I know what it’s like being inside and I know what it’s like making it through, so I knew that my purpose was to help break down the system.”

by Amber-Rose Howard, #LwC2020

April 28, 2020

I am the Executive Director of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB). We are a coalition of more than 80 grassroots organizations throughout the state, and our mission is to reduce the number of people in prisons and jails, shrink the imprisonment system, and shift public spending from corrections and policing to human services. Ultimately we want to create a public safety model that centers community care, not cages.  CURB has been really effective in bringing about policy change since its founding in 2003.  Since that time we’ve been instrumental in closing prisons and defeating the creation of tens of thousands of new jail and prison beds.  I have only been Executive Director since January 2020; before that I served as CURB’s Statewide Coordinator   Policy and Budget Advocacy.  I’m very excited about my recent promotion and working hard to fill my new shoes.

I was charged with a felony when I was a senior in high school because of a poor adolescent decision.  But I was able to get bail and hire a private attorney–which is a one in a million chance for a Black girl coming out of the ghetto community–and so I received a shorter sentence that I otherwise would have.  But the time I spent in jail was very difficult.  After I was released and on parole I was able to go to college through a work release program.   I had to be very careful in all the things I was doing because if I violated any of the conditions of my parole I would be sent to prison for six years.  At that point my attitude was, okay, this happened to me, but I had the chance to escape the worst consequences.

It wasn’t until I started to look for a job and began to experience the collateral consequences of having a criminal record that I was able to look back and think, “Wow! This is way bigger than just me and there’s got to be something I can do to change it.  There must be plenty of young girls just like me who have experienced the same thing.” I realized that I wanted to play a part in breaking this system built on white supremacy and patriarchy.  I know what it’s like being inside and I know what it’s like making it through, so I knew that my purpose was to help break down the system.

Right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, CURB is calling for the immediate release of lots people from California’s prisons and jails: elderly people, people who are experiencing health problems or who have preexisting conditions.  This includes those sentenced to life without parole (LWOP).  We’ve got over 5,000 people on LWOP and many of them are elderly.  Our governor has only commuted seven LWOP sentences since he’s been in office, so pressuring him to speed up the commutation process is another major priority right now.

For me, Leading with Conviction has been very powerful. Because of our collective experience of incarceration and our dedication to breaking down the prison industrial complex, we are realizing that we are actually the experts who must be in the room when policy decisions are made. I really appreciate the coaching from David who recognizes the fears we all have and is creating space for each of us to “be our big self.”

Amber-Rose holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies concentrated in Public Argumentation & Rhetoric from California State University, San Bernardino. She is a graduate of the Women’s Foundation of California, Women’s Policy Institute Fellowship Program and a proud member of All of Us Or None.