Amplified Voices

Tiheba Bain - First Love Yourself - Episode 14

October 25, 2020 Amber & Jason - Criminal Legal Reform Advocates with Lived Experience Season 1 Episode 14
Amplified Voices
Tiheba Bain - First Love Yourself - Episode 14
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Amplified Voices
Tiheba Bain - First Love Yourself - Episode 14
Oct 25, 2020 Season 1 Episode 14
Amber & Jason - Criminal Legal Reform Advocates with Lived Experience

In this episode of Amplified Voices, Jason and Amber speak with Tiheba Bain, a mother, student, activist and advocate for formerly incarcerated women and girls. Tiheba shares her experiences: being raised by her grandmother in Brooklyn,  a difficult struggle with addiction, her time behind the walls and the long journey to find her way.

Tiheba is the founder of Women Against Mass Incarceration, a nonprofit organization, located in Bridgeport, CT that exists to  empower, change and re-shape the lives of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and families. They are  a partner organization of the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women & Girls.  You can find them at http://www.wamict.org.

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/amplifiedvoices)

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Amplified Voices, Jason and Amber speak with Tiheba Bain, a mother, student, activist and advocate for formerly incarcerated women and girls. Tiheba shares her experiences: being raised by her grandmother in Brooklyn,  a difficult struggle with addiction, her time behind the walls and the long journey to find her way.

Tiheba is the founder of Women Against Mass Incarceration, a nonprofit organization, located in Bridgeport, CT that exists to  empower, change and re-shape the lives of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and families. They are  a partner organization of the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women & Girls.  You can find them at http://www.wamict.org.

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/amplifiedvoices)

Tiheba Bain - Transcript

Intro: [00:00:00] Everyone has a voice; a story to tell. Some are marginalized and muted.

What if there were a way to amplify those stories; to have conversations with real people in real communities; a way to help them step into the power of their lived experience. 

Welcome to Amplified Voices, a podcast, lifting the experiences of people and families impacted by the criminal legal system.

Together, we can create positive change - for everyone.

Jason: [00:00:34] Good morning and welcome to another episode of Amplified Voices. I'm your host, Jason. I'm here with my co-host Amber. 

Good morning, Amber. 

Amber: [00:00:41] morning Jason

Jason: [00:00:43] And today we have a special guest right here from Connecticut she's well-known in criminal justice circles. It's Tiheba Bain Good morning Tiheba

Tiheba: [00:00:54] morning How you guys doing today

Jason: [00:00:56] Great. 

We're so glad that you agreed to come on the podcast. My first question that I ask our guests, and I'm going to ask you is if you could start by telling us a little bit about what your life was like before you became involved with the criminal legal system and how you got involved.

Tiheba: [00:01:13] Well, that's a tricky subject right there. And to talk about it is interesting because I don't normally talk about it, but. Who I was before the criminal injustice system. I was a little girl with ambition looking to take on the world, not knowing what the world was like or what that even meant. Right. I was a good student, a straight a student.

I was raised by my grandmother. She raised me, my brother and my sister. I'm the youngest of the three. We had a regular urban lifestyle. Sometimes things was afforded to us that. Some people in the urban community, were not allowed to experience, which was like horseback riding, dog shows, horse shows skiing.

Jason: [00:01:56] Where did you grow up

Tiheba: [00:01:58] I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the concrete jungle. So we're a close knit family. It wasn't just me my brother and my sister and my grandma. It was me, my brother, my sister, my grandmother, my aunt, her children, my other aunt. And then friends of the family. And they did this so we can afford things that they weren't able to afford.

And it worked out well. So I was culturally grounded in a sense. I love to go to museums. If you couldn't find me playing on the street, playing jump rope or hopscotch. I was in the library reading. I was part of a book club called reading is fundamental RIF

Jason: [00:02:32] I remember that

Tiheba: [00:02:33] Okay. So I'm dating myself.

So 

Yeah.

Amber: [00:02:36] You're soundin like my kinda gal

Jason: [00:02:39] you'd get those bookmarks right.

Amber: [00:02:41] Yeah

Tiheba: [00:02:42] Yes yes Oh my Gosh I loved it. That took me outside of my norm of being in a space that as a child you don't know is impoverished because that's all, you know, my mother unfortunately, was on drugs. My father was an absentee dad. Hence my grandmother raising all of us. And I was the one that always got in trouble.

I was curious, George, literally in the flesh because I was always wanting to know what's that, who's that? Where that come from? I remember asking my grandmother, hy is the tree named the tree who named the tree? A tree? And why is a cat, a cat and a dog, a dog, because I didn't know. right And she was like, you asked too many questions Children supposed to be seen and not heard.

And I'm like, I want to know, you know, that was her own recourse. And I'm I'm okay with it today. Really kind of stung when I was a child. But as I grew older and understand like people can't give you what they don't have.

Jason: [00:03:36] Yeah 

Tiheba: [00:03:36] I

forgave her.

Jason: [00:03:40] It sounds like she gave you quite a bit though.

Tiheba: [00:03:43] Oh yeah, she was my rock. What she didn't know she made up for and what she did know because she instilled some ethics and some values in me that I still hold true to today. And it's like really old school, like growing up as a woman in America, amongst a whole bunch of men, things you just don't do your self integrity, your character.

Like I said, she instilled a lot in me and, you know, I still hold true to that today. And that's what kept me grounded while in prison and coming home from prison. Because before, you know, I was a reckless little girl wanting to grow up so fast. And my grandmother used to say, don't want to grow up so fast because you know, when it's gone, you can't get it back.

And I'm like, yeah, what'd you do now? Right. She knew a lot. She knew exactly what she was talking about and I don't regret some of the stuff I did or any of the stuff I did. I just wish I would've listened more in the process of me growing up. I became rebellious. My grandfather died. And he was like, even though my grandmother raised me, my grandfather was my Papa.

Right. And everything I wanted and needed, I went to my Papa So when he passed away, I kind of was hurt and angry. And I said some things that I shouldn't have said, and it was really tough. And that's when I became really resentful and rebellious and just like lost control of all my faculties of cognitive thought.

Jason: [00:05:09] How

old were you

Tiheba: [00:05:12] I was about 16, 17.

Jason: [00:05:13] Okay,

Tiheba: [00:05:14] I felt like he was the only one that really truly cared about me.

Jason: [00:05:18] but let me guess your grandmother was a disciplinarian. So she was the one who was basically making sure you toed the line and your grandfather was, this is my angel and was taking care of you in that way.

Tiheba: [00:05:28] Yeah 

Jason: [00:05:28] But

I can imagine you know you're 16 years old. You've already told us you don't have a relationship with your parents.

They're not in the picture.

Tiheba: [00:05:35] in the picture They're just not a lot. 

Jason: [00:05:38] Okay 

Tiheba: [00:05:38] My father was not in the picture. 

Jason: [00:05:40] Yeah 

Tiheba: [00:05:40] My mother was in the picture, but she was on drugs.

Amber: [00:05:43] She was encountering her own journey of struggle. 

Tiheba: [00:05:46] Right 

Amber: [00:05:47] So it was difficult for her to be available for you.

Tiheba: [00:05:50] Yeah She had us when she was really young, she had my sister, when she was 14, she had me when she was 16. So she didn't know how to be a parent. She didn't know what to do. She dropped us off with grandma. And then she started using drugs when she was pregnant with me and she just fell down a rabbit hole. And till this day, like my mother lives in an assisted living home.

She has HIV and she can't walk because of the drug use that she endured throughout her life. Right. But that was her journey. She didn't understand anything outside of that. My mother is really smart, but she was following behind her friends and big sister and stuff like that. And she wanted to fit in.

And when you're the youngest, it was hard to move past that baby stage. Oh, she's such a baby and she wanted to move past it. And her way of moving past, it was the choice and the path that she chose. Now, me, I tried to not choose that path, but I wind up getting on that path. Trying so hard not to choose that path.

It was crazy. I was like, well, how did that get? here Because I thought that I could do things better than my mother. Not realizing that even though I didn't use the same drug of choice and didn't operate the way she operated the demonic forces behind any type of drug and any type of criminal lifestyle. Anything that's not in the right path is destructive.

Oh, I got a handle on this one, drink one cigarette, one, puff one, whatever. is not gonna hurt. And next thing you know, you're down the rabbit hole.

Jason: [00:07:14] You had mentioned that your grandfather passed when you were 16, that was the spark.

Tiheba: [00:07:19] Yeah, of using drugs

Jason: [00:07:21] So how old are you now at this point in your journey?

Tiheba: [00:07:24] probably about 18,19

Jason: [00:07:26] So you've graduated from high school.

Tiheba: [00:07:30] I was a straight a student. I went to Maxwell high school because I wanted to go with my sister. So when I went with my sister, because she had a vocational school, I was getting bored with the studies. The only classes I would go to would be steno and bookkeeping and gym, because those are the three that I didn't know anything about.

I knew all the science, I knew all the social studies and the math So that was a problem. In Brooklyn, we have a good school called Brooklyn tech, and you have to actually pass an exam to get into that school. It wasn't just like, Oh, apply and yeah you're in No this particular school, you have to pass an exam.

And I passed the exam and I didn't accept it And then when I realized six months in a year in I was like, ma I want to go back to Brooklyn tech because this is easy for me. And my grandmother refused to do it. I don't know what the reasons were, but it didn't happen. And when she said, no, I said, you don't believe in me.

So after all that, I decided to go into full rebellion. So I quit school and I got a job. I forged some paperwork to put me as an older person and I got a job. Oh gosh. I remember that. Now I forgot about that. So yeah. That's what happened And so I started working at a bank, you know, they didn't really question, especially back then.

You didn't need all the stuff you need now. So I started working and I was good my grandma still think I'm going to school. And then I moved out. I didn't completely move out. I got a little room. So Monday through Friday, I'm home and on the weekends, I'll tell em Mom I'm going to my girlfriend's gonna sit chill, you know hang out And I'll be back Monday. And I was in my own little studio apartment. And that's when I started like really getting into the drug scene. Right. So I got caught up. I can't do two lives. Right. So I got caught up in a raid. They didn't raid my home. I was with somebody else and they raided their home So that took me to jail.

And when I went to jail, they let me out because I lied about my age. I told them I was 16 when I was actually 18, they believed me. They let me go. And then threw the case out. I gave up my apartment. I stopped doing all that criminal activity, but I was bored inside. It was open space and I couldn't fill it up with anything.

So I started smoking more weed. Then I went from weed to cocaine, then from cocaine to crack, and then that took me out. But the transition from that was subtle. I didn't see. And again, I didn't realize I was falling deeper and deeper into the, whole and this time I wasn't able to come out. Here me go. Trafficking drugs, selling drugs outside of New York.

And doing things that, you know, I wanted to do because I wanted the money In that process, I got arrested in Connecticut. And when I was in Connecticut for like, I don't know how many months I took my GED here in York correctional institution. And it was, um, in 93 94 somewhere around there And I got my GED there and that's when I was like, I saw a different way.

However, I was still hooked on to drugs.

Jason: [00:10:37] You were in Brooklyn and you were selling all over and you were coming up to Connecticut. Did you have a card? Were you taking.

Tiheba: [00:10:42] Train car bus, you find your way. And I look younger than I am. So if I took the bus, they didn't bother me. I was sitting down with my book and do what I have to do transport my drugs. And then when I was able to drive, I drove

Jason: [00:10:58] Tell us about your first experience in jail. 

Tiheba: [00:11:01] It

was Rikers 

Island

Jason: [00:11:03] Oh, it was Rikers. Okay. And that was when you were 18.

Tiheba: [00:11:07] No. I went to Rikers Island when I actually was 16 for an attempt assault and they dropped the charges because they realized that two people jumped me and I had to defend myself. They tried to press charges on me at the age of 16, but in the process, they put me in Rikers Island for like three weeks.

Jason: [00:11:26] Okay

Tiheba: [00:11:27] And then I got out because they dropped the charges.

Jason: [00:11:31] It must've been a shock to you and some of the things that you saw and what you went through when you when it first happened

Tiheba: [00:11:37] No, because people come home from prison, talking about prison. I have people in my family have gone to prison and people when I went to Rikers Island people knew my family, 

Jason: [00:11:48] Okay 

Tiheba: [00:11:48] people knew my mom, people knew my aunt, so they knew me. So I wasn't really afraid, afraid. So I hung out with the old G's the older people.

I don't know if you guys know what Old G's but I hung out with the older people because they were the ones that was connected to my family and they pretty much protected me on Rikers Island for those three weeks

Jason: [00:12:11] you say more about what protected you means?

Tiheba: [00:12:14] they didn't let anything happen to me.

Jason: [00:12:16] What, if you didn't have that protection, what would have happened?

Tiheba: [00:12:18] Oh, I probably would have killed somebody or been killed or raped or something because that happens in prison for women as well as men, 

you know, they call them fresh blood people come in they see you. They wanna test you They gonna test you. But because I had those people in place that I didn't even know, I had.

And I saw when I came in and they recognized me before I even recognized them. Oh, you Kesha's daughter? And I'm like, Oh yeah. Yeah. Okay, great. So it was a little relief to know that, but I was prepared to do whatever I needed to do to survive because prison ain't no joke. Rikers Island, anybody that survived that I commend you.

Amber: [00:12:56] Right

Jason: [00:12:57] You were in and out of different jails and prisons for a while. And then at some point you were in for a while. And decided that you were going to make some changes because you're a leader now out in the community. And I don't know how we got from there to here. So if you could tell us the story of how that transition happened.

Tiheba: [00:13:20] Okay. So my last bout of drug addiction and drug abuse. I moved to Connecticut. And I said, I was gonna change my life and start life over. And I came out into Connecticut to do that, but I got caught up in the same old lifestyle and I was working and going to school. I was going to three rivers, community college.

My son is what made me really transition. I got married and everything, and I was like, you know, I had my son, I have to do things differently, but in the process, you still trying to get out the game and the game just sucks you back in for some reason or another. And

Amber: [00:13:56] How old were you when you had your son and

Tiheba: [00:13:59] 25

Amber: [00:14:01] okay.

Tiheba: [00:14:02] so I'm in and out I'm back and forth. And I was living in a shelter. I moved from New York. My husband had got arrested and he was in prison up here. So I came up here and I said, well, when he come out, we can start a new life. I wanted something totally different. We have a son now let's do things differently.

So I determined to put a start to that. So I went into the shelter. I stayed in a couple of shelters, and then I got my apartment. Everything was good, but then fell on hard times as a single parent and started selling drugs again. And that's what got me in trouble. Again, my husband came home and we started a family, but I still had this court case.

So I went back to prison and came back out. So now I'm back out. I have my son and my husband goes to jail again, but now I'm pregnant. I have my second son. And when he goes to jail, I'm feeling this despair, this emptiness, again, I go right back into doing what we know. And then I said, enough is enough. I got a break.

And I started working for a law firm called Ansell Laban Law Office. While I was going to school to get my paralegal certificate.

Jason: [00:15:13] I mean, that's still in the era where they haven't ban the box yet. So you walked in there and you had to. disclose to this law firm that you have a background.

Tiheba: [00:15:21] happened was the attorneys knew I have a desire to be a lawyer. So they saw my progress and they put in a good word for me. They gave me a chance and that right there gave me a sense of hope. And when that gave me a sense of hope, I took it and ran with it for as far as I could go, then I started using drugs again, hanging out with the wrong people, the wrong time.

And then I caught my felony charge, which sent me to federal prison for 10 years.

Jason: [00:15:50] At this point, you've got two children. You've got a husband you've already made the determination to go forward. You've got a company giving you a chance. What could have gone differently to stop you from going back into selling and getting this felony charge.

Tiheba: [00:16:06] If I would have stopped using drugs because I was still using drugs is what got me in prison for my federal crime. Not because I was out there trying to do something. My desire to smoke crack and hang out with these people got me in trouble. I wasn't out there trying to commit a crime. I was home. Then I left my home and went out there and committed the crime. 

Jason: [00:16:31] really, it was the strength of the addiction. We really can't ask what happened at that point. It's really what happened at the beginning to set you down the path in the first place.

Tiheba: [00:16:38] Before I committed my crime. I was looking to go into a long-term extensive program to get help. I knew I needed help. I was researching and I was setting it up for my sons to be taken care of while I go do what I need to do. But God had a different plan. God was like, you need more than six months. You need a lifetime of change. And the only way he could do that is to sit me down long enough to get that lifestyle of change, to evolve. 

And I'm okay with who I am today. I don't like the fact that I had to leave my children. I don't like the fact that I hurt people. I don't like, no. But I'm okay with who I am today. I love me today. I didn't love me then. I'm a better mom. I'm a better person all around. 

So, I'm not saying I like prison cause no, hell no. Excuse my language. But no, I don't like prison. But God saw fit for me to live another day. And he allowed me to go through that trauma through that - ooh gosh, it was painful -  through that painful process, to better me. Not everybody gets that. 

Not everybody go through that process and sit down and absorb what it is they need to absorb. Because it's not meant for that. It's not meant for human dignity. It's not meant for you to rehabilitate, even though it says a rehabilitation correctional institution. No, they teach you how to be a better criminal.

I decided I didn't want to be a better criminal because I was tired of being a criminal and I wanted to be an attorney. I wanted to be a productive citizen. I wanted to do this and I wanted to do that. So what I did was afford myself every opportunity I could to better myself. 

They took out school when I got there. And so, when they brought school back and they only brought for a certain amount of time, and a certain class, and all this other stuff, I hopped on it to better myself when I came home. 

I came home with 30 credits from Naugatuck Valley Community College and I applied whatever credits I could from that particular college to the Bronx Community College. And from Bronx Community College, I went to City College, CUNY Interdisciplinary Unique Studies Program, where I did a dual concentration in Psychology and Women in Criminal Justice. Oh, I wasn't playin. 

May 22nd, 2002, I sat down in a prison, York Correctional Institution, and I prayed. I said, "Lord, I can't keep doing this. I'm not coming back here. If you let me out, I'm not coming back. So help me to stay out or keep me in - one of the two. But I'm not doing this again. I'm not going to put my family through this. Nobody. I'm not even going to go through this." 

So, May 22nd, 2002, I gave myself to Christ without looking back. Unapologetically. I'm yours. Do what you will. Have your way. Take me Calgon, right? And I didn't turn back. 

We were in the overflow. Overflow is where you have too many people in a prison and they put you in a place where all the people that can't fit in a regular size bunks go into overflow. We was in a gymnasium, sleeping on the mats on the floor, and we had roles with people. 

So, I was looking outside the window. It was just like summertime and stuff like that. So, my family goes camping. We used to go camping every year. So I'm thinking like, "You dummy, you could be out there with them right now. But no, you decide you want to be in here." So, all of this stuff, it was like a real going in my head, going in my head. And I was like, you know what? I can't do this. 

I jumped up and I yell, "Does anyone in here have a Bible?" Nobody seemed to have heard me. So, I went and row through row asking if I could borrow someone's Bible. And when I did that, this lady was like, "Here ma'am you can have this." I said, "I just want to borrow." She said, "No, you can keep it." That Bible kept me until I got sentenced and it got shipped off into federal prison. 

That became my safe haven. That became everything. I began to heal from the inside out. And that's when true change happened. It wasn't on me, cause I'm a wrech. I gave my whole entire self over. And now I am so grateful. So, so very grateful because, had I not decided I didn't want to be that person no more. I didn't want to do that anymore. I wouldn't be here today.

Amber: [00:20:53] Tiheba, I really appreciate you sharing all of that. That really is an amazing story. As you're telling this, I'm just imagining you standing up like, "Somebody, I need a Bible." And then going and seeking this Bible out in this gymnasium where everybody's laying on the floor. That's really, really amazing.

Jason: [00:21:14] That's gonna to be a great chapter in the book. When they make the movie, I hope it's really dramatic.

Amber: [00:21:21] So Tiheba, we know that you are doing so much, I've heard you speak several times. And I know that you're very involved in, like, sometimes it's hard to keep up with all of the wonderful things that you're doing. We've seen you at the Capitol a couple of times when we've all been there, testifying. 

Tell us a little bit about after you got out of being incarcerated, a little bit about the re-entry, and then where you went from there to where you are now.

Tiheba: [00:21:51] When I was in prison I realized that these young girls was coming in younger and younger, right. And sometimes they come in and then they would just leave. And when they would leave, they'll come right back. And some wouldn't leave and they'll start trying to hang themselves from just not being able to adapt into society properly.

So I took a survey inside of prison. I was wondering what was going on. I Probably could have gotten in trouble for that, but I did it. And I still have the responses to this day and that's what keeps me focused. Not enough assistance. Not enough help. No support. 

When I came home from prison, there was no support. So, I understood what they were saying. Like, there was really no resources for women. And women were not being talked about. Women were not being addressed in a magnitude in which we are today about criminal justice reform or criminal justice abolition. So, when that happened, I said to myself, what's really going on with that?

So, I did the survey and I had interviews. I talked to several people. And I was like, no, this can't happen. Then there was this one lady that actually hung herself. One little girl hung herself. And I was like, Oh my gosh. So, I started a program while I was in prison - each one reach one type of program - where you have people that have long sentences actually mentor the people that's coming in for a year. And help them with the adaptation period and keep them from feeling left out. 

Because you seen a girl one day and then the next few months she was disappearing. And then a few months later you see her hanging from the rafters. Unacceptable. And that was just the one I'm talking about that actually succeeded, unfortunately, in her suicide attempt. But there were other suicide attempts and that's what got me saying this ain't right, right. 

Amber: [00:23:41] Absolutely.

Tiheba: [00:23:42] And I said to myself, something's not happening outside to have all these little young people coming in inside and thinking that this is the way life. And it's really not. But that's what it was for them, because all the little phony, fake stories that go outside when people go home. "Oh, I was this, I was a G. I was this. I was this." Yeah. Okay. That's not always the truth.

Amber: [00:24:05] That's their defense mechanism.

Tiheba: [00:24:08] Exactly. So, when people come home and the little young girls are hearing this, when they step up into the prison, they think they arrived? No, this is not cool. 

So, that's what got me to saying that enough is enough. So, when I started that program, I wanted to make sure that when I get home, that I can help as many people as I can to keep from coming to prison and to stay out of prison when you come out.

So, the reentry process was hard and tedious because again, lack of resources. And I moved, I went to New York. I said, I'm going back home. I don't wanna have nothing to do with Connecticut no more, right. That was my thought. 

You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plan.

Amber: [00:24:46] Exactly.

Tiheba: [00:24:48] That was my plan. Like I'm going to New York. I'm not coming back to Connecticut. This is crazy. This is crazy. Blah, blah, blah. I said, let me just figure it out. I said, well, school is my name thing. I want to go to school. I want to stay in school. And I want to keep up what I was doing, right. So, I went to school. I followed school. I was doing everything through school.

You know, you find a medium that works for you and you work it. School worked for me at the time. Education. So, I went to College of Community Fellowship, College Initiative, and these are programs in New York that helped you go to school and help you be a successful student. 

It was all new to me. I didn't know how to do this. I needed the assistance and that's what they did. Once I was into this, that was it. It was like, boom, taken off. And I was like, yeah, I'm liking this. 

And I used to mentor women coming home from prison about school and about how to stay home and letting school be the catalyst for your reentry. Because that's what it is. A catalyst for successful reentry. And that's what I did and I continue to do that still today. Education is a big part of who I am. And so, it went from education to mentoring, just women alone. Just because we have trauma. 

Um, I was asked to speak on many platforms in New York about different subjects. And when I realized like, your life is part of each subject. You have some experience on each subject of domestic violence, intimate partner relationship violence, trauma, sexual abuse, whatever. In one way or another, I realized that my life was a part of a lot of these aspects. So my story became a story of inspiration for people.

And that's what I used for a long time to help people move past the plight of reentry. Because the first six months of re-entry - very very difficult. You're go into the halfway house. They expect you to get a job. They expect you to do all these things, pay all these fines and fees, and you can't. 

It was difficult for me to get an ID. I couldn't even get an ID. I had to go through so much red tape to get a New York state ID. Promise you. I was like, are you kidding me? I had my prison ID. I have my birth certificate and my social security card, because I knew that's what I was going to need. I asked my grandmother before she passed away, can you please get this for me, cause I'm going to need this. She had it. She sent it to me so I was able to walk out the prison with it. 

So, I took all that to the DMV. They was like, "Oh no, but this is not a...", I said, "I'm trying to get a state ID."

Amber: [00:27:21] "This is not a state ID." You're like, excuse me. Uh, this is a government ID. They gave it to me.

Tiheba: [00:27:29] Yeah.

Jason: [00:27:29] You know, you're talking about how important it is in those first six months, and it seems like the system is set up with all these little gotchas. Like they're looking for ways to play gotcha, versus, really helping you at each step of the way and setting you up as much as they can for success. How do we pull you back in versus how do we launch you successfully?

Tiheba: [00:27:50] Well, Jason, the system is not created for keeping you out. It's created to pull you back in.

Amber: [00:27:59] I like how she said that really quietly. "Guess what? They don't want you to stay out."

Jason: [00:28:06] You've done a great job of really painting a picture of reality. And, it's interesting when we talk about mass incarceration and people in criminal justice reform circles trying to end mass incarceration, we also have to stop that whole idea of it appearing is something that's cool, right. And something that's an attractive place. Cause you, you talked about how it was almost like a badge of honor for some people to go. So, we've got to kill that stigma. 

Tiheba: [00:28:30] Yeah.

Jason: [00:28:31] I want to also point out that you just were honored with the hall of change award here in Connecticut. I had the opportunity to watch that, that was fabulous. 

Amber: [00:28:39] I did too. It was really great.

Tiheba: [00:28:41] Ah, thank you guys.

Jason: [00:28:43] And you have a tremendous number of honors. You've talked about going to school. I saw something on Columbia University. How'd you get hooked up with Columbia?

Tiheba: [00:28:51] Because Columbia has a prison program. And when people come home from prison, you know, sometimes it's really difficult to get into an elite school, Ivy league, anything. I was, I guess, referred to them for that program because I was a good student at one point. It was called Justice and Education Scholarship Program out of the Hayman Center for Humanities.

It was intense. They don't take it easy on you because you formerly incarcerated. I think they push you harder. So, it was pretty cool. And, um,  I'm an alumni of that program and I send people that I believe in to that program.

Amber: [00:29:26] Tiheba, tell us a little bit about the organization that you're leading now.

Tiheba: [00:29:32] Women Against Mass Incarceration is an organization I created back in 2015. And I used to work doing the mentoring and it evolved into legislative work, advocacy - and I'm loving every minute of it  - and campaigning, right? Like, I wasn't aware of any of this stuff and throughout the process of my journey I became aware of it and I'm loving it. 

So, what we do is advocate for women unapologetically. We do participatory defense. That's for everybody. It doesn't have to be a woman. It could be a woman, man, or child to actually help people navigate through the court system, so they can get a better outcome, like no time or less time. Because we know that the defense attorneys have a lot of caseload.

So, if you come to us and you say, I need help, we help you with understanding what a memo is. We help understanding what  a motion is. Discoveries and how you get it and what you need to ask for. Some people don't even know. A lot of people in the families don't even know you have a right to do that. "Oh, well, this is what they said. And I guess I can't do anything." That's not necessarily true. 

We're working on cases right now that are serious cases. We went from murder to a manslaughter. So that was a win. So, those are the type of things that we do to help families navigate through the system, because I don't believe that the people would have understood the difference between murder and manslaughter, had we not come in and help them navigate through the process. 

Back in 2018, we actually helped pass a bill, SB 13. We're going to be working on a bill this year, primary caretakers bill, as well as amp up the reproductive justice out here in Connecticut, because we realized it's not too many people working on that. Or if anyone's working on that. But we're building up that coalition now, as we speak. There's a primary caretakers bill that passed in Boston and Tennessee that we want to bring here for people that's going into prison. And if you're the primary caretaker of elderly and or child, we're looking for alternatives to incarceration and make that a law, as opposed to an if or a possibility.

So, those are the things we're working on now. Today we're doing a voter registration drive. And what else? And I'm on a democratic town committee here in my district in Bridgeport.

Jason: [00:31:47] So, if people want to get involved with your organization or want to get help from your organization, how do they get in touch with you?

Tiheba: [00:31:54] Oh, you can go to my website, wamict.org, www.wamict.org.

Jason: [00:32:00] Wami is W.A.M.I.

Tiheba: [00:32:03] It's an acronym for Women Against Mass Incarceration.

Jason: [00:32:06] Women Against Mass Incarceration.org, wamict.org.

Amber: [00:32:11] And we'll put that in the podcast notes as well, so people can link to it.

Tiheba: [00:32:15] Okay. And you can also give me a phone call. I'm up to phone calls. It's best if you texted me.

Jason: [00:32:22] Is there anything else you want to plug? Any other things that you're involved in or organizations that are close to your heart or anything like that?

Tiheba: [00:32:30] Yeah, absolutely. There's an organization that you guys may not know about. It's called the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. I work with them. They are actually my, my employer. And I've been with them for, I've been a member since 2015. And they just hired me in 2018 to be a coalitions director. But since they afforded me this office space that you guys see here, I will now be focusing on building off this hub in Bridgeport, Connecticut for the state of Connecticut to help move along their work as well. And it's the same work that we do. It's nothing different. We do the same work that the national council do.

They do clemency campaign. We piggyback in doing clemency campaign. They are the mothership of, of what we do. So, some of the stuff that we do comes directly from them because we want to pass along the great work that the national council is doing. Because the national council is a great organization for women and girls, because our goal is to free women and girls in America.

And we work from abolition framework, which is great. And I was already doing this. And when this entity became an entity, I was like, Oh, I need to be a part of it. So, I became a member and I was just like all over the place with them. And it was like really great. And my boss saw my, she saw my passion and she offered me a paid position. And this office space that she allotted for me to grow Women Against Mass Incarceration. And I am so grateful for her and I love her. Her name is Andrea James.

Amber: [00:34:02] All right. Shout out to Andrea James.

Tiheba: [00:34:05] Yeah, Yeah. And she's an amazing woman with amazing vision. 

And it's also ACLU Smart Justice. I want to thank Charlie Grady. I want to thank Rob Hiebert and Career Resources and Scott Wilderman, and... 

Jason: [00:34:20] Charlie Grady is Hang Time, right?

Tiheba: [00:34:21] Yeah. Charlie Grady hang time. Uh, her time, hang time. 

Yeah, and Sue Gunderman and all the people that I'm affiliated with out here, and Anderson Curtis, Dave Maguire, Mel Medina, and my girl, WhatRobin Porter.

Amber: [00:34:35] All these people are our favorite people.

Tiheba: [00:34:40] What? Katal, Senator Gary Winfield, Maryland Morrison. I mean, I'm connected to all of these people in some way or form or fashion, right? It's not like we're best buddies or whatever. But, I know about them and they know about me and that's what makes America great again. The connections that we have. Yeah, I'm taking that back, right?

Um, that's what make America great because we have connections intertwined with each other that's gonna to push about true, y'all call it reform, I call it abolition. Because I believe that we need to dismantle what's currently in place and revisit and say, if we even need to put that back in place or recreate something else. 

We need some governance. Of course. Not saying we don't. But what type of governance do we need? Do we need the brutality of what's going on? No, we don't. But we need somebody with compassion. We need people with understanding. We need people that see themselves and the people that they killing, they shooting, and all this other stuff.

So, that's what we need. And that's what we should dismantle and bring back up. We need social workers. We need people that understand the infrastructure of a person that makes them act out in certain ways. We need the mental institutions to come back. They took all the mental institutions away and put everybody in prison. Guess what? They still mentally incapacitated and they need some help.

Amber: [00:36:04] I want to just make a quick comment on that. This could be a whole nother podcast and maybe it will be.

Tiheba: [00:36:09] Yeah.

Amber: [00:36:10] But, in terms of that, mental institutions need to come back in such a way that they are not just jails called mental institutions.

Tiheba: [00:36:19] Exactly. Thank you Amber. They shouldn't come back as jail. They should come back with professional people knowing what's going on. The DSM has went from this size to this size. So there's stuff in there for almost everything that people are enduring right now. So why are you having people go to prison and keeping them dumbed down and walking like zombies throughout the compound, throughout the prison system. And then you send them home and say, "You don't get your medicines no more." 

So, that's what happens. They snap. People die. People get injured. People get hurt and nobody's the wiser. "Oh, I don't know what happened. He left with a certain amount of medicine.? Well, you know what. Three weeks of medicine ain't gonna to keep it for a lifetime because guess what? That's a problem. They can't get the medicine that they were given in prison when they come home.

Jason: [00:37:05] I think that coffee really fully kicked in just now.

Amber: [00:37:08] That got it. But that definitely is a whole nother podcast.

Tiheba: [00:37:14] Yeah, I'm thinking that, okay.

Jason: [00:37:16] What I'd like to say, is that, I just wanted to tell you that you're a tremendous success story. You've been a fabulous guest here, sharing so openly your past. Sharing, so openly the work that you've been doing. And it's such tremendous work. I mean, obviously I only knew a fraction of it and I learned so much from talking with you and I appreciate you being here. I'm going to toss it quickly to Amber to see if she has any closing remarks.

Amber: [00:37:41] So, I have one last question for you before we kind of wrap up. And the question is: what advice would you give to women who, um, have been touched by the legal system or coming out of the legal system to really, you know, rebuild their lives?

Tiheba: [00:38:02] Okay. My advice to every woman and young girl coming on at the prison system is to first, love yourself and give yourself some credit. You made it home. Second, take it easy. Don't rush your re-entry. Don't rush your post-conviction. And breathe. Grab onto someone that has been there, and that could understand, and that knows what you're going through, and let them become your guide, you know. 

And just understand that it's not going to be easy. It's not going to be, you know, quote, fast and microwaveable. We wanna get in and get out. And, you know, everything goes back into normal like it was before you went into prison. It's not going to be like that. 

Take your time, get to know who you are. If you didn't understand who you are, get to know who you are. Know what you want, know what you don't want, and just grab onto a support system. It may not even be your family. Sometimes it's other people that you work with, that you surround yourself with, that walk the walk you walk, and know what you're going through. That could be your greatest support system. 

Your family then in turn will fall in line. Trust me when I tell you. But if you need to, come and see me, Women Against Mass Incarceration. I am here for each and every woman that want my assistance, that need my assistance, that even want to just sit and be in a space. This space is your space. 

We at 840B State Street, Bridgeport, Connecticut. Come. Come and see me. And trust me, you won't regret it. I got you.

Amber: [00:39:38] I love that. I think that's the main message: "We got you."

Tiheba: [00:39:42] Yeah.

Jason: [00:39:43] Thank you so much, Tiheba, for being here with us today.

Tiheba: [00:39:47] Thank you for having me guys. You guys are great.

Jason: [00:39:50] Until next time, Amber.

Amber: [00:39:52] We'll see you next time.

Outro: [00:39:53] You've been listening to Amplified Voices. A podcast, lifting the experiences of people and families impacted by the criminal legal system. 

For more information, episodes, and podcast notes, visit amplifiedvoices.show.