Brittany Lovely on the JustUs Speaks Podcast

March 6, 2023

Anger used to be her driving force. Today she is motivated by love to tear down the criminal legal system and rebuild something just in its place. Brittany Lovely joins the #JustUs Speaks Podcast!



Read the full transcript:

Lester Young: Peace and blessings everyone, this is Lester Young. Welcome you to the new JustUs Speaks Podcast from Just Leadership.

Hakim Crampton: And I’m Hakim Crampton, your co-host. JustUs Speaks is being produced to amplify the voices of directly impacted people, particularly the voices of formerly incarcerated people.

Lester Young: Just Leadership was founded on the principle that those who are closest to the problem are also closest to the solution, but too often further from the resources and power to affect positive change.

Hakim Crampton: So, on this first season of JustUs Speaks Podcast, we’re interviewing leaders from the most recent 2022 cohort of Just Leadership USA’s Leading With Conviction leadership training program.

Lester Young: Listen, before I even start this introduction, I need y’all to stand up clap, your hands, do all of this stuff, because I want to welcome today, we’re talking with Brittany Lovely. Blessings.

Brittany Lovely: Thank you, thank you, so glad to be here with y’all.

Hakim Crampton: Brittany is currently serving as Washington Statewide Re-entry Council Coordinator. Brittany is passionate about criminal legal reform and a criminal justice advocate. As a formerly incarcerated woman of color, Brittany provides unique expertise through her lived experience, community advocacy, and public policy work. She serves on multiple federal and statewide coalitions focused on policy solutions to eliminate barriers for those exiting incarceration.

Lester Young: Brittany graduated sma c laude from Washington State University in Vancouver, Washington where she achieved her bachelor’s degree in Public Affairs with a concentration in Justice.

Hakim Crampton: Yes, indeed, she ain’t stopped there. During the 2020 legislative sessions she served in the Washington State House of Representatives as a legislative policy intern where she had the opportunity to engage with the legislative firsthand furthering her commitment to public service, specifically her dedication to criminal legal reform.

Lester Young: Wow, Brittany you’re definitely putting in a lot of work. Prior to this, Brittany worked as…federal student support service Program Coordinator at Laos Colbia College where she acted as a key support for [the] disadvantaged student population. She is committed to serving her community with the goals of creating a better future for all. Brittany, Brittany, Brittany, Brittany. Welcome to the JustUs Speaks Podcast.

Brittany Lovely: Always good to be in community with you all. Just real quick, I just want to flag, I hate the word reform. I just want to flag that real quick. I’m here to tear it down, okay? This criminal legal system gotta go. We need to build something beautiful, so reforming it doesn’t work. I need to rebuild, let’s rebuild.

Lester Young: Let’s start there. You come in hot, you’re coming in hot, let’s start there.

Hakim Crampton: Brittany, tell us, what’s your motto for the work that you’re doing? Tell us about rebuilding? What does that look like for you as an advocate, as a trailblazer in the work you’re doing?

Brittany Lovely: That’s a great question Hakim, because I think rebuilding is definitely not a new idea right, but we’ve been reforming for forever, and that’s not working. So what we need to have are systems in place that really care for people, that meet people where they’re at. The outcomes aren’t great. The outcomes of the systems that we have aren’t great. They’re harmful, they’re traatic, and we’re all a testament to that. We all have this testimony of being system impacted, and I think that we deserve better. I think that our entire society deserves better, so I guess rebuilding really for me is starting from the beginning and not from the end. Looking at the input rather than the output.

Lester Young: We got someone about to jp into some politics, you know to get into the house and start disrupting this house. Brittany, what is the most satisfying thing to you in your work? You just mentioned that you want to believe in destroying or tearing down this whole system and rebuilding. What is that thing outside of being someone who’s been directly impacted, what would satisfy you? What’s that fire that pushes you every day?

Brittany Lovely: I mean honestly it’s love. It used to be anger. It used to be this anger that things had been hard. It’s like, I keep thinking about my origin story. I’m really living into my villain era in talking about an origin story, but it came from pain. It came from not feeling like I belonged, from feeling like an outcast. It came from not being sure of who I was. It came from, not so much self-hatred, but I guess, I didn’t love myself. I didn’t feel loved by my society, by those around me. So, I think by changing or really turning that hatred or that discomfort or that lack of strong identity into like a labor of love for others and for people who also deal with the same feelings in society, so the oppression that folks deal with. I mean I’m a Black woman, who grew up in a predominantly white area, a rural area in Washington state where there was nobody who looked like me. I didn’t have any role models who looked like me. I didn’t have peers who looked like me, and that was made extremely obvious from a very young age. So it was painful, it was painful to not fit in, to be given this hatred that society gives to folks who aren’t the same. So, what has happened for me is I’ve turned that anger and those feelings into love for others and want for something different. I think that’s really where the passion lies for me–the belief that we can be better. Then all of the pain of our ancestors. Remedying that and making sure that we don’t pass that on to future generations.

Hakim Crampton: So, I can imagine that passion is probably what led you to Leading With Conviction, and congratulations on being a recent graduate. Welcome to this illustrious family. So that experience, share with us what that experience was like for you, bringing that passion with you into Just Leadership, hoping to find what that passion was leading you to, your “why” for being there. Share what that experience was like and inside that experience, what was one thing, or the thing, or the things while you were there in Just Leaderships Leading With Conviction training program that really, you’re going to take with you and stuck out, that’s going to be that pivotal piece that you utilize as a catalyst for your “why,” why you came there to begin with.

Brittany Lovely: Leading With Conviction was something different. I was finally in a room with people who I had so much in common with regardless of our views for the future, or the dreams, the passion…it was all there. But being in a room for the first time with all folks directly impacted, formerly incarcerated with this passion to change the world–that power was amazing. I remember the first day I think Matt asked us to introduce ourselves. It [was] like name, pronouns, why you’re here, and something unique about you. Normally, that unique thing is that I’m formerly incarcerated. In this space, in any space in the future, or in the past–any space that I’ve been in it’s like, oh maybe there’s one or two other folks who have been just as impacted, but we’re bringing that experience and that’s what people expect our perspective to bring. But being in a space where I was with all other folks who had been just as impacted, and we were all here to like bring our personal experience, but that wasn’t what set us apart, that was powerful. It was powerful, and then like leaning into the conversations with people about leadership and about what we want for the future, that was amazing. I think the thing that I’m really walking away with was the network. We became a family. This cohort I still work with and talk to a bunch of people who are in our cohort. Lester said when we first hopped on here–we just met this week–I just had a conversation with him on Monday. And like this is my brother, I learn from him every single time he speaks, and he made himself available outside of just our coaching calls, and that is amazing. Hakim, I get to follow you on social media and see all the amazing, wonderful work you get to do. That network is great. You surround yourself with people who inspire you, who are doing the work that you’re doing, and there’s so much power in that. So, that’s really what I walked away from Leading With Conviction with.

Lester Young: That’s a very common thing you hear, in essence the uniqueness about our Leading With Conviction program, it it brings you into this family. [It’s like finally finding] my tribe of people who have very similar experiences as myself, and that’s very empowering. And that’s just again the uniqueness of our organization. It was founded by a formerly incarcerated person. It’s led by formerly incarcerated people, and we’re fighting to change a system that has impacted all of us and our families and generations to come, so that’s just the beauty of it. So, I like just hearing you talking and reading your bio, I’m like what is Brittany’s five or ten year goal? You know, it sounds to me you know…I’m really interested, and just tell us what is your five year to ten year goal, looking into the future with the knowledge that you have learned over the years from your lived experience–to being incarcerated, graduating from college, and doing a lot of great work in the community, and now you’ve completed the Leading With Conviction, you have a stronger family network now, where do you see yourself in the next five or ten years?

Brittany Lovely: I think really diving into policy work. Right now, shortish term, the next like four or five years (so I’m applying to law schools now) going back to school. So, that’s what that will look like, the next four years, getting into school, really diving into that JD program and getting involved in my community using that. Diving into policy work is my plan. I relocated to DC, I think mid-cohort. My partner got into law school, and we relocated, and we’re on the East coast, and I thought what better time? It’s time to go back to school. I think law is a tool. It has been used for centuries to oppress people. But, I think that we can also use that as a tool for collective liberation, so that’s the dream, get my JD, sit for the bar, I know that that’s going to be a process in itself with the past that I bring. Getting barred, becoming a barred attorney and then diving into civil rights work. I found a lot of work to be done in the voting rights space, and I just kind of fell into that, and now I get to use my experience with losing my voting rights and then getting my rights back in some instances. I get to use this life experience to really affect change for others, so I’ll continue to do that.

Lester young: Wow, that’s truly inspiring. I mean just wanted to say that before I pass it to Hakim, that’s truly inspiring to know that all of us on this call,  we went through something but how that one thing that we went through (which is incarceration) how it mold and shaped us…we survived a lot of this stuff inside of those systems to be where we’re at now, and for us to be thinking about getting into politics, getting into law, organizing, advocacy, man, that’s a powerful thing. They threw us to die in these prisons, but we’re a rose. I think Tupac says it’s the rose that grew from concrete. Really we did, we defied the odds, so I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you. Continue to do that work because it’s powerful. I’m truly inspired by that.

Brittany Lovely: Thank you.

Hakim Crampton: Absolutely. That leads into another question. A lot of us, for the first time, we kind of got that inspiration, that light. You know how that light flickers in the cartoon? For a lot of us it flickered for us while we were incarcerated. Some of us were just leading lives just blind, so to speak, and got caught up in the system in some kind of way. Got strangled in this system, and while there some of us woke up. Like for myself, for the first time I read a book from cover to cover, although I could read quite well. That book for me was, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Alex Haley and that book was an instrent for where I am now, for the work that I’m doing. For the “who I am,” for the “why I do what I do,” so to speak. So, was there a book for you? Was there some form of inspiration while you were being strangled confronting the system? What was there that gave you an opening, a light so to speak?

Brittany Lovely: Interestingly enough, it was Chasing the Scream. I don’t remember the author at the moment but, Chasing the Scream. I came across this book, I read it. I had a lot of, we have right internalized oppression, internalized thoughts that are given to us by society, and this book did like a a worldwide tour of how different countries deal with addiction and substance use disorder. The laws surrounding that, and I guess I had never really dove into that outside of where I was struggling with addiction. I think I really started struggling with substance use disorder in my early teens. So, [in] middle school I started drinking and smoking, and I didn’t have any view outside of that, outside of how America deals with the war on drugs. And, so like this view of substance use disorder around the world was different, and the policies were different, and the way that they treated people was different. This stigma that I was carrying around and this idea of the person that I was based on my addiction (society sees you as evil, as a throwaway). All of these things, something is apparently wrong with you because of addiction, that let me step a little bit outside of that view that America holds and the way that we treat people, and I was like, okay, so like the humanity outside of addiction and the person that I am doesn’t have to be defined by this. So that took me down an entirely different path of thought about like all of the other things that I had been prescribed by society, the identity, the internalized oppression, and it’s interesting too because depending on where you are in the world, the identity that people give you is different. I grew up in an entirely white area, and it was clear to people I was Black and that’s what they told me when I was young. But, if I come to Washington DC where 49% of the population is Black, people sit on the bus and they’re like, “What are you?” I get that a lot because I’m extremely light-skinned and people don’t immediately prescribe that to me. So, it’s interesting how the identity that other people give you is different based on where you are. That started shedding some of the stigma with addiction through that book, understanding that that’s society’s problem. What they’re giving us is their problem, and how we deal with it could be much more humane and not give people all this stigma, and maybe deal with things in a harm reduction manner rather than shame based. [Music]

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Lester Young: As I was hearing you explain that, I was just thinking I have so many questions I want to ask, but…my question would be: Is knowing where you come from, raised in a community that didn’t really accept you for who you really are, gave you an identity you know and that created maybe some sense of depression or distress, just dealing with not knowing and then the society not seeing you. And then from there, moving into an addiction, and most people when you see that [they] are struggling with an addiction in our society, they become invisible. So, it’s like you went through these various layers of becoming invisible and then here you are inside of an incarcerational system, another layer of invisibility. And now you’re out, but my thing is like, what would you tell some young woman who experienced struggling with addiction? Struggling with a sense of self-identity? What would be that word of encouragement that you would speak to some young woman who’s in that situation right now and needs some words of upliftment?

Brittany Lovely: You are so worthy. You are so worthy. The people who give you all of these things that you’re carrying around, those aren’t yours. Those aren’t yours, those are theirs. They can have them. They can have whatever thoughts that they want to have about you, but you are so worthy. I dealt with for a long time these questions, and like I said it was it turned into anger. Like you said, this layer of invisibility, or like this Othering that people did. It was painful, and it made me angry and that anger was where I kind of kept my power. But it wasn’t powerful. It was harmful to me. I heard this a long time ago: holding that anger is like you picking up a hot stone with the intention of throwing it at someone. Who gets burned? You. You’re burning yourself holding on to all that anger holding on to whatever folks are giving you. You are worthy, you have so much power, and you can change this world right? Your experience is your own, and it’s powerful. The world needs to learn from you.

Hakim Crampton: Wow, that’s the type of lived experience, right? The expertise. When you have that lived experience, the most connecting thing to us, when you say you’re worthy that’s that peace within the self that has been turned off for a lot of us. So, connecting back to that light switch (and I was just kind of asking about that mental life) to which and now you just connected right back to the emotional. The core, the spiritual part of our beings, which must be taken care of you know in a unique way. You have a heck of a lived experience, just like all of us. Tell us, how do you really embrace ensuring that you’re caring for your heart and your mind and your soul [so] that you’re not over engrossing yourself in your passion, pursuing your pain so to speak. To heal your pain. So what are you doing to take care of yourself for self-care?

Brittany Lovely: This is funny, Lester actually called me out during Leading With Conviction, during one of our classes. My self-care I thought it is a lot of thrill seeking. I love the outdoors– I love hiking and mountain climbing. But, I think like where I found the most release and freedom is this thrill seeking, so I’ve gone skydiving and bungee jumping, but like my regular activity is snowboarding. I’m super excited. There’s not a ton of snowboarding near Washington DC, but headed home for the holidays in Washington they already have snow, so I was talking about flying down the mountain with nothing but the wind. You can hear nothing. It’s cold, everything is shut off. When that’s not accessible, water. Water does it for me, sitting by a rushing river or a waterfall, just making sure that I’m tuning into nature and really checking out of all of the stressors that come with the work. But this stuff is what drives me so, making sure to balance self-care is super important, but I think it’s also rewarding to do the work that we do. I find there’s so much good in connecting with our community and being in community with folks who understand us and who want a different future for our next generation is also something that I value a lot. So, like that that balance there is is so essential.

Lester Young: I remember  it was, like you said, it was a couple months…I spent what, five six months now, but I saw on Facebook, and I was looking and she had this rope tied around, and it was like in a valley jumping off this bridge or something. And I’m looking like, is she about to do this? and yo’ she jumped, and I was like, “Oh, my heart jumped out of my chest, bro.” I don’t think I could have done that to be honest with you. I love hiking. I love walking. I love all of that stuff, but that thrill thing, right now. Ah, I gotta conquer! It’s good to have that balance because of the work we’re doing because it’s so personal to us, we go 100% every day. We don’t unplug because being in prison…I never thought, getting out of prison, I’d be able to do what I love to do and get paid for it and live…I never thought that was possible. So now, when I got employed with Just Leadership, it became the perfect marriage. I’m married to it. I’m loyal to it. I’m gonna treat her right. I’m gonna treat this, yeah this to me, it’s a gift, it’s a blessing. But I know this, it took me a while because I’m married and committed to it, I had to learn how to balance life. I had to learn how to balance self-care and the work. I can do this all day because before I was getting paid, I would still do it. Now, I [wonder] how do I continue to do that? So it’s important that we learn that. [Music]

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Lester Young: My last question before we wrap up is just really wanting to know what are some of the lessons you learned from your failure? I mean you had that talk on Monday, we were talking about my trip to Ghana, and we talked about sankofa, the symbol was saying sankofa, meaning you reach back into your past, and you pull the lessons from the past mistakes and you pull it forward into the future. So, what are some of the lessons you’re pulling from your past into the future to continue to guide you?

Brittany Young: I’ve touched on it a little bit, but definitely the view of self. I think accepting others’ views of me is no longer acceptable for me. Finding strength and identity and really self-love, that’s a lesson that I had to learn the hard way. Got me into all sorts of trouble, not being sure of who I was and listening to other people. I also think that I learned a lot from system involvement. I learned a lot about the way the system values or doesn’t value humanity. So seeing other people’s humanity who are in desperate situations is something that I continue to do. Valuing people based on their humanity, rather than what greater society wants us to use to value people. It’s a conversation that I’ve actually had a lot lately is the way that America values a person is usually about their efficiency. What do they provide? What do they give to or give back to our country? And that doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t work for me to value someone based on their their productivity, based on their efficiency because every han is beautiful and deserves life and deserves a good, stable, healthy, loving life, and not everyone has that. So, I guess there’s so many small lessons or large lessons that I get to apply to this labor of love in the work that I do and just in daily interactions. We talked about invisibility, and we have invisible populations all over. People struggling with houselessness. I walk outside, people are starving and cold and people are rude and don’t see that humanity. That is something that I try to practice daily.

Lester Young: Empathy. Empathy. It’s one of the key things of being a leader.

Hakim Crampton: Absolutely. Well, that’s one of the things we can conclude with Brittany, it’s been a wonderful time interviewing you, and we would love to hear your motto and philosophy of leadership having gone through all these experiences you’ve gone through. Now you’re leading with conviction in an exceptional way. How are you doing so? What is your leadership philosophy and motto?

Brittany Lovely: I think I kind of just said it. It’s really empathy, and leading towards collective liberation. I’m super passionate about freedom and equity, and I didn’t realize this long while back, I didn’t realize that a lot of my passion was given to me as a birthright. We talked about this a little bit Lester on Monday, about these things being passed down from our bloodline. And before my grandpa passed, we had multiple conversations about some of the things that he was doing, but I was already doing this work that was in line with the work that he did when he was young, and I had no idea. I didn’t know about my grandpa’s past. I didn’t know about where he came from, but he was working in the political sphere, working on civil rights issues. He fought in the Vietnam War, he came back and they were unable to get housing because they were Black. So, all of these things that I’m passionate about and fighting for, they were given to me as a birthright, and I don’t want to see my descendants go through what my grandpa went through. So we’re just going to keep passing down the work, but hopefully with some progress made. I think my motto is really, live into that collective liberation, and love others. Really feel empathy and value others by their humanity.

Lester Young: That’s powerful, yeah that’s really powerful for us to really understand our ancestral link to the movement. I was inspired like Hakim with Malcolm X, but it comes at different inspiration or motivation when you hear that there’s someone in your bloodline who was a community advocate and organizer. It’s something different, it becomes now personal. Not only do you have the lived experience, but now I was like, yo’, my grandma was doing this and now it makes you want to go back to, who else in my family was a community organizer? Because I truly believe, now I’m at this understanding where it’s almost like our ancestors were in this marathon run, or this this relay race of once they get to a certain part and they transition, they pass the baton to you, and it’s up to you to run it further, but you see that there’s a long line of fighters in your bloodline. For me when I found this out, I stand different. Not only just as a person who’s directly impacted, I stand different now because I know I’m truly standing on the shoulders of my ancestors. Not someone that I’m not really familiar with, but literally somebody in my bloodline, so that’s a very powerful thing. And you continue to usher through life and continue to live on that knowing that you are making those who came before you and died or transitioned, making them proud. So, powerful grip. Hakim, what’s good brother?

Hakim Crampton: it’s been wonderful interviewing Brittany and dropping that deep heartfelt jewels to take us deep into ourselves, to really think about justice work from within and not just justice work from without, because there’s so much to be considered of each of us in our experience and how deeply we are connected to it. So, thank you profoundly for this interview today. We enjoyed you.

Brittany Lovely: Yeah, thank you. Thank you. Always good to be in community with y’all. Always.

Lester Young: Is there anything you want to say before we conclude this very inspiring podcast? Any positive words you want to share before we conclude?

Brittany Lovely: I just really like to you know pass on this network, this network of folks doing this work. We are passionate. We are grounded people who love this community. You are a part of all of this. You are a part of this. Let’s change the world. Let’s rebuild. Let’s rebuild.

Lester Young: Thanks again sis, we really appreciate you. It’s been a pleasure and I look forward to talking to you again. Be blessed.

Brittany Lovely: Thank you.

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