Riverside House had the privilege of interviewing founders Amanda and Legend Tarver of 300 Letters, an organization that provides emotional support, financial relief, resources, and confidence to families that have been impacted by the criminal justice system. What follows is our conversation with these legendary changemakers and former Riverside House clients.
Who are Amanda and Legend Tarver?
We are the founders of 300 Letters, a non-profit organization, whose mission is to treat incarceration as a family affair. We accomplish this by providing emotional support, financial relief, resources, and confidence to the families that have been impacted by the criminal justice system. Having been formerly incarcerated ourselves, we know first-hand the effects and impact incarceration can have and does have on the individual and family unit.
What is 300 Letters?
Our mission is to treat incarceration as a family affair by providing emotional support, financial relief, resources, and confidence to the families that have been impacted by the criminal justice system. Our vision is to see a positive future for families recovering from incarceration experiences. Mass incarceration in the United States is a pervasive problem that affects many families and communities. Nearly half of U.S. adults have an immediate family member who has been to prison. We believe we can normalize and humanize this experience, and reduce the stigma associated with incarceration which ultimately affects the life prospects of those impacted, including their families.
How did you decide on the name of your organization?
300 Letters is the number of letters we wrote to one another while we were incarcerated. I was sentenced to prison for 24 months, and my husband, Legend, was sentenced to prison for 44 months. Our letters discussed what we wanted to do once we were released, and how the incarceration experience wouldn’t define who we are. Most incarcerated individuals, just like us, have experienced a lot of different issues in life that led to their incarceration. Having “been there” ourselves, we understand that everyone has experiences in life. It’s what you do after those experiences and how you handle them that is important. Because our criminal justice system focuses on punishment as opposed to rehabilitation, we wanted to provide formerly incarcerated individuals with a healing, head start back into the world where they can have access to programs for themselves and their families. We want to support them in their healing so that they will be able to change their behavior, and mindset, and emerge from their experience in order to focus on their future. We also wanted individuals to know and understand that there is a community, such as 300 Letters, their families, and others that are here to support them along their journey.
What encouragement would you give to those who are where you were?
This too shall pass. Learn what you can. Soak in everything around you. Use your time wisely. Don’t let time do you. Pick and choose the things you want to observe and learn. Be mindful of the people you want to be around because that also contributes to who you are as a whole. It’s all about learning from this experience because one day it will be over. I want people to know that this is just another experience. This won’t last forever. The reason why we created this organization is that once we got out of prison, “this”, meaning the services we provide, didn’t exist. When I got home, I didn’t find a community of support for women who had also been incarcerated or had experience and expertise with formerly incarcerated women. I didn’t even know where to go. I didn’t know there were non-profits around that helped people who had gone through incarceration. So, we wanted to make sure that anyone who has gone through incarceration knows they can turn to an organization, such as 300 Letters, or several other organizations that will help them where they’re at right now.
What’s the most fulfilling part of your day at work at 300 Letters?
I love connecting with people, and I love sharing my story with people who think that no one can understand them. I love connecting the dots for people that feel like nothing is out there that can help them with where they’re at right now. I love meeting people where they are. We love the professionals that work with us, which are therapists and psychologists, who help people to understand their emotions and feelings that they don’t know. We love to see the progress they’re making in their lives and help them to make accomplishments on a day-to-day basis. It really gives me fulfillment in my life and my purpose because I know I’m contributing to the well-being of their family and mindset.
Where do you see yourselves in the next five 5 years?
I definitely want to visit every women’s prison and speak with all the mothers all across the country. We want mental health care, the services that we provide, child care, and basic life skills given to anyone that has experienced incarceration. We want people to heal from their experience so that they can move forward, and we want to make that accessible to anyone that has ever gone through this experience.
What was your experience like at Riverside House, and how did it benefit you?
It was bittersweet. It was a transitional period, and so there was a lot of anxiety as we were in a between state. We were out of prison, halfway home, but not quite yet. However, Riverside House made it work. I was able to see my children while I was staying at Riverside House, which was the most important thing for me. It was definitely better than the prison! And for me, Legend, being at Riverside House gave me the time to not just find a job, but to pursue a career in fitness that I really wanted. This has given me the ability to provide financial stability for my family.
Where do you need support with 300 Letters?
Currently, we are looking for interns, specifically mental health counselors, and therapists. We also need volunteers for family and in-person events.
What’s your biggest dream for 300 Letters?
Our biggest dream for 300 Letters is to break the stigma of incarceration, and re-introduce the meaning of the word “felon”; our organization’s meaning of the word felon is an acronym, F.E.L.O.N., which means = Formerly Incarcerated Leader Overpowering Negativity, and to provide mental health services and a supportive community to every family affected and divided by incarceration.
How can people connect with 300 Letters and/or volunteer?
You may reach 300 Letters, Amanda and Legend Tarver, via the following contact information:
Email – email@example.com
Website – 300letters.org
Facebook – facebook.com/300Letters
Instagram – instagram.com/300letters