Imagine going through life, making it to adulthood never having any encounters with law enforcement let alone a criminal record, and all of a sudden you are faced with serving time in federal prison for; AN EMAIL! Given the current social and political climate, one may raise an eyebrow at this strange turn of events, but given the past four years coupled with existing while Black in America, anything is possible. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with the owner and founder of Been Down Project, Amber Crowder. Her transparent yet comedic approach has helped bring light to many of the inequities and disparities facing women in the federal criminal justice system. Motivated by her own experience with this infamous system, Crowder set out to provide a platform for others who have had similar experiences and provide a space and resources for those who will, unfortunately, come into contact with the system through her organization. Tell us about your business? After being sentenced to federal prison for 13 months for mail fraud Crowder returned to a society that has never been welcoming to the formerly incarcerated and that essentially sets you up to fail and return to prison. Having been out of prison for less than a year, Crowder set out on a mission to change the narrative and assist individuals who have or may have similar experiences to better navigate the system, especially for women. The mission statement for Crowder’s business is, “Destigmatizing while humanizing.” Crowder also details the difficulty in finding work due to the stigma associated with incarceration… The Been Down Project is my brutally honest, yet the comedic account of how I went to federal prison for an email. My transparency highlights the inequities and flaws of the federal criminal justice system and the unique hardships for women in the industrial prison complex. My goal is to be a voice, a resource, and an inspiration for women with recent indictments, women currently incarcerated, and women reentering society. I have been an entrepreneur since 2013 in both the education and hospitality industry. I started the Been Down Project in 2020, it is my newest endeavor. As a formerly incarcerated Black Woman, I am always the underdog. Dehumanizing labels such as “felon” or “criminal '' play a large role in my day-to-day negotiations. I’m currently in the process of securing a commercial lease. The owner of the location I initially wanted was very enthusiastic to do business with me based on my qualifications. I had the resources and the experience. However, resources and experience aren’t enough when you are formerly incarcerated because you are viewed as a “criminal”. In my more recent negotiations, I have had to talk about my incarceration and “felony” upfront, despite it having nothing to do with signing a commercial lease. Additional struggles also arise regarding certain business licenses that I cannot have in my name as a “Felon” or that I have to go in front of a board to receive permission to put them in my name.
What inspires you? Crowder’s current work with incarcerated people and their loved ones has affected her both personally and professionally because of dehumanizing stigma of the label “Felon” that is ascribed to individuals after release. Going to prison has given Crowder a different perspective on the federal criminal justice system as a whole and how it affects individuals and families alike. Before I was incarcerated I never thought about nor cared about the impact that Mass Incarceration and Mass Supervision can have on not just the individual, but the entire family. This is why I choose to tell my story because the majority of Americans are like I was, completely unaware and caught up in our own lives. Humanizing the incarceration experience helps people view it in a less negative aspect. I am inspired by making what seems impossible, possible. Nothing feels better than overcoming all of the odds and fulfilling your dreams. Society tends to frown upon relishing in the fruits of your own labor, but I find it very inspiring to sit back and marvel at what I’ve accomplished. On the importance of Staying Connected… Hope and inspiration are at the forefront of what we do here at Flikshop. The Flikshop Angelsprogram has played an essential role in maintaining connections and instilling both hope and inspiration in families and their incarcerated loved ones. Crowder herself also recognizes the importance of staying connected and laments the time missed with her child. Being formerly incarcerated has affected my confidence as a Mother because I have a lot of Mommy guilt. I feel like I missed the remaining baby years of my child’s life. Prison is isolation. You are removed from your family, your friends, and you have limited access to the outside world. You are living in a constant state of trauma, oftentimes for years. Hearing from loved ones and getting a glimpse into the outside world helps to ease some of the trauma and anxiety that you experience while incarcerated. Hearing my name called during “mail call” was the highlight of my day. It let me know that I wasn’t forgotten and that people still loved me. For me, communication was a lifeline. Flikshop has made the lifeline of communication for incarcerated friends and family so easy. In an age where we are always on the go and on our cell phones, it has made everything so convenient. No more going to the post office waiting in long lines, no more waiting on pictures to be sent back to put in a letter you want to send off. No more going to the store to buy cards or stationary. And most importantly, you don’t have to worry about your mail being returned because it doesn’t align with prison guidelines. Personally, Flikshop’s CEO Marcus Bullock has shown me that you can beat the odds and overcome the stigma and dehumanizing labels. You can be formerly incarcerated and successful.