voted to restore his civil rights, he wept in public as the years of humiliation melted away.
"I can actively be part of society again. I can be a responsible citizen," Heidrich said moments after the unanimous vote last month. "They are trusting me to do the right thing."
Heidrich was once a Pasco County funeral director and a member of the local Chamber of Commerce board who got hooked up with the wrong crowd and was caught dealing LSD and cocaine, which sent him to prison for 21/2 years.
Behind bars at low-security Madison Correctional Institution, Heidrich didn't cause any trouble. He had a prison job and his parents visited him every other weekend.
He left prison in 1998, has stayed out of trouble, and has been trying for seven years to get his civil rights restored. He works six days a week as a chef at a Beef 'O' Brady's in Port Richey (his drug conviction cost him his license as a funeral director).
Heidrich's one-man struggle for redemption illuminates the cumbersome, time-consuming and highly secretive clemency system in Florida.