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In this episode of The Turn On, Erica and Kenrya read "A Spy In The Struggle" by Aya de Leon and talk about environmental racism, being in community with other Black people, so-called "Black Identity Extremists," Black Republicans, the value of unlikeable protagonists and the glorious intimacy of the word "nigga."
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Kenrya: Come here, get off.
Erica: Hey Killa.
Kenrya: Hey boo.
Erica: Okay, so today. Welcome, y'all.
Kenrya: Well yeah, we should say hi to y'all too. Hey.
Erica: Hey, so welcome to episode five of the Turn On. Today. We are reading “A Spy in the Struggle” by Aya de Leon. So sit back, relax, get your wine, your weed, whatever you need, and enjoy.
Kenrya: “A Spy in the Struggle” by Aya de Leon. Yolanda reached for the top button of blouse, but Jimmy stilled her hand and took over. He carefully unbuttoned her top, fingering the baby blue fabric, and pearl buttons. Her shyness dissolved with the undressing and she wrapped her arms around his waist. He leaned forward and tasted her neck with an open mouth kiss that made Yolanda wonder if she could hold out for the shower. As they backed into the bathroom, she slid her hands under his dashiki, her palms gliding up his undershirt, feeling the smooth, lean muscles of his back, his ribs, pulling the bright orange fabric top over his head. Jimmy reached past her waist to turn on the shower, lingered on the way back, caressing the curve of her firm hips, the taut muscles of her belly, running his finger along the top of her jeans.
Kenrya: He leaned down and kissed her as she peeled off his ribbed undershirt, easing her hands slowly up his chest, stroking his nipples, rewarded with a gasp. "Oh no," he whispered, pulling his mouth away from hers, "not the secret weapon." Yolanda laughed and pulled his tank top off, tossing it on the floor and returned to sliding her hands back up and down his chest. "Yolanda," he whispered, "if you don't stop, I'm going to come in my pants." "No, you're not," she said, and unbuckled his belt. The bathroom had filled with steam, obscuring the tangle of their limbs from the reflection of the mirror, a film of humidity coating their skin, making everything slick and moist. He leaned forward to kiss the tops of each of her breasts that peaked out above her beige bra, while he reached around the unhook it. As the bra loosened, he leaned down and took her nipple in his mouth.
Kenrya: Yolanda moaned in his ear, taking the lobe between her teeth, using your hands to undo his pants and letting them drop around his ankles. Jimmy unbuttoned and unzipped her jeans, sliding his hands down the back of her underwear, easing the two garments down together. Jimmy squatted down and untied Yolanda's sneakers, sliding them off her feet one after another, and peeled off her socks. She stepped out of the pile of clothes as he took his own shoes and socks off and stood up in his boxers. Yolanda reached and caressed his erection through the dark maroon cotton fabric. He ran his hands down her back over the curve of her ass, and back up the front of her body, her hip bones, her ribs, her small firm, breasts, their large, brown nipples.
Kenrya: Finally, she slid off his boxers, and he lifted her up, hands under her ass, into the shower. She held the curtain rod to steady them, and he let her down slowly to her feet, sliding her body down the front of his. The spray at their sides, she backed him against the wall of the shower, pressing his erection against her belly. Yolanda leaned forward and stroked Jimmy's left nipple with one hand and put the right one in her mouth. He tangled his hand in her hair and moaned, his knees nearly buckling with the pleasure of her.
Kenrya: "Yolanda, I'm serious. I'm going to make a mess." She moved her mouth from his nipple and continued to stroke it with her other hand and kissed him, open mouth and hungry, pressing her belly against him, her hips against the taut muscles of his thighs. "It's okay," she murmured into his chin, "we're in the shower." She reached for the bar of soap and peeled off the paper. "We can clean up as we go along." She lathered her hands and slid one onto his nipple and the other between his legs. Jimmy gasped and fell back against the shower wall. "Besides," Yolanda murmured into his neck as his muscles tightened and he grabbed her waist moving against her in a rhythm, "This is only the first round."
Erica: Hey hey, funky monkeys. Welcome, welcome back. Kenrya, thank you for that beautiful rendition. I keep calling them renditions, like they're not excerpts. So thanks for that rendition of a sex scene in “A Spy in the Struggle” by Aya de Leon, written in... Well published in 2021. So quick synopsis of this story. So essentially what had happened was there's this chick, her name is Yolanda. She was an attorney for this law firm. And then one day she shows up to work... And she's like an entry level attorney. One day she shows up to work and they're like, "Hey, go shred this box." So she's walking out with the box and then the FBI bust in. And she was like, "Oh, they told me to shred this. You can have this shit." So she kind of drops dime on the company.
Kenrya: Yeah, she's a whistleblower, officially.
Erica: Officially. So she was a whistleblower, and that caused her to be shunned by all her... By all the law firms in the city. So she ends up going to work for the FBI because she's like, "Look, this is the only job I can find. I need to pay some bills. FBI, here I come." And the whole idea was like, "I'm going to work for the FBI and earn my place back in the law firm world." We'll get into her in a minute. So she's at the FBI just crunching numbers, doing her normal FBI, "I'm an attorney for the FBI" shit. And then she gets a call and they're like, "Yo, you need to go to California. There's this group, this in environmental group that is filled with Black Identity Extremists." And they're in... I don't know if they're in Oakland, but it's like Oakland. And they're like, "We know from your file you're from that community, because you went to school out there, college out there, so it makes sense for the cover for you to infiltrate this organization."
Erica: So she's like, "Nah, I don't want to fucking do it," but they're like, "You better do it." So she's like, "This will help me earn my way back into the firm." So she does it. So she goes out there, she becomes a part of the organization, and hijinks ensue, dot dot dot. And there's a love interest, because that's why she fucked somebody. Okay, first let's say Aya de Leon, she writes a lot of really good books. This is the first that we've read of hers, but she's been on her radar for a while. I've read a few of her books. So she's a wonderful writer, and cool as shit, it seems like. And this is just me looking at her picture and knowing that she's a professor, but I could totally see me myself in her class, like, "Hey, girl."
Kenrya: In her emails too, she's dope.
Erica: Oh yeah, that's why I'm like... I know this isn't completely [crosstalk 00:08:40].
Kenrya: How do you know? Yeah.
Erica: So good ass book. But let's start first with the easy shit. Easy shit. Environmental racism. And Aya does a really good way, a really good job of framing how fucking racist environmental shit can be. So when I think about racism... No, when I think about environmentalists, I think of dirty white kids with dreadlocks that smell patchouli chaining themselves to trees. That's what I think of. But then... And you're like, "No, there's a reason that all these cities are... All these Black neighborhoods and cities are literally in the path of fucking smog, smoke stacks and... Like Gary, Indiana-“
Kenrya: That's all by design.
Erica: Our cities that are predominantly Black, I'm thinking about East St. Louis. I'm from St. Louis. East St. Louis is like... It's literally all the pollution... Look at my nails. But all the pollution ends up in East St. Louis. Or you think about those cities-
Kenrya: I think of Little Miss Flint, about... You know they just won that suit yesterday.
Erica: I didn't know that.
Kenrya: Yeah, but it's not enough money, but it is millions of dollars. It is primarily for children who have been injured by... It ain't enough money, though.
Erica: It's never enough. But they're like, "Ooh, you won millions of dollars." Yeah, for millions of people. But anyway. Or you think about those cities in those little towns in North Carolina that are next to pig processing plants and their water's horrible and everybody has cancer and...
Kenrya: Or Cancer Alley in Louisiana.
Erica: So this book, the setup of it does a beautiful job explaining how... Because I think they're explaining that to Yolanda in her briefing or whatever. And then she goes to a community meeting.
Kenrya: An organizing meeting.
Erica: And they do a really... She does a really good job of explaining how environmental racism is a thing and how it really affects Black people.
Kenrya: Every part of our lives.
Erica: Exactly. So I thought that was just... I thought it was a really great premise. Because we think about... Also we've been hearing the term Black Identity Extremists. Some of us know it a little better than others, Kenrya...
Kenrya: I know that it's some bullshit that they made up to continue to target us in the ways that they always do.
Erica: Exactly. I'm not saying it... By no means [crosstalk 00:11:53] validity into it. You hear about it and you think it's just the government going after Black Lives Matter people on the news. You think they're just going after the... I was going to call out some names, but the first name that came to mind was very problematic, so I won't. Talcum X was who came to mind. But you think of Black Identity Extremists and you think the government has a list of five names. The people you see on the news talking about Black Lives Matter and that's it. When no, it's not that. It is them infiltrating all types of organizations in order to break down what are just organizations that are meant to fucking-
Kenrya: They don't want us to be in community in any way.
Erica: Exactly. And let's be real, if these organizations really were fucking some shit up, I go back to that quote, I don't know where it is, I saw it on a t-shirt, “We could never loot as much as has been stolen from us.”
Kenrya: But also fuck property rights. What the fuck is that? Property over people is literally what this country is built on and fuck them.
Erica: And this story is about that. So there's this organization and it was created... I think it was created out of... I'm thinking of this... Now I'm thinking of it in big tobacco, how tobacco had the lawsuits, and then they had to create these little nonsmoking non-profits.
Kenrya: “We're in the community.”
Erica: So that's what happened. There was this company that was dumping waste and being environmentally a polluter. So as a result, they had to create this organization to save the planet, and the organization's called Red, Black, and Green, which I absolutely love. At first it was a little too on the nose, but then when she explained, I was like, that's not some shit some kids came up with. So it was Red, Black and Green, and they came out of the whatever... And these motherfuckers are like, "Yeah, thanks for your money, but fuck this, we kicking over some tables." And I was like...
Kenrya: Loved it.
Erica: So they fight environmental racism and it was really great seeing the organization at work, seeing the kids. The kids were smart and well written, because you know I hate those “Merry Christmas Tiny Tim” kind of kids.
Kenrya: I generally hate kids in every... And you know how much I love kids, but I hate the way adults hate write kids. They're always awful in movies and books. Yeah, people do such shitty a job, which I guess is why it always stands out to us when the kids are well written.
Erica: And the kids were well written. They were on some for real...
Kenrya: They were authentic. That baby that came up and said, "What starts with F and ends with CK?" I probably shouldn't have laughed so hard, but I loved that baby.
Erica: I was like, "Yo, this kid is amazing." And then there was-
Kenrya: It's firetruck, by the way.
Erica: And then there were like... There were a couple kids, young girls that were written about, and it was very... It was just a good voice for kids, and we don't see that a lot. Actually I feel like all the books that we have read that have kids in them, they actually have been written well, because I remember saying this before about kids, but-
Kenrya: Yeah, we were saying that about the... The one where he had to go home because his brother got locked up in season four, or was that season [crosstalk 00:15:54].
Erica: That was literally this season.
Kenrya: Was that this season?
Erica: Two episodes ago, two books ago.
Kenrya: I'm sorry. I've reached brain fog o'clock.
Erica: It's okay, because I was like, "Strippers." So yeah, the kids were written super well. I feel like we could spend hours dissecting Yolanda. So Yolanda, to me, the way I see Yolanda, she is textbook Black Republican.
Kenrya: She the bitch that only got white friends and her hair always look fucked up.
Erica: And the kids say that. They didn't say that, but they said that. They were like... There was a scene where she overheard the kids talking... “She can't dress [inaudible 00:16:53], y'all see that?” So yeah.
Kenrya: She's so fucking bootstrappy.
Erica: Bootstrappy exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point. Bootstrap as shit. That's what I have listed. So here's the thing. Yolanda grew up initially in the South, and her mom and dad were together, her dad was a pastor, and he was an activist pastor. He was an activist pastor loved by the city, by the Black folks, all that shit. But her daddy died. When her daddy died, her mom went to Howard. I can tell this because it's not a huge part of the story, but... Okay, so Yolanda's dad died, and at the funeral, her daddy's mistress showed up and was crying, and her mom was like, "Oh fuck this. I wanted to get out this town anyway, but I'm really getting out this town." So her mama packed her up and they bounce, and they just ride, they just drive out.
Erica: So they leave like... I can't remember where it was. Let's say it was Mississippi. Probably one, if it was, a broken clock is right twice, so anyway. So they pack up the car and mom bounces. Mom moves out to California or something, and this starts this whole transient life. Her mom is unstable and she goes from relationship to relationship, but also from religious community... She also goes from commune to commune kind of thing. So it's this really unstable life, and Yolanda and then realizes, "I don't want a part of this." So she, like all little co-dependent girls, decides, "I am going to bust my ass to be an amazing student." She is. She gets sent to a boarding school and she's the Black girl at the boarding school. So first I think Yolanda is textbook, also textbook, when a little kid sees just enough to build their own story. She had a really fucked up view about the whole activism work that her father was doing.
Kenrya: Because she read some articles that were in opposition to what he was preaching, and then everything he said went out the window. It was very Black and white thinking.
Erica: And I think also... And it is just one of things where I think I... We see it all the time. kids will fill in the blanks and not even ask.
Kenrya: They don't really get nuance if you don't give it to them.
Erica: And I can see how as a parent sometimes you don't even realize that there's nuance that needs to be given. I was listening to this man, I think it was on Instagram or something. He was saying how his son called him and was pissed because he was like, "Mama's a football player. I know she a football player. Tell these motherfuckers that she's a football player so they can quit telling me I'm lying." And she's like, "What the are you talking about?" He overheard his mama talking about, "Let me get my pads before the event." Again, kids will get this much and all of this with the wrong shit.
Kenrya: That is a wonderful...
Erica: And that is what it is.
Kenrya: I tell my partner, because he doesn't have any kids, but he's obviously very involved over here, but he still don't... He ain't had a kid from scratch. So I have to tell him all the time kids are dumb. They don't know stuff if you don't teach it to them. I have to stop and break things down to very, very basic, he'd be like, "Do you have..." I'm like, "Yes, nigga, they don't know nothing."
Erica: “You didn't know this, but it [crosstalk 00:21:21]. You learned it before you can remember learning it, but you learned... Someone told you.”
Kenrya: Exactly. It's just that he's also not used to seeing someone who's very intentional about making sure that you teach them the little things so they don't make up them stories.
Erica: So I think that's what happened with Yolanda. I think she had bits and pieces of her life and she just started filling shit in. So her whole life was built upon shit that she just made up. And then it's one of them things where you find stuff to support that particular view.
Kenrya: Confirmation bias.
Erica: Yeah, that's what it's called. Great value.
Kenrya: When we look for things.
Erica: Great value. So I think that's exactly what happened with her. Oh, because also, when she went in on this thing, she was convinced that these little kids was really doing some shit. Like these motherfuckers are wrong and I am here to help the FBI see they're wrong, and then I'm going back to my spot. It wasn't a woman get in or you know...
Kenrya: It was like, "This is what the FBI told me was going on." She had zero doubt that they were racist and that they were making shit up. It was just like, "This is what they said. Oh that looks like that confirms what they said. Let's go."
Erica: And I think also what I do know about Aya is that she's not that. So it was amazing that she was able to write... Like you could totally see why Yolanda believes the way she... Feels the way she does.
Kenrya: And she wrote her without contempt. I did not like her, but it didn't feel as if she didn't like her as she was writing her. She got in her head and let her be herself.
Erica: I was ready to not like her. I was like, "This lady is a bitch." And because Aya was so neutral about her, it kept me from jumping off the deep end, because I was like, "Bitch is crazy."
Kenrya: I just kept being like, "She going to get there. She going to come around."
Erica: She did, but it was a... [inaudible 00:23:52]. She got there, but it was a thing getting there. So Yolanda went off to boarding school and she got to boarding school and she was the Black kid in a room full of whites. And because of all the shit she went through and her biases, she believed that white folks was okay. So she was just like all up they asses until an incident happened, and then she was like, "Oh, ain't nobody my friend." I read that, her experience in... Because the way that the book was written, there were lots of flashbacks. So when I got to this point about her in boarding school, it reminded me of those conversations we have where we're like, "Is it worth our kids being the only one for the sake of going to a better school? Is a better school really important if your kids having to explain why her hair nappy?"
Kenrya: And you know I went through that firsthand. Unintentionally. I enrolled my kid in the school where in kindergarten there were lots of little Black kids, and then in first grade-
Erica: Not so many.
Kenrya: Was it? Yeah. And then in first grade, everybody got into a voucher program and left and it was just my baby and one other Black kid. And then the racism started.
Erica: And it's crazy because I actually recently had a... Worked with a client, and the client represents charter schools that are run by Black and brown people. So they represent Black and brown single site charter schools. And it was really interesting watching them. I mean, you see the importance of it, but then seeing them doing their work and their mission, you're like, "Yo, this shit is so important," because yeah, I would rather have to supplement shit at home than... Because you can supplement math. I cannot supplement a pack of white girls telling my little girl [crosstalk 00:26:26].
Kenrya: Patting your hair and treating you like a goddamn animal in a zoo all day. No thank you. It's not worth it. And even at the school that my kid was at that I didn't know was as white as it was, I asked in the interview, what's the percentage of Black kids, what's the percentage of kids... All of that. I did all the things. Only to find out that they switched up on me. But I am certain that there are folks that would've gone there knowing that that was the thing because they thought it was going to be a better educational value, and it turns out it wasn't, though.
Kenrya: One of my kid's white friends ended up pulling their child out a year later because he wasn't getting a good education there. So he goes to the school we go to now. Because it wasn't good for him either, and he's a little white boy. We got to examine the things that lead us to think that those places are better. I mean, it's the same thing that leads some people to think that HBCUs are not for them because they think that PWIs are somehow a better preparation for the world or some shit. I don't fucking know. It's racist everywhere, my nigga.
Erica: Everywhere. Everywhere. You might as well just enjoy-
Kenrya: At least get some grounding for a couple of years.
Erica: Enjoy some shit before you really in the thick of racist shit.
Kenrya: Into the thick of it.
Erica: So Yolanda, it was textbook bootstrappy Republican shit. And also this is one of them situations where it's like, "Girl, you ain't got no friends and you can see why." Well, no, not even that you can... I can see why she doesn't have any friends, but I can also see in her decisions, if you had a good homegirl, she would've pulled your ass aside about some of this shit, about a million things. You ain't got no homegirl that can pull you aside? But yeah, it was...
Kenrya: She ain't got no group chat.
Erica: Yeah, you need a group chat-
Kenrya: She got nothing.
Erica: You need somebody to tell the emperor that they ain't got no clothes. And she ain't have none of that shit.
Kenrya: She's naked in this mug.
Erica: And it had her and in a silo. And again her mom was a piece of work. I can't deny that. But at the same time, this was 13 year old Yolanda looking at her mom as an adult and filling in the blanks when it's kind of like... Maybe if you had somebody there to remind you that your mama's going through her shit and it ain't got nothing to do with you. So yeah, Yolanda was definitely...
Kenrya: Interesting. You know, we've talked a little bit about this before, about the fact that it's pretty cool that we've reached a point where there aren't so few Black books that everybody has to be likable. Same thing like with TV where we have shows where I might not that bitch, but it's good that we get to have that. Everybody doesn't have to be the perfect whatever.
Erica: Yeah, nobody has to be perfect. I mean, I don't think I could kick it with her, but she wasn't all bad. She wasn't horrible. She was difficult, but she wasn't horrible. So it was nice to be able to see a unlikeable character. But let's not act like everybody else was perfect. So Yolanda is in this program and she makes this dude, and Jimmy... She meets Jimmy. Jimmy is her love interest. And one of the things she learned about Jimmy, and I literally have this highlighted. Black girls didn't like me. This negro. He grew up in a situation and a little bit like Yolanda was like, "Eh, Black girls wasn't checking for me, so I ended up marrying a white woman."
Kenrya: This is like a box set, except for they end up [crosstalk 00:31:08].
Erica: You said what?
Kenrya: The bitch with no Black friends and the fucked up hair and the Black girls didn't like me is like a box set.
Erica: Except they usually never end up being together.
Kenrya: Except they don't find each other. Exactly.
Erica: Y'all just be together, make some ashy little babies. Because they're usually ashy too. And they did find each other, which was great. And I mean the cool thing about Jimmy, again, this isn't... He's not completely horrible, but he ended up aligning himself with this organization and really doing good work for the organization. But he was married before and he said, "Black girls didn't really like me. They work checking for me." And I think he actually had like... His parents were Black Panthers or something of the sort. If I'm not mistaken, they were. So then he marries this white woman because Black girls wasn't checking for me. But he realizes when he was married to his wife, he had to assimilate, go to the shit that the family does. "Let's go hang out with our white neighbors, so he did it."
Erica: But then they moved to oh Oakland or wherever they are. I'm going to call it Oakland. It's not Oakland. I'm going to call it Oakland. It feels like Oakland. They moved to Oakland and his wife don't do that shit, and he realizes part of the reason that he divorced her was because he was like... She had the luxury of not having to assimilate, so she didn't. And if I'm doing that for her, she should be able to do that for me. And I find that very interesting. I mean, I've never... I might have fucked a white guy once.
Kenrya: I'm going to say you absolutely fucked...
Erica: No, I'm talking about relationships. Yes, I fucked a white man before, but... Putting all my business out there. But yeah, I think part of that... Part of the reason that it would be difficult for me to be with the white man, white person, is that. I need you to be... Look, I live my life in your world all the time. You better jump in my world and be cool with this shit. Also my family would probably talk too bad about white people. And they'd be like, "Look at that white boy." And then he'd have to be okay with it. But I'd probably burn a house down if his family's like, "Look at that Black girl."
Kenrya: My ex-husband was light skinned, and one of my cousins called that nigga Jon B the first time he met him and called him that. He never called him his name. He called him Jon B for years.
Erica: Which knowing him, that is even more hilarious. My grandpa met this dude that I was dating, and I think I told this story. And he was Puerto Rican. So my grandpa met him, looked him dead in the face was like, "Nigga, you's a nigga." I was like, "Grandpa, we knew that."
Kenrya: "Nigga you's a nigga" is probably one of my favorite sentences of all time.
Erica: "Nigga you's a nigga." I was like, "Yeah he is, grandpa. Let's move on."
Kenrya: I have gone on a couple of dates with white men. Sometimes without knowing they were dates.
Erica: Did you?
Kenrya: I did not. I have never had sex with a white man. Okay, this sums it up for me. There was a meme, and I sent it to my partner because this is the stuff that we talk about it's relevant and it said, "Being married to somebody who can't say nigga don't sound fun."
Kenrya: And that's it in a nutshell.
Erica: I say nigga too much. Not too much, but a lot I use it for everything. So I'm going to need to be able to look you in the face and be like, "Nigga."
Erica: “Nigga, are you crazy?”
Kenrya: In all the ways. And you need to be able to pick up on all the ways that I'm using it and why I'm using it, and what this particular "nigga" means. That don't sound fun to me.
Erica: There's so many uses for it. It's like living a life without Lawry's. Well maybe not Lawry's. Without Tony Chachere's.
Kenrya: It is, though. And for years I was one of those Black people who was like, "Oh, don't say nigga. We shouldn't be using that word." Because I grew up... You know I grew up in a Black nationalist household and it was very like, "We don't say that word." So I didn't for years. I was just talking about this with my partner. I blame you and one of my exes.
Erica: You're welcome.
Kenrya: And Kevin Hart for bringing me around on the nigga front. It just feels good.
Erica: Yeah, it's a great word. It's like a fucking secret handshake.
Kenrya: I taught my kid the intricacies of it. When that Solange album came out, she says, "All my niggas in the whole wild world." So we had a conversation. And then remember there was a whole “babies creeping” thing, and he was saying “niggas creeping.” And I would just laugh until one day she was like, "Mama, they not saying ‘babies.’" And I was like, "All right, let's talk."
Erica: I love that there was a whole sit down about it.
Kenrya: Oh yeah. We had a whole conversation. So she's allowed, she knows that she can use nigga, but we also talked about mixed company and the whole nine. She knows when she can use stuff. Just like there are a couple of Solange songs... She's allowed to say “this shit is for us,” but only when she's singing that song.
Erica: “This shit is for us.”
Kenrya: And when the first time she... I've only actually heard her say it twice, and both times she whispered it in my ear while she was singing, because she's [crosstalk 00:37:41].
Erica: They don't know these reasons.
Kenrya: But yeah, we had a whole conversation about that shit. More than once.
Erica: I mean, I just feel like... I've never been the type of nigga to put all that energy... And maybe it's just because I'm like... I am Midwest in the most basic... I am run of the mill nigga. Run of the mill nigga. My granddaddy worked, he was a maintenance man. My granny did work in that... we are run of the mill niggas. We ain't got people in no fucking Howard yearbook back in the 20s. No, we are niggas.
Kenrya: It's just because my daddy used to be a full on, beret wearing gun toting man.
Erica: So I say that to say I've never put that whole like, "Hey, call us..." Okay, nigga.
Kenrya: I'm glad I saw the error of my ways. I came over to the other side. It's just so endearing and so... It honestly makes me feel good. It's just us. It's ours.
Erica: It's just like, "Bitch." If I call you bitch that's because I love you. If you get bitch in an email from me, bitch, you doing some shit.
Kenrya: The only time that it's ever... It seems like, I don't know... Obviously the show is included in my bio. I'm very proud of it. It is a piece of the work that I do. But I just started with a new client and we were supposed to be giving information about ourselves, and somebody else volunteered about this show. And two people were like, "Oh yeah, we already listen." And I was like, "Oh, you know a whole other side of me."
Erica: My oncologist listens to us. I was talking to her one day and she was like, "Oh my God, you and your friend have been in my ear all weekend." I was just like... Because I love what I do, but it's just like... Do you really need to see that side of me? But at the same time, I'm always afraid of myself going in and coming out of sedation... Anesthesia. Because I always say something wild, always wild. I remember one time I was going under and I remember being like, "Goddamn, that's why Michael Jackson liked this shit." And then I woke up. Because this shit is like a warm hug. So I'm always afraid of what I say going in and coming out. So I'm kind of like, "Hmm, if you're my doctor, you've probably seen that all already." It's kind of bad.
Kenrya: It's true. That's fine. I think they're used to people saying whatever the fuck. It's fine.
Erica: They probably have heard worse. So anyway, so this organization, I just have written down, the kids are all right. I feel like an old lady, and these kids, but these young kids, they're really just doing a damn thing and just being amazing little boogers. And it makes me so happy just to see them out being amazing and fighting for what's right and understanding the nuance of these issues. I just think it's dope as fuck. And the really cool thing about this organization that the kids are working for, they didn't treat the kids like they were stupid. They was like, "No, nigga, you running the newsletter. We got to go sit and talk to the cops. You coming in too." And I think it's really cool that they do that... There are lots of organizations that do that now, but I think it was really dope that that's something that they do with the kids.
Erica: Because again, the kids are going to be all right. Y'all are really doing doing what's right. And you're preventing a whole world of Yolandas from coming through. So I thought that was really dope. So in addition to Yolanda and Jimmy... I forgot the man's name. He's the guy that ran the...
Kenrya: The running dude?
Erica: Jimmy is a running dude.
Kenrya: Something White? White or...
Erica: The guy that ran Red, Black, and Green.
Kenrya: It's something with a W. I don't know. Dr. Walter? Don't get me to lying.
Erica: Just wrap it up. So he ran an organization and he was the person that really gave these kids a mission, but also became public enemy number one in the eyes of the FBI. And they were just convinced up and down that these kids were just too dumb to know what they were doing and he was out here brainwashing them. It was actually really interesting also to see how the folks in FBI really built up this... Made a monster out of this guy and this organization, but at the end of the day, it was just trying to live. Just trying to live, trying to do they thing. And it's scary.
Kenrya: Giving a fuck about the people in their community. Literally.
Erica: But it's scary to think that this ain't this some wild how did this shit happen type shit? Like, nah, this is some shit that has been happening, continues to happen, is probably happening right the fuck now. That's scary. You know you be talking about the industry plant. Who did they say was the industry plant? I'm sorry. I totally skipped over...
Kenrya: Industry plant?
Erica: It seems like a music industry plant. Because they're like, "This person's popular, but not really, and don't nobody know why." Gosh, I can't... I don't know, it's going to hit me and you probably going to cackle. It was somebody like The Weeknd.
Kenrya: Or I won't even know who they are because you know I don't know nobody. My daddy very much liked The Weeknd's first album.
Erica: Of course your dad did, with his...
Kenrya: But you know he had to clean, Walmart version, and I was like, "What's the point?" I was like, "Daddy, all he sings about is fucking and taking cocaine. What are you listening to?"
Erica: "I thought he was talking about sleeping and cough medicine." I love your daddy so much.
Kenrya: He liked that shit.
Erica: I love him so much "talking about sleeping and cough medicine," how it makes you loopy. He's so cute. Oh, it's scary to think that there's all these... This shit is really happening. This shit is really happening, and listening to the kids talk about like, "Oh, remember when so and so was around?" And then she comes to find out that this person was the FBI person before that, and niggas was dying without telling her, which I think... You know what, now that I think about it, I wonder if... So Yolanda ended up seeing the error in her ways. I'm wondering if she saw the error in her ways because she saw that she was in a fucked up situation, or if she saw how the FBI didn't give a fuck about her. But not that we ever...
Kenrya: Because she realized the FBI didn't give a fuck about her, because people are selfish as fuck and really mostly worried about their own self-interest.
Erica: You hit the nail on the head. But yeah, they were... She learned, and also these motherfuckers lazy as fuck. Her room-
Kenrya: Oh, where they had her.
Erica: Was in the same house as an informant before that. Nigga, y'all really just going to have me out here just...
Kenrya: It's not dangerous at all.
Erica: Yeah, because I'm like, if anybody was really nosy, they would've figured that out a long time ago. Because my Black ass, I'm nosy. So I would've figured that shit out.
Kenrya: They didn't care about her. Any more than they care about the rest of us.
Erica: They didn't. So FBI, environmental racism. Sorry, I have this note that I... I have two sets of notes. And this happened in another book that I was reading, but Yolanda and her dad. As a kid, she saw signs that her dad was not faithful to her mom, was cheating on her mom. But then her mom confirmed it, and that shit... It's tough. You don't want to expose your kids to shit. You don't want them to know that you... You don't want them to expose them to the fact that they daddy ain't shit, but at the same time, your daddy ain't shit. That nigga hurting my feelings. After the funeral, when Yolanda's mom saw this chick show up and Yolanda's getting... She knew that this was weird, but she didn't know that this was my daddy's mistress. And her mama told her everything. And I'm always... When it comes to that kind of. And not that I want to protect the image of any one person. If anything, I want to protect my kid, you know?
Kenrya: Yeah. I tend to let people reveal themselves.
Erica: Yeah. But I mean, her mom is was kind of like, "This nigga dead. Ain't no revealing."
Kenrya: He gone. But in that case, I think... I don't know. I would probably opt to wait until they were a bit older before...
Erica: Before sharing that piece of information.
Erica: Yeah. But her mom was hurt. Ooh, her mom was hurt. You know it's...
Kenrya: But our kids are not the people who we should turn to when we're hurt.
Erica: Exactly. Which, again... Because Yolanda did-
Kenrya: It's not their job.
Erica: Yolanda's mom-
Kenrya: I tell my kid all the time, it's not your job to manage the emotions of adults.
Erica: Yeah. Which will then turn into it's not your job to manage the emotion of other folks. So great that she's learning-
Kenrya: That too. But I'm super clear about the adult part because it's really easy for a sensitive kid to feel like they have to do that.
Erica: Yeah, totally. But again, this goes back to my... I hate to sound all hippy dippy, but having community means everything... You got to have folks... Maybe if she had a sister or cousin or homegirl or somebody to cuss at about this, she wouldn't be turning her daughter and turn her homegirl telling her everything, you know?
Kenrya: Therapy also.
Erica: I've seen that in action, and I know people that tell their kids entirely too much and I be like...
Kenrya: I was that kid. I knew way too much. Not cool.
Erica: See, I was that kid. I was more like Yolanda. I wasn't told too much, but I saw too much and overheard too much, but not enough to put two and two together. So then I just made up stories in my head about why X, Y, and Z. And then years, years, years, years, years later, in therapy, I'm like, "Oh, that's what they meant, and not this. This whole thing I have built in my head."
Kenrya: I both saw and was told I was a confidant, and children should not be confidants of adults.
Erica: Yeah. Codependency. Turning your kid into your-
Kenrya: Into your friend.
Erica: Yeah, girl. Don't do it. Actually, I've had situations where people have said too much to my child and I'm like, "We ain't going to do that."
Kenrya: It's interesting. People have that... I'm not one of your little friends, it's one of those eternal Black mama phrases, but I feel like people use it and think of it in the wrong way. The way that it's often meant is the kindness and the...
Erica: Going up, from the kid to the parent. The parent is like, "I'm not your age. Don't treat me like I'm your your little friend." Whereas parents on the other hand are like... Kids need to be looking at them, "I'm not your big friend."
Kenrya: Keep that shit to yourself, B. Where your homegirl?
Erica: Where is your group chat? Was I talking to you about that or somebody, where I was like, "This person don't have no group chat."
Kenrya: I don't know, other than Yolanda.
Erica: It was a different situation where I was like, "Ooh, this girl don't have no group chat. She need a group chat." Because honey, a group chat will save you. Because I put so much in group chat. I'm like, "Look, bitch. Yesterday, just delete all yesterday. Let's delete it now. Let's just delete it right now." The real stupid shit comes, I just call. Be like, "You know what?"
Kenrya: I don't need no paper trail.
Erica: Last night. Last night. I was on a call.
Kenrya: We ain't shit.
Erica: Kenrya was not feeling well. She was tired. She was low energy. Somebody said something, this bitch damn near there sat straight up and, "What?" She was like, "Nope. Nope. That's not what was meant. That's not what was supposed to be said. None of that."
Kenrya: I had a visceral reaction.
Erica: Visceral. Visceral in the mood. Well, that's all I got. You got anything else for the good of the order?
Kenrya: No ma'am.
Erica: Okay. So we are going to take a break and then we will be back with-
Kenrya: What's turning us on.
Kenrya: Hey y'all. Today's a great day to start your own podcast. Whether you're looking for a new marketing channel, have a message you want to share with the world, or just think it'd be fun to have your own show like us, podcasting is an easy, inexpensive, and fun way to expand your reach online. And Buzzsprout is hands down the easiest and best way to launch, promote, and track your podcast. Your show gets put online and listed in all the major podcast directories like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, literally everything, within minutes of finishing and uploading your recording.
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Erica: Hey so, we are back with our segment what's turning us on. So what's turning me on today is this little thing... Ooh, disregard my nails. I need to get my nails done. So this is a little starfish. I like it because it's a little vibrator. You see here. Can you hear that? It's a little starfish that vibrates. One of the things that I have been trying to do this season is find sex toys that are a little more fluid and able to be used with all types of bodies. I feel a lot of sex toys we use are really made for vaginas and penises, and we recognize that not everyone has those parts or are super comfortable with using those to get off.
Erica: So this little thing here, it's a little starfish. It vibrates. It's absolutely cute as I don't know what. You can't see. Do you see that little smiley face? It is cute as I don't know what. It cups in your hand. You can use it as you rub all across different parts of your body, and I just think it is absolutely adorable, fun, and sexy. So what's turning you on this week, this cute little starfish, we will include the link in the show notes, and with that said, thank you for joining us today. This is Erica and Killa, your two favorite hos making it clap.
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 in 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. And you can find links to books, transcripts, guest info, what's turning us on, and other fun stuff at TheTurnOnPodcast.com.
Kenrya: And don't forget to email us at TheTurnOnPodcast@gmail.com with your book recommendations and your pressing sex-and related questions.
Erica: And you can support the show by leaving us a five-star review, buying some merch or becoming a patron of the show. Just head to TheTurnOnPodcast.com to make that happen.
Kenrya: Thanks for listening and we'll see you soon. Holla.
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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.
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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.