Amanda Maxwell grew up in the 80s when her neighborhood, ‘Little Burgundy,’ was rough, and saw firsthand the consequences of drug trafficking. She lost her brother-in-law to gun violence, and some friends to the prison system.
However, she takes “no judgment” to heart, and believes that prisoners aren’t bad people just because they have done bad things.
“I started to see them both as victims. People that lost their lives and those that also lost their lives to the prison system. I’ve seen families suffering on both ends,” she told CBC.
When her ex-boyfriend was released from prison, Maxwell linked up with him and saw how prison had affected his mental health after 10 years of incarceration.
She recalls how overwhelmed he became when going to the grocery store for the first time after he got out, he was struggling at that time, and there seemed to be no support for him. This caused her to realize how damaged the system was.
CBC also shares the story of Quincey, an ex-convict who received help from Maxwell through the DESTA Black Community Network in Little Burgundy. As a support services coordinator, Maxwell’s duty ranges from finding prisoners affordable food, furniture, and a place to live, as well as a listening ear. She prepares prisoners and ex-convicts to adjust to life after incarceration.
Quincey noted that he had been alienated from his family after going behind bars for armed robbery, and had no one to fall on after he was released, except for Maxwell, who sent him in the right direction. She showed him how to write his CV, which he used to gain some training, and finally landed his current job as a construction Flagger.
His relationship with Maxwell began while he was in prison. According to him, she was always available to talk. He also added that he didn’t get any bias with her, and she always tried to help as much as she could.
Maxwell initiated a podcast called Stories from the Inside Out, which gives listeners a chance to hear the challenges ex-convicts go through. Guests on her show share their difficulties with mental health issues and their struggle to adapt to life while doing their bid to work on becoming a meaningful part of society once more.
Apart from the podcast, she operates a poetry-exchange program where inmates share their creative writing with volunteers on the outside.
Maxwell hopes to create programs in prisons that are “meaningful and culturally relevant,” like mentorship programs that partner young men with former prisoners to keep them from deviating from the right path.
She is also a regular volunteer at the Union United Church food bank, and still feels like she hasn’t done enough. She confessed that “I feel like I should be doing more, just to show them that we’re here, and we see them, and we didn’t forget about them.”