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‘They Didn’t Give Me Anything to Prepare Me’: One Woman’s Journey From Incarceration to Entrepreneurship

About This Video

This video is part of a yearlong Chronicle visual series that highlights the challenges facing students from underrepresented and underserved communities. The series is part of the Different Voices of Student Success project, which is supported by the Ascendium Education Group.

The video was shot and edited by Carmen Mendoza, a senior web producer. Michael Theis, associate photo and media editor, assisted with production. Luna Laliberte, editorial-events coordinator, arranged the interviews. Erica Lusk, senior photo and media editor, directed the project.

“There is no archetype of someone who was incarcerated, and I think it is important for people to see that normal, everyday people go to prison,” says Amber Crowder, a college graduate who served time in federal prison for a mail-fraud conviction.

While in prison, she discovered there were few opportunities to enroll in educational courses. Moreover, the system favored people who were in prison for a shorter period of time. “If you have a 10-year sentence, you’re not gonna get to take any classes, because they’re gonna let the people that are coming in and out, that are more transient, go first, which to me is a little backwards,” Crowder notes.

After her release, she faced the task of rebuilding her life and career. “It was very overwhelming,” she says.

Then one day while scrolling through social media, Crowder happened upon Georgetown University’s Pivot Program, which helps prepare previously incarcerated, career-oriented people for the workplace. Intrigued, she learned that the one-year program, which was co-designed by the District of Columbia’s Department of Employment Services, combines rigorous classroom training and hands-on employment experience. She applied, was accepted, and completed the program in 2022.

Today, Crowder leads the Been Down Project, a digital platform that provides a space for people impacted by incarceration and the criminal-justice system to connect and support one another. She is also working toward opening a restaurant and bar, a Black-, queer- and women-owned business in Washington, D.C.

Here’s Amber’s story, in her own words.