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In this episode of The Turn On, Erica and Kenrya talk to The Been Down Project founder and returning citizen Amber Crowder about the impact of being formerly incarcerated, how lack of imagination tries to thwart the abolition movement, what the media gets wrong about prison, dating after release, how we can support our locked up family and living in fear of immaculate conception. Yes, really.
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Kenrya: Come here. Get off.
Kenrya: Today we're talking to Amber Crowder, pronouns she/her/hers, and Tsarina. Amber is a returning citizen who wishes to de-stigmatize and humanize what it means to be formerly incarcerated. Her brutally honest yet comedic account of how she went to federal prison for an email highlights America's obsession with incarceration. Her vulnerable and transparent account highlights the inequities and flaws of the federal criminal justice system and the unique hardships for women in the industrial prison complex. Through the Been Down Project, Amber intends to be a voice, a resource and an inspiration for women with recent federal indictments, women currently incarcerated and women reentering society. Amber is an entrepreneur in the hospitality industry who currently resides in Washington D.C. She's also a Howard University graduate who has a penchant for food and fellowship. Don't we all?
Amber: It's my favorite thing.
Kenrya: Thank you for joining us.
Amber: Thank you for having me.
Kenrya: I just realized this season is hella heavy on the Howard folks. Not even on purpose. We out here.
Amber: This is what I'm calling beau coup bison.
Erica: Beau coup bison, yes.
Amber: That's the theme.
Kenrya: That is what this season is.
Amber: The theme of the season.
Kenrya: We didn't even do that on purpose.
Erica: Amber. What did little Amber want to be when she grew up?
Amber: Oh my God. I was just talking about this earlier. I never really had something that I really wanted to be. I wanted to be an anesthesiologist, but I don't know if it's just because I thought it was cool, because it was a knockout doctor, or because everybody's family wants them to be a doctor. That was always what I was like, "Yeah, I want to be a doctor. I want to be an anesthesiologist," until I found out all of the math and science that was needed for that. That's not necessarily my ministry. We had to reconfigure some things.
Kenrya: That's understandable. I get that. We talk about sex every week. We're always interested in the lessons that folks learn when they're young. We're wondering, what was the prevailing attitude about sexuality in your home growing up?
Amber: My mother was on fire for Jesus.
Erica: Good way to put it.
Amber: She preached abstinence. Then I went to Catholic school up until the fourth grade. I used to be terrified that I was going to have an immaculate conception. I used to always be like, "Who would believe me if I got pregnant right now with the son of God?"
Erica: That is such a heavy load.
Kenrya: Poor baby!
Amber: This is how damaging it is. That's how damaging I felt like going to a Catholic school was. Religion was heavy-
Amber: ... at that age. My dad was always a Buddhist. I had this interesting, I won't call it a balance, because I had two extremes. My mother was on fire for Jesus, and then my dad was a weed smoking Buddhist who would play N.W.A. for me on the way to school in the morning, on my way to Catholic school. You understand what I'm saying? I never had a balance. It was just always two extremes. Then I feel like I'm somewhere now in the middle.
Erica: Your dad's probably a really interesting granddad.
Kenrya: That's interesting. Also, wow. I'm like, "Who is playing N.W.A?"
Amber: He has taught my son all about Nipsey Hussle. He's 70. My son is five. I'm like, "This is not age appropriate," but then I can't say anything, because this is around the age that I was learning N.W.A.
Kenrya: And you fine.
Amber: Exactly. Exactly.
Kenrya: I have these moments all the time where I'm like, "Damn, I knew the lyrics to these songs that I really should probably have never even heard, let alone known the fucking adlibs to."
Amber: Exactly. My dad always was like, "When you start smoking weed, come to me, because I don't want no nigga showing you how to do it." I was 12 at the time.
Kenrya: Not if, when.
Amber: I'm 12. I was like, "Is this a trick question? What's going on?" I grew up in Los Angeles. This was around the time when “The Chronic” came out. He's the first person to play “The Chronic” album for me. I remember we were driving, it was me and my best friend, and we were like, "Oh, this shit is hot." Then he going to turn the music down. He was like, "Y'all don't even know no niggas that be smoking the chronic." I'm like, "No."
Kenrya: You're like, "We're seven."
Amber: "We're 12."
Kenrya: Do you count?
Amber: "We're 11."
Kenrya: This is kind of related, I was in LA for the very first time this past weekend working, and I didn't really want to drive, because all I ever hear about is how driving is a whole thing there. We're leaving our rental facility. We're only eight minutes away between the airport and the hotel. I'm like, "Fuck it, all right, let me try." My partner turns on the radio, and the very first song we hear is “It Ain't No Fun,” which is one of my all-time favorite-
Kenrya: ... problematic ass songs.
Amber: A classic.
Erica: Gun to my head, that's the only song I could spit.
Kenrya: Exactly. So it came on. So I'm like riding through LA, listening to “It Ain't No Fun.” It just felt-
Amber: It hit a little different, didn't it? It did.
Kenrya: Yeah. It did. It warmed my Black ass heart. I was like, aw, I know I'm not from here, but this feels like a welcoming, like a home for me for a minute, right now.
Amber: First of all, let's give a moment of silence for Nate Dogg, okay? Because what would the Dogg Pound be?
Erica: Hiphop, from like late '90s, to early aughts they call it, the early aughts. Yeah.
Amber: He was the Hook King. Something about singing about the stuff that he sang about, it's just amazing. You know?
Kenrya: It's true. Also, [crosstalk 00:07:13].
Amber: "And she even licked my balls." Like, who sings about licking balls? You know? It's a lost art. It's a lost art, ladies.
Erica: It is a lost art. Because now they just shout it. But if you can melodically tell me to touch your gooch.
Erica: I'm sorry. I just learned what a gooch is. Somehow I use it just about every episode-
Amber: All the time, all the time. Is a gooch the same thing as the taint? Okay, sorry, go ahead.
Amber: That's what I thought.
Kenrya: It is the little, the perineum, the little space in between.
Amber: The fact that we know multiple words for that area. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Great.
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I've learned about gooch grease.
Kenrya: That sounds disgusting.
Amber: It does. I want to know, is this natural? Or is it something that you can buy in the store?
Erica: No, it's just ball sweat.
Kenrya: Oh, okay, unwashed gooch.
Amber: Unwashed gooch. Gooch grease. Okay.
Erica: Disgusting, right? Okay, Amber-
Amber: No, because my boy was telling me about ... Sorry, go ahead. We are just getting all off topic. Okay, so let's pull it together.
Erica: No, no, we always get off topic. Tell us what your boy was telling you about.
Amber: Boy Butter. It looks like-
Kenrya: Oh, we use that.
Amber: Oh, you know Boy Butter?
Erica: We use that all the time.
Amber: I was, I didn't know about it. It looked like butter. Yeah, it looks like margarine, the little yellow container. He was showing me, I was like, "Okay, Boy Butter, okay." I was like, "I like this."
Kenrya: Yeah, that's our go-to lube in this house.
Amber: It's like glittery. Okay, well, hey.
Erica: Because you are glittery.
Amber: I'm glittery.
Erica: Yeah, Boy Butter, that shit, we actually, I think we've talked about it multiple times.
Kenrya: On our very first, including on our very first episode.
Erica: Yeah, our first episode, What What in the Butt. We got the shout out to Boy Butter.
Amber: Oh, “What, what, in the butt. You want to do it in my butt?” Exactly. I know the song. I'm familiar with Turquoise Cheek Records. Okay. Go ahead. Sorry.
Erica: Okay, so Amber, the reason we brought you on is because we kind of all ran in the same circles, kind of knew, we all know and love the same people. Then I was watching someone's IG Live, and you were on it, talking about the Been Down Project. I'm like, the fuck? This is amazing. So tell us about it.
Amber: So the Been Down Project is basically me, and it's my personal story of how I was incarcerated, federal incarceration, based off of an email because I worked for the government. So I just kind of talk about my journey, how I just was completely caught off guard, and just everything that goes along with being federally indicted, because it is its own separate beast, completely different than if you were to get state charges, you know?
Kenrya: No, I didn't know that.
Amber: Yeah, it's completely different. So even sometimes, I have a TikTok account. People in TikTok love to go at it with me, and I'm here for it. So they're like, "Well, you can just get expunged. Dah, dah, dah, dah." I'm like, "Well, when you have a federal charge, I can only get executive clemency." Which means that the president of the United States has to pardon me. Even if I get pardoned, I still always have the felony on my record. He just restores my civil rights, right? So I will be able to run for office, I will be able to serve jury duty, I will be able to bear arms. In DC you can already vote as a felon. But in some states, you can't. So that would be another civil right that would be restored. But it's very, very difficult to get federal-
Kenrya: But you always have to check the box.
Amber: Always have to check the box. I am a felon. Period. You will google me, and that will show up forever. So I toy with the whole idea of clemency from time to time, right? Whether I want to get a pardon or not.
Kenrya: That's real. Can you share with us, I know that it is literally the Been Down Project, it is the whole thing that you do, where you go through your story. But can you share with our listeners just kind of a condensed version of what happened?
Amber: Yeah, so I don't super, duper go too, too, into it, because if I wanted to go forward with a pardon, I have to ... I signed a plea, right? Because this is what you do generally with the federal government. They have a 99% rate of winning their cases, right? Because they have an endless amount of resources. What they do is they take a bunch of charges and they throw them at you. Whatever sticks, they go with. So this is why you always would see, like with the mafia and stuff being taken down for tax evasion, right? When they know there were a bunch of other things that they really wanted to get them on, but they're just going to get them on whatever they can.
Amber: So this is kind of the scenario that happened with me. My charge is mail fraud. It's mail fraud because of an email. It's interesting, because most people that have mail fraud, they were doing like moving weight in the mail, or they opened other people's mail, stole checks, different things like that. So when I went to prison, and everybody was like, "Oh, you was sending weed in the mail?" They wanted to know what you did. I was just like, "Uh, no."
Erica: You were like, "Uh, yeah."
Amber: Right? "Uh, no, I sent an email." So they're like, "What?" So basically, they felt that something I did via email was unethical. That is what they got me on. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Erica: So how did you start Been Down Project? How did that come about?
Amber: So that came about because when I was incarcerated, I was shocked to learn about the different kinds of people that were in federal prison. Right? Because I only knew about prison based on what I had seen in movies, what I had read about in certain books, and different things. So when I got to prison, I was incarcerated with judges, with attorneys, with people that were accountants, people from all walks of life. People that took narcotics, people that sold narcotics. It was just an array of people. Everybody got a really raw deal, right? My side bunky, she got like 30 years because of hearsay.
Amber: So with the federal government, they don't necessarily need proof. It's like, if somebody said you did it, and that person writes you down, and that person is willing to testify against you, then you're going down, because they do all of these things to curry favor. So I had people saying stuff against me that I didn't even barely know, and that wasn't necessarily true, you know what I mean? But whatever the feds had on them, they were able to kind of hang that over their head to be like, "Yeah, X, Y, or Z, or I affirm this statement."
Amber: So there is a lot of that going on. That's just not justice. You know what I mean? So that is why I decided to come out and tell my story, because before I went in, I didn't want to tell anybody that I was incarcerated. I lied my ass off to everyone. My close friends knew, and my family, but that was it. People were reading articles about me in The Washington Post, the City Paper, different things like that. I was on the news. So if you saw that, and people were texting me like, "Girl, did you see this?" Of course, I fucking see this.
Erica: Like it's not me.
Amber: Yeah, because it's my life. Right, yeah, it's not me. So I felt like also I was carrying this big secret, and that's kind of a burden. So now, I just feel so free. I have no secrets. This is me, this is where I am, this is what I'm doing. I was formally incarcerated. Hi, my name is Amber, and I was formerly incarcerated. You know what I mean? It's not like it's something I'm proud of, but it's also not anything that I'm ashamed of anymore. I was ashamed of it at first.
Kenrya: How do you think that, you were saying that what you really realize is this is not justice. How does telling the truth and letting folks into the inner workings of the system, and the ways that it impacts folks, why is it important to do that?
Amber: Well, I feel like if I had known how the system worked, I would have handled everything totally different. Right? They investigated me for seven years. If I would have known what I knew then, at the beginning, I would have been able to settle it a long time ago. But I was in my head like, "Well, I didn't do that, so justice will prevail." This is what I'm thinking all the time. "Well, this is not what I did. I didn't do this. So I'll be fine. I didn't do that, I'll be fine." But no. I absolutely will not be fine. Even my co-defendant's attorney was like, "You guys probably won't do time in prison." That was also a lie. So it's just the more you know.
Amber: Then also, eventually, just hoping to change the system. I feel like a judge is just able to just use their own moral standing and their own decision making skills to determine who does what. Like, oh, he looked at me in my eyes, and he said, "You deserve to go to prison," even though there was no money loss, and he felt like, he was like, "I don't think you knew you did anything wrong. But you deserve to go to prison." I'm like, "But, what?" So that also made me feel like this is also money. It's a big moneymaking industry, because they received about $44,000 a year for me. In addition, they just gave me a ton of fines, because I had no restitution. I had no money to pay back. So it was all a lot. So I just feel like ...
Amber: Yeah. People need to understand. I also feel like if it could happen to me, this is coming from somebody, I didn't break the law ever. You know what I mean? So this was just way left field for me. It's shocking. Sometimes I still can be like, "Damn, I went to prison." You know what I mean? Again, I've never been in even a physical altercation. So it's just like, there are misconceptions.
Erica: Shit can turn on a dime.
Amber: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. Exactly. Shit can turn on a dime.
Erica: So what's the most challenging part about what you do?
Amber: I think sometimes ... I hope you guys can't hear that, because who the hell is texting ... Sorry. The most challenging thing is probably ... Sorry. Can you guys hear that? No? Okay, sorry. The most challenging thing for me is probably having to deal with people that are like, "You did the crime, you need to do the time." So one of the things I talked about, every Tuesday, I do something called Ask Amber Anything. So I am now coming into the belief that prisons should be abolished.
Amber: But people have a really hard time dealing with the word abolished, because they feel like, "You just want to get rid of a system, and not put anything into place. You want to eradicate one thing, but then you don't have a solution for it." That's not the case. People assume when you say abolish prisons, "Oh, well, you're just going to let all the murderers go free?" Of course not. You know what I mean?
Kenrya: That's because they lack imagination.
Amber: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly. Same thing with abolish the police. We're not saying that there should be any type of law enforcement. But we're just saying that the way it is now, it needs to be completely dismantled. So I think that's one of the things, just talking with people about that. People just really looking at you as a criminal, because being formerly incarcerated has a stigma attached to it. You don't really think about people that are incarcerated. You just think, "Ew." I was guilty of it, right? Before I was incarcerated, I never really paid too much attention to people that were in prison. So I feel like also speaking on my experience humanizes it. So you just don't associate prison with these hardened criminals. You know what I mean? So you can understand, people that are incarcerated are humans, and people make mistakes.
Kenrya: It's interesting. I think that really underlines something, which is that very often people do not think of folks who have been incarcerated or who are currently incarcerated as people.
Amber: They don't. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kenrya: Right? It doesn't really matter what the crime was, or what your background was, where you came from. Folks tend to other people who have been in situations that are not theirs, and automatically, it's much easier to turn an eye away, or to not give a fuck about the conditions, or to see that people are getting sentences that are, quite frankly, inhumane, are being kept in conditions that are inhumane, if you don't think of them as being human.
Amber: Absolutely. Yeah. Also, you just may not even think about people who are incarcerated unless you have someone closely related to you or in real life that is. You know what I mean? Then you start to kind of focus on that. So I do feel like one of the positives is that I feel like a lot of criminal justice reform, people are speaking on it now. I feel like it's becoming more and more popular. I don't know if that's just because this is the field that I'm getting into, like I'm being kind of saturated with it. What do you guys, do you think you see more of it now?
Kenrya: I think there is a definite shift. This crosses over into my work. I think that the word before was reform, right? Folks were talking about trying to figure out how we can make the system incrementally better. Over the last year, folks have really gotten into the idea of prison industrial complex abolition, and really replacing the system, and freedom dreaming. How do we tear this shit down and replace it with something that actually works?
Kenrya: Not just works the way that it was designed to work, which was to basically keep Black and brown people down. But that actually creates justice, and brings people to a better place, and that is not only just restorative, but transformative, and changes the systems, and the things that put people into incarcerated states to begin with. I think there is a definite shift, and you see it in social media, they mention it. Nobody ever was talking about PIC abolition on the news before this last year.
Amber: That's true.
Kenrya: I think that a lot of people still don't give a fuck. We still have people who are upset about the idea of letting people out of prisons when COVID is running rampant through, from cell to cell, which is infuriating to me. But I think that there are a lot more people who are open to the idea of abolition than just a year ago.
Amber: I agree. I also think that a lot of people have a hard time accepting and understanding that our criminal justice system does not work. There are a ton of people that are incarcerated right now for crimes that they did not commit. That is proven all of the time. It makes it really difficult when you have these people, "What are we going to do? You can't just let them all out." I'm like, "Well, look at the amount of people that-"
Kenrya: We could, though.
Amber: Exactly. Also, look at the amount of people that were even unjustly convicted. You know what I mean? Even I look at myself, my job, I was the town driver. So I got to leave the compound in a car with an inmate, and no guard, and drive around the state, and take them places. They knew that I was going to come back, because I was trustworthy. Right? Because I was obedient. So if you feel like I was such a criminal, and so harmful to society, why would you send me to another state to drive around freely? Why couldn't I have just stayed home and been with my three year old? He was three at the time. Why pull me from my toddler? From my community?
Amber: I feel like this is one of the unique hardships that women face when they're incarcerated, right? A lot of times we are the main caregivers. We're the main breadwinners. We are the glue that holds our family together. So when you uproot us, and send us away, that affects everyone. So you're taking away a salary. You're taking away that matriarch of the family, oftentimes, the person who is keeping everyone together. Then it just starts this domino effect, which messes up so how is this person going to survive? How is the family going to survive?
Amber: Not only how is the family going to survive, but then they have to take care of someone who is incarcerated, because putting money on people's books can be expensive. I think I was getting between $300 and $500 a month on my books. That's not like an excessive amount of money for federal prison. I could probably survive less. But also, I am a professional Black woman. So I need to put my baby hair, there were things that I needed while I was incarcerated. No, but seriously. So I also like to really highlight what it means to be a woman that's incarcerated. Just even being away from your child like that, and even one of the things I posted today, women, when you're pregnant and you're incarcerated, they give you like a day with your baby, and they take you away immediately. Imagine what happens to that newborn that's getting taken away from the mother.
Kenrya: There are studies that look at the trauma that's inflicted upon children that have been separated, not just from their moms, but from their parents in general.
Amber: In general. Absolutely.
Kenrya: When they're incarcerated.
Amber: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Kenrya: Wow. So you were saying earlier that most of what you really knew about what it meant to be incarcerated is what you learned from media. Of course, we asked you to come on, because we read this book called “Free to Love You” for last week's episode. It features a relationship between a formerly incarcerated man and a woman who works to support reentering folks. We'd love to talk about your thoughts on the ways that Black formerly incarcerated folks are portrayed in media, from books, to the news, to all of it in terms of the way that folks are portrayed.
Amber: I think it just goes back to the stigma, right? Then you also have to understand, when you are incarcerated, and especially for a portion of time, you have to take on a certain persona. You have to adapt. You almost have to become a little savage in order just to survive. We would have a joke in prison, like somebody, we would be like, "Oh, she been down too long." Which means they've been incarcerated too long, because everything is very regimented. They're very abrasive, they don't play. We also call that institutionalized. Because you get into the schedule, because you know at this time, and this time I have count, at this time we go eat, and this, I'm going to do this, this day I wash my hair, this day I wash my this. You know what I mean? So everything becomes very regimented.
Amber: So a lot of people when they come out of prison, they still remain on that kind of schedule and regimen. So you hear stories of people that freak out when they're out because they feel like, "Oh God, I'm going to miss count," because it's just so ingrained in you. I know that that is one of the stigma attached to it, because you feel like they are a little bit hardened, and they are, because they had to be. So it's going to take that person a while to adjust back into society. A lot of landlords don't want to rent to people that are formerly incarcerated, because they have a bad ... They're getting a bad rap. Also, if you have someone who is on probation, and they're under supervision, you never know if they're going to have to get stepped back, and go back to prison. So you don't want to have anybody on a lease, and then lose them, because they have to get stepped back to prison.
Amber: I'm experiencing that now, when I'm trying to find commercial property for my business. They're like, "Oh, you're on probation. We just don't feel safe about that." They're not going to come out and say it, per se, but they'll give me some other reasons. Really, there aren't any, because financially I can show that I can afford to pay X, Y, and Z, that I can do X, Y, and Z. So I just feel like there is this stereotype of, especially Black people, that are coming out of prison. But I feel like it's warranted because sometimes this is the persona that you have to take on in order to survive incarceration.
Erica: So in the book, you mentioned being taken away from your family. That makes us think about the relationships that have probably changed post incarceration. So what has your experience been, sorry, with your relationships post incarceration? How has it impacted both romantic and non romantic relationships?
Amber: So I think of my non romantic, I had a really solid group of friends, right? So initially, when I was being indicted, and some people saw The Washington Post articles, I lost a couple of friends. But I won't say that they could have really been my friends, for them to just off of an assumption leave.
Kenrya: They ain't your friends.
Amber: Exactly. So my friends were fine. Romantically, it has been a huge, huge struggle. It's bad. It's really bad. Because it doesn't foster ... I feel like prison can either make or break your relationship. It definitely broke mine.
Erica: I'm sorry to hear that.
Amber: It's okay. Thank you.
Erica: Okay. So what books and resources can you recommend for people trying to, for Black folks, who are reentering after incarceration, and also just people that weren't incarcerated, how can we help?
Amber: So I feel like there is not necessarily one book or resource, especially because every state or city has different organizations. I feel like you kind of just have to find which ones are specific to you. I will say that some cities are way more felon friendly than others, DC is a very felon friendly city. They have a lot of resources for people that are formerly incarcerated. They have a lot of programs, there is even Georgetown University has a program for people that are formerly incarcerated, and it teaches them how to become entrepreneurs. I feel like DC has a lot of resources.
Kenrya: That's dope.
Amber: It is super dope. Yeah. I think that is really-
Erica: DC's mayor has an office, right?
Amber: Yeah, there is a whole office, and a man runs it, he was formerly incarcerated. No, DC is heavy on the resources. I feel like a lot of people in DC have charges or were convicted of something, and you don't even know. That's a thing. But then I also have spoken to people that are like, "I haven't been able to get housing in my town, I haven't been able to do X, Y, and Z. I haven't been able to get a job." Honestly, the best way to even maneuver around that is to be your own boss. But also, everybody can't do that. Even when you are on probation, they don't allow you to start your own business. That won't count as a job. You have to find employment that is with ... They don't want you to even really work for a family member.
Kenrya: I want to maybe add, since we were talking a little bit about prison abolition, a book that might be interesting for folks who want to learn a little bit more about that is Mariame Kaba's “We Do This 'Til They Free Us.” Really gives a breakdown of what folks mean when we say abolish the police. Then another one is for folks who are trying to figure out what should you do instead of calling the police, which is a thing that I think comes up when we talk about how do we replace these systems? There is a website called Don't Call the Police. I think it's .org, but let me see. It gives resources based on where you live-
Amber: That's perfect.
Kenrya: On who you should call instead of calling the police. It's DontCallThePolice.com. Yeah, it's got resources on who you should call. So if you need to get somebody to help with a mental health crisis, who should you call? If someone is having a housing issue, and you are trying to get them housed quickly, who should you call? If someone is experiencing domestic or sexual assault? So there are resources that exist-
Amber: Outside of the police.
Kenrya: The police. So it's a great resource for folks who want to figure out what you should do to keep from calling them in. Because as we know, very often when we call the police in, we end up being the ones who end up getting arrested or worse.
Amber: Absolutely. It's funny, because I learned this from my mother, when you are somewhere, and you feel like you're about to become a victim of a crime, my mother was like, "You never yell out help." She was like-
Kenrya: Because nobody wants to help.
Amber: She was like, "You always yell out fire, because somebody is going to be looking around like, oh, is my shit on fire? Where is the fire?"
Kenrya: Because folks are motivated by self interest.
Amber: Absolutely. So it's funny, because I tell my son that. I'm like, "If anybody ever tries to take you, I want you to yell out fire." You know what I mean? Anything, just yell out fire as an alarm. That just kind of ... It brings me to we don't want the police necessarily called all of the time.
Kenrya: That's right. That actually kind of leads to the next question, which is what do you wish that all Black people knew about the criminal justice system?
Amber: Obviously that it is not for us, it was not designed for us. If anything, it was mostly designed for us to fail, right? People, especially that don't have a lot of resources, just everything. Just from setting bail, to everything. The way the entire system is set up, it is designed for us to fail. When you come out of prison to mass supervision, they want you to go back to prison. So they make all of these ridiculous rules. Like I cannot leave DC. I have a 50 mile radius that I have to stay within the city.
Kenrya: You can't even live here without going outside of DC.
Amber: I be like, "What part of Baltimore do you live in? Because I don't think I can come." It's ridiculous. They want to, "Can you do this, can you do that?" I'm like, "No. I can't do it." "Can you ask your probation ..." I'm like, "Hey, I just want to go to this resort with my homegirls." You know what I mean? He's not going to give me permission to do that. So it becomes interesting. I don't have my passport. It is locked up with the court system. I cannot get it until I am off of probation. So that's also very frustrating, right? Because one thing you need when you come out of prison is a vacation, honey.
Erica: Right? So what message do you want to dispel about the criminal justice system?
Amber: I think my message is always to just de-stigmatize what it means to be incarcerated, and to humanize the experience. I feel like me, personally, it's easier for me to humanize it because I don't have a violent crime. What I did is potentially palatable. Some people could be like, "Oh, okay, well, I can see how that can happen." So it is not as judgmental. But then I always tell people too, because people will be like, "Well, you must have done something."
Amber: My thing is this, even if I did what the government said I did, did that warrant incarceration? That is always my question. What warrants incarceration? Then also, because people tell me all the time, "I never would have thought you were incarcerated." Then also, so what does someone who is incarcerated look like? You know what I mean? So that is another way. To me, these are all aspects of humanizing it. So if we could just take away, and not be so quick to judge a situation, to listen, and humanize. Just think of this person as a human.
Kenrya: Consider what are our goals of incarceration, right? All right, what are you trying to accomplish by sending someone to jail for 30 years?
Amber: Yeah, for 30 years, for drugs. For the people that are still incarcerated right now for marijuana, and it is out here, white people are out here thriving.
Kenrya: When white people are building fucking billion dollar companies.
Amber: Billion dollar companies. Getting articles written about them in Forbes, and it is Black people, mostly, incarcerated still for marijuana. It is absolutely insane. Again, not designed for us.
Kenrya: Exactly. So what can our listeners do to better support our family that's in the system?
Amber: I think one is don't judge them. I know it's hard, but you also have to understand, when people commit certain things, it's because they've experienced a lot of trauma in their lives. So I think if we try to empathize more with people. Why did this person do this? What drove this person to do this? Especially if it was a violent criminal act or something. You know what I mean? Just listen to them. Write them letters, while you're incarcerated, it's maybe one of the best things to receive. At mail call, when you hear your name called, you feel like a superstar, right? Like, "Oh, excuse me, let me go get my mail. The guard just called my name for mail."
Amber: It's so simple, but also because it's hard, because people don't hand write letters anymore. Shout out to businesses like Flikshop, who make it easy for you to send mail from your mobile phone, and you can write a message, and send a picture that you've taken right on your phone, and send it straight to the prison from your phone.
Kenrya: That's awesome.
Amber: It is, it's super awesome. I think it's a really dope service. Someone formerly incarcerated also started that business as well.
Kenrya: We'll drop a link to that in the show notes.
Amber: Yeah. F-L-I-K shop. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kenrya: What are you reading right now?
Amber: I am reading “The Mother of Black Hollywood, the Jennifer Lewis Story.”
Kenrya: I did that one on audiobook, because I wanted to hear her read it, because she's so her.
Amber: She's the best, right? I had actually gotten this book before I was incarcerated, and then I didn't read it. You can't bring stuff into prison with you. So I'm just getting around to reading it now. I think it's, so far where I am, it's excellent. But just her being so open about her struggles and issues with mental illness, right? Which I think is another thing that we struggle with in our community. That's why I am also a big advocate of therapy. When I first found out I was going to prison, I started therapy. I am in therapy now because prison is trauma, and you have to deal with your trauma, you know? We all want to be healthy and well.
Kenrya: They'll deal with you.
Erica: So what is turning you on today?
Amber: What is turning me on, today, freedom. Okay? Because a year ago, I was not in the same place. It feels really good to just be done with prison, honestly. It was definitely the worst experience of my life, but it did not break me. So I've been speaking to a lot of women that just got sentenced, and that are going away to prison. I tell them, "It's terrible. But you're going to survive, and you'll be able to manage it. It's not going to be the end of the world. Every day, it does get a little bit better." I live with the basic motto that everything always works itself out. It's so simple, but it's so true. It may not necessarily be the way you wanted it to be, but it does.
Erica: Okay. So before we wrap this up, I want to do a quick lightning round. So I am going to say something, say a category, and you tell me your favorite, okay?
Amber: Oh my God, okay.
Erica: So first, favorite song?
Amber: Ooh. Right now, I am, gosh, what am I listening to? I'm listening to a lot of Afrobeat. I don't necessarily have a specific favorite song. Oh my God, I'm going to be horrible at this, I'm going to be so horrible at this.
Erica: No, I would have said something like Pooh Sheisty. So you sound, you're already doing better than me.
Amber: Okay, we can do like, what's his name? Yeah, Pooh Shietsy and Coi Leray, Big Purr. Isn't that a song? "She called me big purr."
Kenrya: Who are these people?
Amber: Listen, I was listening to that today. I was like, "Yes." Because I like that she calls her vagina Big Purr, right? Purr. You have to say it like that. Big Purr.
Kenrya: I don't know who these people are.
Amber: I mean, I shouldn't know who these people are at this age. Super shouldn't know.
Erica: I'm embarrassed that I know this, but I'm kind of cool.
Amber: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kenrya: It keeps you young. I don't know, shit.
Erica: Okay. Your favorite person?
Amber: Oh, my son. That sounds cliché, my little pumpkin.
Erica: Favorite place?
Amber: The beach. Any beach.
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Favorite word.
Amber: Fuck. Right?
Erica: It can be used in so many different ways.
Amber: So many ways, as a person, place, or thing, a verb, right? It is just an amazing word. An adjective.
Erica: It works hard in my vocabulary.
Amber: It does.
Erica: Okay. Favorite smell?
Amber: Gardenias. Gardenia. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Erica: That's beautiful. All right, that was it.
Kenrya: So where can folks find you online?
Amber: So I can be found, I have a website. It's www.TheBeenDownProject.com. I am on Instagram @TheBeenDownProject. I am on TikTok @TheBeenDownProject. I am on Twitter @BeenDownProject. But I tweet, I happily have like five tweets total.
Kenrya: Which platform is your favorite?
Amber: It's probably vying between Instagram and TikTok. Right? TikTok just ... I get to be a little bit more ratchet on TikTok.
Erica: Yes. TikTok is great. I feel like I've learned so much with TikTok, you know?
Amber: Oh, 100%. Yeah. TikTok is just like whatever, because people are definitely going to judge you, and they're definitely going to come for you. So you're like, "All right, let's go. Let's go, TikTok."
Erica: The wild west.
Amber: Right, right.
Kenrya: Well, thank you so much for coming on the show, Amber. It was lovely.
Amber: Thank you. I hope I didn't bore you ladies with my big purr conversation. I'm just kidding.
Erica: Not at all. Not at all. Thank you so much for coming on, sharing.
Amber: Yes. Yes. I really enjoyed myself.
Erica: We really appreciate it.
Amber: Thank you. So you got to let me know when this airs. Okay.
Kenrya: So that's it for this week's episode of The Turn On. Thank all of y'all for listening, and we'll see y'all next week. Take care.
Kenrya: This episode was produced by us, Kenrya and Erica, and edited by B'Lystic. The theme music is from Brazy. Hit subscribe right now on your favorite podcast app, and at YouTube.com/TheTurnOnPodcast, so you'll never miss an episode.
Erica: Then follow us on Twitter @TheTurnOnPod, and Instagram @TheTurnOnPodcast. You can find links to books, transcripts, guest info, what's turning us on and other fun stuff at Theturnonpodcast.com.
Kenrya: Don't forget to email us TheTurnOnPodcast@gmail.com with your book recommendations and your pressing sex and related questions.
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Kenrya: Thanks for listening, and we'll see you soon. Holla.
The Turn On
The Turn On is a podcast for Black people who want to get off. To open their minds. To learn. To be part of a community. To show that we love and fuck too, and it doesn't have to be political or scandalous or dirty. Unless we want it to be.