Ask What Kind of Help People Want with Ruby Welch | Crooked Media
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July 16, 2021
With Friends Like These
Ask What Kind of Help People Want with Ruby Welch

In This Episode

Restorative justice advocate Ruby Welch brings the perspective of a previously incarcerated person to policy. She’s not a fan of how most people (even well-meaning people!) prioritize the needs of the recently released. Find out what it means to be really heard. On this week’s Adorables Like These: Sora, the grumpy-faced kitty companion of Crooked intern Mari Cardenas.





Ana Marie Cox: Hi, I’m Ana Marie Cox. Welcome to With Friends like These. We’ve talked to a lot of people on the show about the problem of mass incarceration. We’re about to drop in a big missing piece in that conversation, the voice of a formerly-incarcerated person, a very special one at that. Ruby Welch is a restorative justice activist and the founder and Executive Director of F.E.L.O.N., Formerly Incarcerated, Empowered Leaders Overcoming Negative Stigmas, which is a hell of an acronym. As an activist, she helped put in place an Arkansas ban on the shackling of women during pregnancy and child labor, which should not be a big deal. But it is. I loved talking to her. She’s a true force of nature and she’s coming right up.


Ana Marie Cox: Ruby, welcome to the show.


Ruby Welch: Thank you so much, Ms. Ana Marie. Glad you invited me.


Ana Marie Cox: So I want to start a little bit differently than I usually do. I want to ask how you would like to be introduced. Who are you now? How do you want people to know you?


Ruby Welch: Who am I now? I am Ruby nee Carter Welch, daughter of Glen Edward Carter, Rita Carter, sister of nine brothers and sisters, aunty, grandma, step-mom, lover of the universe, advocate, fighter for a criminal and restorative justice rights. I mean, I’m just, who I was created to be.


Ana Marie Cox: And I love that. I love that introduction, and if, and a reason I asked you is because I think one of the important things that your activism does is remind people that the most important thing about someone isn’t whether or not they were formerly incarcerated. Right?


Ruby Welch: Exactly.


Ana Marie Cox: That’s not the most important thing about you. I would say being the person that the universe created you to be is probably the most important thing about you. Now, that said, you are formerly-incarcerated person.


Ruby Welch: Yes, ma’am.


Ana Marie Cox:  Do you want to tell us a little bit about how that came to be?


Ruby Welch: One thing that I always try to tell people is hurting people, hurt people, and I just found myself lost in my later 30s and started selling drugs, which led to me getting convicted to, with a 30 year sentence here in the state of Arkansas for less than 12 grams of crack cocaine. I served seven years, five months and six days of that 30-year sentence. The [unclear], so I like to tell people that I needed every one of those seven years because it was in prison that I found my freedom because I was able to get back to who Ruby was and find out what led me down the road of destruction. So today I sit before you in 2021 knowing that in 1996, I committed a crime, but in 2021, I’m not a criminal.


Ana Marie Cox: So you did serve your time.


Ruby Welch: Yes, ma’am.


Ana Marie Cox: I’m curious about whether or not you were aware at the time of the injustice of your sentence. Because we all kind of know people who are interested in criminal justice reform now know that the cocaine possession laws have been [laughs] very unfair.


Ruby Welch: No, I was not aware of the severity. And in fact, Ms. Ana Marie, if I’m going to be totally transparent. Yes, I sold drugs, but I didn’t sell drugs while I lay my head, and I had some gentlemen that were in my house at the time playing dominoes—I was actually in my bedroom asleep, and there. They threw their drugs on my floor and so my house, of my drugs. It’s nine tenths of the law. So, and I wasn’t aware that it was going to be so severe because, in fact, not even, I want to say, like 10 years before, maybe nine or 10 years before, I had some people at my house and they found just some residue on a plate, and they put me on probation. And I didn’t have the, I couldn’t understand it. So they actually enhanced my sentence when I got caught with less than 12 grams also. And no matter what, I told them that I’ve never been a drug user. My husband was addicted to drugs. Quite a few of my family members were addicted to drugs who came over to my house and got high because I was everybody’s safe place. But I never thought that it would lead to me having to serve seven years in prison. And mind you, I’ve been home from prison 15 years this August the 31st, and I’m still on parole, so I’m still not free.


Ana Marie Cox: So you did speak so generously about the time that you served and how it shaped you and therefore you found value in it, but I am curious, like, when did you start to realize that there was a systemic problem, that you were caught in? This injustice, that you were, in the wheels of injustice, let’s say, like you were stuck in there? When did that happen?


Ruby Welch: Immediately upon hitting the compound. For real. And it was, like immediate. Immediately, I’m going to tell you, first of all, in county jail, I realized that it was systemic, I mean the racism. You could tell the way Caucasians were being treated as far as Black women. I had a toothache and I realized that I couldn’t get my tooth pulled unless somebody gave me some money and I had to pay for my own medical health. So I thought, well, if I’m a ward of the state, why am I paying for my own health care? Because I was on home, I’d have insurance to take care of it. But and then when I got to a as we call the big house in Newport to the actual prison compound, that’s when my eyes were really opened because I was able to see how the system will always, whenever we had news reporters, or anybody from television or whatever to come down to the compound, they would always wait till there was like a group of Black women gathered together and they would put the camera on us. And the crazy thing is and I’m going to speak transparently, if you don’t mind, because I’m real transparent and blunt—when I went to prison in 1999, the actual numbers were seven white women to every Black woman, but you would always see the numbers say that it was over populated by Black and brown people. Not that it was over populated, it’s that our senses were more severe. So I saw a lot of white women constantly coming back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, for drug use, drug convictions, and asking me when did I get back? I never have left. And so I started talking to women and asking them questions. You know, what is it that keeps you coming back? What are you doing? And that’s when I started journaling about how our system, if your skin is, is black or brown hue, you when you go into the court system, you’re already given a life sentence before you even open your mouth. But I ran into many, many Caucasian sisters, in fact, because I’m a resource—I worked with a young lady that her aunt sent her to me to help her get a job. And she told me she worked at a pharmacy and she was selling drugs out of the pharmacy and she couldn’t find a job. And I said, well. OK, how much how much time did you do? And she said, you want me to be honest with you? I said yes. She said, I’ve never seen the inside of a jail. I promise you, Ms. Ana Marie, I stood up, I excused myself, I walked out of the room with my phone. I called my prayer partner. I said, you got to pray with me. Because I don’t want to help this woman get a job. You know, because here I am looking at a Caucasian woman that was stealing from her employer, and here I was buying my drugs, teaching myself how to cook them and sell and make a living, you know, whatever the reason, pride, because I wanted to be grand or whatever, whatever the reason was. But I was given a 30-year sentence and here this woman was saying she had never even seen the inside of a jail. I was appalled, but I was more grieved.


Ana Marie Cox: And as frustrating as that must have been in the moment, obviously it’s the system that creates that injustice. I am so glad you prayed for her. That’s is a beautiful thing that that was your first response. So you had this sort of awakening to the injustice right away, and then you proceeded to educate yourself by talking to the women around you, right?


Ruby Welch: Yes.


Ana Marie Cox: It sounds like you also had a spiritual journey happening at the same time.


Ruby Welch: I’ve always been spiritual.


Ana Marie Cox: When did that translate into a kind of activism? When did it come from: I just want to find out what’s happening here to me and my sisters, to I’m going to do something about this.


Ruby Welch: I was fighting to try to get a sentence reduction. And so I went to a couple of the legal beagles within the prison system, Marile and Miss Brown and I said, I need you guys to help me. I want I want you to help me write up my sentence reduction, and they both looked at me and start laughing. Marile was causation and Miss Brown as an elderly Black woman, and they started laughing at me and I was like, why are you laughing? So they pass me this big book, big law book. And they said, we want you to read this because we’ve watched you and you’re intelligent enough to get yourself out of here. So I picked this book up and I start looking at different cases. And from there I went to work, I put in an order to work in the law library and I was able to not only work on my case, but other women’s cases. And that’s when my activism really, really started, when I started listening to women who I knew shouldn’t be in prison. People, women that had been in prison when I was still a child, with life sentences. And I’m a firm believer that life should not mean death behind concrete walls. I understand punishment for your crime, but when is punishment enough?


Ana Marie Cox: You know, to be honest, sometimes I wonder if punishment is even the thing that we need to think. I always like the way of thinking about it is people need to be held responsible for their crimes.


Ruby Welch: Yes.


Ana Marie Cox: That there’s a responsibility that needs to be taken. And sometimes that means sacrificing some freedoms. In order to . . . to show—


Ruby Welch: I like that word better.


Ana Marie Cox: In order to show that you understand the gravity of what you have done, you might have to give up some of your freedoms. But as I’m sure you know, we’re one of the only countries in the world that really just warehouses people. That just [laugh] there’s no—


Ruby Welch: It is for monetary gain.


Ana Marie Cox: Exactly.


Ruby Welch: It’s not for correction. It’s not to bring out better people than you locked up because actually in prison they break you down in. I’m an empath so I might cry.


Ana Marie Cox: I cry all the time on this show.


Ruby Welch: If you’re not strong enough to know what’s going on, and I guess in the beginning, like the first two years, I wasn’t really aware Ms Ana Marie, because like I said, my husband had gotten killed six months before I went into prison. So I was just brain dead. But when the awakening came in, I really start looking around. Our criminal justice system is corrupt because you’re housed human beings worse than animals, because at least animals, you know, you try to feed your animals the best food, you make sure that you take them to the best veterinarian, you let them go out and run and jump and play in the sun when they when they desire—but in prison, everything is intentionally calculated to wear your life down, certain amount of times a day you have rec call when they say that you can have rec call, you go to eat when they say you go eat, your lights are turned on when they say they’re turned on, they’re turned off when they say to turn them off—so all of that freedom is taking from. So now I don’t take anything for granted, not even turning on my light switch. I don’t, I don’t take any of that for granted. And that’s the one thing that will always keep me from never, ever going back, is the freedom that’s stripped from you and, because of your freedom being stripped, I feel like that, to me, is punishment enough for your crime, you’re taken away from your family, your friends, everything. But when people start breaking you down as a human, they start treating you as an animal, or worse than an animal, that’s when the correctional facility isn’t about correction.


Ana Marie Cox: Yeah, I was reading up on criminal justice history and I thought I knew my stuff pretty well, but I had never thought about the fact that we call these places correctional facilities because there was a time that that was the idea, at least. That there was this thought that we are going to correct, we’re going to rehabilitate. Because of market forces and systemic racism—kind of the same thing—they have become warehouses, and you cannot, it is very difficult to retain your humanity and not be broken down. I guess we all retain our humanity. But, yes, the pressure, the pressure, it demands so much from people. It doesn’t rehabilitate. It doesn’t correct. You know, it just stores. There’s just a bunch of people there.


Ruby Welch: And that’s, that’s exactly what it is.


Ana Marie Cox: Yeah. So you did get out. And you are the person that fought for your release.


Ruby Welch: Yes.


Ana Marie Cox: And how did that work out?


Ruby Welch: Well, honestly, they never answered me back from the courts, I went. I’ll be honest with you, I never got any paperwork back, or anything back from the court stating, because at first I assumed that I was going to have to do half my time, which would have been 15 years. But they never answered me back. And so, I just went into prayer and I just, I just trusted God. I’m a, I’m a numbers person and I’m my mother’s seventh child, and I was born on the seventh day, but I was born a sixty one. Six plus one equals seven. And when I got to prison, my number, the last four digits is 6416 and six plus four equals ten. My mom had ten kids, and one plus six equals seven. So I looked at it as I had to come through McPherson, and so when I didn’t get an answer back in three months, I made it a matter of prayer, and I said, you know, God, I just need you to show me an answer. And one day I was getting ready to do my early Bible reading and my book opened up to Deuteronomy, year of Jubilee, where we talk about it after seven years, everything is forgiven. And so I got, I get off my knees after my reading and I went to the phone and I call my mom, and I said, listen, I need you to fire the attorney. I need, I need you guys to quit fighting, I need for everything to stop. And she said, why? I said, because I’m going to at least have to do seven years. And this was, I was like maybe three, three and a half years into my time at this time, I said, I’m going to have to do seven years. I said, but after seven years, I’m going to be free. And she was like, well, OK. And I believe God for the number seven, which means completion, and that’s what it took, completion, seven years for me to know that I’m, I had to walk within what I was chosen, which is my calling to fight for other people’s rights.


Ana Marie Cox: It sounds like one of the most important things that a person can have while incarcerated is belief in something. I wouldn’t say necessarily has to be a traditional religion.


Ruby Welch: I don’t care if it’s a light bulb, and I tell people that I said. I don’t care if your higher power is a light bulb, but I need you to believe in that light bulb to the point that you know, that whatever you ask, you shall receive.


Ana Marie Cox: Are you a fellow 12 stepper, Ruby/


Ruby Welch: No, look, I’ve never, ever, will never ever—I smoked two joints in my life. Once when I was 16, and once when I was 24. So I’ve never been an alcoholic. But like I said, my husband was a drug user, he was addicted to drugs. And so when he went through the program, I was going to the program too. Just like when you’re incarcerated, your family, your friends, everybody is incarcerated with you. So same program.


Ana Marie Cox: Because that notion of have to believe in something, of course, is really central to the recovery from addiction. Right? And I can see the parallel about how it would be central to the kind of recovery you need to be practicing, with or without having ever had a chemical in your system, while incarcerated. Like, you need to have that belief that there is a thing, there is something. And also you knew that you had a purpose.


Ruby Welch: Yes.


Ana Marie Cox: And so we should probably talk about that purpose [laughs] as much as I’m actually getting out of you talking about your very like, amazing and inspiring spiritual growth. Let’s get to what the spiritual growth got you to, which is activism.


Ruby Welch: Yes.


Ana Marie Cox: What are you doing?


Ruby Welch: What happened, when I came out of prison in 2006? You got to remember, I was what 42, 43 year old Black female, no children, husband dead, I was a widow, and there was no Obamacare. So I didn’t have insurance. Housing was being denied. I stayed with one of my sisters, just thankful that I had my cosmetology license, so I was able to go to work with one of my friends in her salon the day after I got out. But I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t, I wasn’t content or joyful. I mean, to the point where I was wishing for prison to get back into what I was doing when I was in prison because I was a character coach in a program called PALS Principle and Applications for Life. And so I got a phone call from a gentleman here in Little Rock, Reverend William Tallet, and he was over the Union Rescue Mission Bargaining Center and he offered me a job there. So I came to Little Rock. And we were working with men who were in treatment centers, and so I was, I was training these men and at the same time, I was watching the way that Reverend Tallet dealt with these men. And I told him that’s what I want to do with women. How do I get started? And he said, just go it. And so I just started going to a lot of meetings around Little Rock, sitting at a lot of different tables, seeing what they were saying they were doing, connecting with different organizations and then getting on Facebook live and talking about my desires for reforming incarcerated people and people that were still incarcerated and how we needed to set them free. And I got picked up first by the National Council for Incarcerated Women and Girls out of New York. So I started flying around with them and they started training me on different policies. How, policy 101, how we could affect legislature with our voice. And then a couple of years after that, I got connected with Dream Corps, Cut50 at the time for a Day of Empathy. And I spoke at the first one. And then the next year they chose me to be their Arkansas ambassador. And so I just really started charging in and bringing a lot of my female friends that I knew that were incarcerated and talking to people about how we can’t, we can be a difference! Because I didn’t think we could, because, you know, I felt like in prison we didn’t have a say-so. Being home, I didn’t feel like we had a lot of say-so, but then once I realize there’s power in numbers—so if you get a whole bunch of formerly incarcerated women in a room and we start making noise, somebody is going to listen. And that’s exactly what Dream Corps, Justice and #Cut50 did for me. They allowed me to have a voice to speak what was inside, that nobody was hearing from us, because we have all these intellects and politicians saying what needs to be done for formerly-incarcerated people, incarcerated people. And my question to them is, how do you know?


Ana Marie Cox: I was just thinking, as I was listening to you, that I think people might assume that activism has to do with going to, you know, Capitol Hill and lobbying or getting signatures or testifying at a hearing. And I know that that is part of it, but what, but what sounds like the most impactful thing that you’re doing is listening to people yourself. And it sounds like the reason why that’s so important is it number one, these are people that aren’t used to being listened to. Right? And I really want you to tell me, but it sounds like, it’s the way back to humanity for people that have been treated so badly.


Ruby Welch: It is. And it’s not only the people that are that I deal with that are formerly incarcerated, it’s the family, the mothers and the children that I also deal with, and I have to speak with. Because I get mothers calling me all the time saying I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to talk to my son or my daughter, can you help me out? And I’m like, tell them to call me, you know. I attempt to explain to them that when I came home there wasn’t—I’m going to say there was help but there was very little help being addressed. And especially, the help that was addressed by formerly-incarcerated people to say, get under my wing, let me show you how to do this. And so that’s how I myself actually collaborate with people, my shared experience with their experience. I just show them how to, like the song say “walk it out.” You know, let’s just walk it out. Just you got, but you got to listen. You can’t just do whatever you want to do. We’ve broken rules before, so we know how to break rules. Let’s practice on doing the right thing. And it’s easier to do the right thing than it is to do the wrong thing. Because when I was doing wrong, I was always looking over my shoulder. Now that I’m doing right, I mean, I don’t care. Police can come knocking on my door right now I’m going to let them in. I never get nervous. In fact, I go into the jails and prisons and speak. Because that’s my passion, my love, I want them to see what  everybody’s like, oh, who is this woman? Then I tell them, hi, my name is Ruby Welch, and I’m also known to the state of Arkansas as inmates 706416 and you can hear the sigh of relief because we have a kindred spirit, and then they’re like, she understands. And I do. And I listen a lot. I talk a lot. I loved talking.


Ana Marie Cox: [laughs] You’re a good talker.


Ruby Welch: So I want them to hear.


Ana Marie Cox: I understand.


Ruby Welch: That is important. And like I said, I’m a empath, a super empathic fact. I grieve over a lot of women and men that don’t know which direction to go in, whether they’ve been out five years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years. And why some people continuously make prison a revolving door. Because we don’t have enough people saying, I care enough about you, that I really, really want to listen to what you say. Because sometimes people just need to cry. COVID-19 taught me that, I put a post on Facebook that if you have a loved one incarcerated to give me a call. And when I tell you my phone rang for weeks, and some of the mothers and fathers and girlfriends and wives, all I could do was pray and cry with them. And I’m still connected, even though we’re coming somewhat out of the epidemic, but just, them knowing that there was someone there that cared makes all the difference in the world. And I didn’t have a lot of information. I just listened.


Ana Marie Cox: Back to activist Ruby Welch in just a minute.


[ad break]


Ana Marie Cox: You’re just reminding me that it’s one thing for those of us who have never been close to this, but who feel like we mean well, to talk about the system, to talk about policy changes. And those are important. Right. But that maybe those things can’t actually be changed that much until we listen to the people that have been through it. That that individual listening, that providing of emotional and spiritual support, is one of the ways that we can get to bigger changes.


Ruby Welch: And Ms. Ana Marie, the reason why I said it, because mostly what people don’t even realize—at five years old, I didn’t sit up and say, I can’t wait till I get grown so I can commit a crime and go to prison. I didn’t say that at six, seven, eight, nineteen. That was not my desire for my future. So my platform, I focus on mostly mental health. Because I know something happened, and I know when my first something happened, happened. But it took me going to prison and recalling why I am where I was where was, that at eight years old, I had been molested by a deacon in the church, but I had suppressed it. I didn’t tell anybody. And, you know, and I just got angrier and angrier and angrier at the world. And then at 11, I got burned over 95% of my body saving me my one-year old baby sister from stove fire, which I wasn’t expected to live, and here I am, thank God, I’ll be 60 in June. And so, like I said, because of all of these things, I don’t take anything for granted when I’m dealing with people’s lives. But I don’t feel that our legislatures, our policymakers are taking in consideration the crime is not the act. There is something mentally going on with inside these individuals minds, so why don’t we spend enough time working towards correcting mental health instead of correcting crimes that have been committed against society, that most people, when they get in prison, don’t even know why they did what they did. Because I mean, I’m still, I didn’t have to do what I did, I didn’t have to do it. But why? Why did I decide to one morning wake up and become a criminal? Why? What triggered in my brain to make me feel like this was an easier way to live life than the life the society says we have to live in order to be looked at and called good citizens?


Ana Marie Cox: I think you might have made a somewhat rational decision actually, like given the situation you were in. You know, anyone might have made the choice that you did. So I think the policy versus individual empathic understanding is a bit of a chicken and egg, right? Because in order to have that level of coaching and support for formerly-incarcerated people and incarcerated people, that you got to change some ways that we spend money.


Ruby Welch: Yes. Yes, definitely.


Ana Marie Cox: Yeah but I would just love to know, based on all this time that you’ve spent with people who are in that system and their families—which you keep bringing up and I’m so grateful for you doing that because it is a family issue, it is a community issue. There is community trauma, when there are lots of people in your community being arrested and incarcerated. What do you see sort of in that, from that perspective that you would change if you could change things, or if you would ask people to change things, and is systemwise, what would it be?


Ruby Welch: The one thing that I would, which I do ask—shake your own family tree, and tell me how many people you have within your family history that have been incarcerated, or not been incarcerated, but that the family considered a bad apple at one time or another, but that you still accepted them within the fold with love, with understanding, they still were allowed to come to Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas meals, and they were still involved with family reunions. And humanize every person, instead of looking at someone that commits a crime as a criminal. And then when you lock them up, you only look at them as a number. And also, I would, me, myself and I, we’d like to see more people support those that are incarcerated, as we attempt to lead, instead of picking us, picking our brains for the information, and counting it as your own and you’re getting all the dollars and monetary gain and you’re not depositing anything back into the communities that you’re taking the withdrawals from. I would really like to see, because there’s a group of us and we’re forming again now, here in Little Rock, since I’ve been given the privilege of serving Dream Corps Justice in the position of a national organizer, which will start to May 2th, my position with them. I’m already organizing men and women that we’re getting ready to go and we’re going to take over our communities from incarcerated people. We’re going to show them how to be, prevent it I don’t want to wait till I see a 15 or 16-year old in juvenile but being charged as an adult, before I go in and speak to them. I want to go into the communities and speak to them and let them know, look, let me tell you what happened to me as an adult. Let me tell you how it feels to have seven years of your life taken away from you. I did not even know how to operate a cell phone. Let me explain what happens behind those walls. What they’re showing you on TV, that, it is not glory. It is not fun. And we should be the ones leading this fight, but the politicians in the communities should actually be supporting us instead of saying, why don’t you guys just forget about all of that and go sit down somewhere? No, I’m not going to forget about seven years of my life that I was taken out of this world, and then dumped back into it with a$100 check, and said, OK, go forward and be great.


Ana Marie Cox: It sounds like again, for me, this is sort of a new idea, so I keep coming back to it. That whatever systemic change like we’ve—especially maybe we white people, we’re very far away from the realities of this, but who think of us ourselves as you know, liberal and good and I have the right opinions about things, and I vote for the right people, so I’m a good person and I am pro-criminal justice reform and I can wear the T-shirt and I can put the bumper sticker on, and that’s great. And it is good. We want people to do those things.


Ruby Welch: Yes.


Ana Marie Cox: But you are really arguing very sincerely and earnestly and with experience, that one of the things that has to change hand-in-hand with any system changing, is the way that we who are not affected by that system, think of the people in the system. That the system maybe can’t change until we have this turn where we, you know—the people who are more like those politicians and whatnot—don’t think of the people in the system as the people we have to help, but as the people who need to show us what to do in order to make the system better?


Ruby Welch: You just say that you weren’t affected. Yes you were.


Ana Marie Cox: That’s true.


Ruby Welch: And I’m going to tell you why. Because 85% of those people that are incarcerated are coming back into the society of those who have never been incarcerated. So how do you want those people to enter back in? You want them to enter back in bitter, or do you want them to enter back in better? And correction does not begin—or should not, let me say that—should not begin three years to six months, six months to three years, whichever way they want to do it, before you leave prison. Correction and rehabilitation needs to begin the same day that you are incarcerated behind those concrete walls and steel doors. A social worker, a mental health worker needs to be present.


Ana Marie Cox: And even before that, right?


Ruby Welch: Yes. Well, especially like I said, because you’re not going to get incarcerated until you commit a crime. But once a person commits a crime and they lock them up, somebody needs to be there to find out what happened, why are you here today? You know, instead they put you in county jail and you could be there anywhere from two days to two years plus, doing nothing, nothing. I do mean literally nothing. You wake up, you eat, you sleep, you wake up, you eat, you sleep, you wake up, you sleep. There are some classes, but they’re stipulated for certain people, you know. Meditation should be going on. Just ways for people to deal with stress alone. People who like myself, who have proved that I’m not trying to commit another crime, should be allowed to come back inside those walls and uplift our brothers and sisters. Because you can go behind the walls all day long and talk to your blue in the face. They don’t listen to you. They’ll probably forget you. But Ruby Welch goes behind the walls and tell them how I was incarcerated and how, since I’ve been on incarceration in 2006, don’t think it’s been great for me because I’ve been homeless three times. But each time, guess what I did? I started all over, and I said, OK, I didn’t do it right the last time. What did I miss? So I know in the beginning, I was missing a little bit of the financial literacy, you know, how do you budget an eight-dollar an hour job, when you got to pay rent, lights, phone bills, parole officer, or you going back to prison? Groceries, bus tickets. How do you, how do you live off of $8 an hour? So I had to figure that out. So basically, when you come out of incarceration, you have to put yourself in another prison, literally, because you have to lower your standards of how you would live, where you live, because society says you’re not good enough to live next door to me. And I’m going to tell you, Ana Marie, there are people in prison that I would much better have as a neighbor than some of these people I have met on the streets any day of the year. Because they know that they’ve done wrong. They know that they need to be [unclear]. But they also know, we know we deserve to be loved. We deserve a second chance. We deserve a third chance. These politicians that believe in lock them up and throw away the key—shouldn’t even be voting them into office. Because as soon as one of your family members is in that position, you’re going to want to stop fighting about that law was wrong, but it was OK when it was out there for me. So, yeah, that’s how I feel about this system of people,.it grieves me. And even people that say that they’re fighting for us, one thing that I’ve learned is everybody standing with me is not standing for me. And I’ve had to suffer at the hands of so many people that I trusted. Because you are, after coming out of incarceration, you are a little green because the world kept moving, you know, while we were incarcerated, the world kept moving, and so we were like kind of at a standstill. So I was thinking, you know, and I’ve always been the type of person that, oh if people say that they’re good, they’re good, and they say this is what they’re going to do, this is what they’re going to do. And I literally got pimped so hard, with people having me in all these different spaces and speaking and doing all of this until like, I got sent to the National Council and Cut50, you know, pull me by my shirttail and say, no! You know, they should be they should be helping you do something, if just giving you $100, $50, you know, for taking time out of your life. So because how are you eating and how are you traveling to these places? I’m [unclear] because we don’t know any better. And so people use us in order to make their platforms look better. Look at me, you know, I got all these women, incarcerated people around me, I’m doing such good work. But you’re not telling them that we’re starving, that we’re being evicted. And we don’t own cars, we catch a bus. It’s a bigger picture that no one gets a chance to see, but I’m the one that’s going to tell the story and I’m going to tell it the way that it should be told, which is honestly and truthfully. Yeah, I do have a lot of people that I can count who have who have helped me along the way because they have a heart, like the sister’s that’s here with me today. I mean, I was like, I don’t know move this light ring and I don’t know what to do with it and I need your help. And, you know, she was like, I’m on my way.


Ana Marie Cox: Hang on through this last bit of information from our delightful sponsors.


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Ana Marie Cox: I think the thing I want to ask you is, I have two things. The first one is, so we have had this discussion about criminal justice reform and law enforcement reform come to the surface in this very impossible-to-ignore way this past year.


Ruby Welch: Yes.


Ana Marie Cox: And I wonder how that affects your work? Wonder what the impact of that discussion has been on your work?


Ruby Welch: That’s part, that’s the B part of how we get used when we come out of incarceration because we don’t want to do anything wrong. Anything wrong. We don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. And we’re walking on eggshells because the least little thing could send you back to prison. Even somebody lying, can get you sent back to prison. So we walk on eggshells, until you’re all the way off paper. And even with the police officers, you know, by me being able to go into the county jail and work with the sheriff here and some of the deputies, I’ve been able to allow them to see that, yeah I’m formerly incarcerated, but they say but Ruby’s really OK. And you know, and I’ve had people say sometimes I forget that you were incarcerated until you speak about it. Well, that’s good, because that’s how I want you to see everyone across the board. Because when people say to me, it doesn’t look like you’ve been incarcerated. Well, what does a former incarcerated person look like? Because there are millions. Millions. And I believe that once, if our law enforcement really wanted to correct some things, which they don’t they don’t want to correct a whole bunch of things because just think if prisons shut down and no one needed jails and things of this nature to the capacity that we have them right now, that’d be a lot of jobs lost. So we only want, they only want to correct to a certain percentage. Let’s just keep it real. So if you start listening to the people who were, who used to be criminal-minded, who committed crimes, and we start speaking with the law offices saying, look, if you treat us like this and you come into our communities, if you, if you talk to the young men or young women on the street corners that are selling drugs, and tell them that there’s a better life, and even though you’re a law officer, that you want to help them live a better life. And you guys start taking some of your money that you’re buying all this ammo and all this other stuff with and start setting up programs, and children and teenagers are able to see the law enforcement officers in a different light of actually being people of the community willing to help them to accelerate in life, instead of somebody that’s keeping their foot on their neck, we’d have better communities. But until we can get to that point, we’re going to have this battle.


Ana Marie Cox: Now, some people might point out what the situation you’ve described, what you might want to do is there’s this word, ‘defund’ the law enforcement and instead put that money towards the kind of activities and advocacy that you’re talking about. So that discussion is happening right now. Is that something that you do think? Yes, you’re nodding your head. [laughs]


Ruby Welch: Yes. I don’t I don’t want to take all the money from the police officers. Now mind you, I know they need money, but I don’t believe that you need as much as you say you need. I believe that a lot of the training courses that undoubtedly aren’t working for you all because you still are unable to know how to deal with the community, that maybe you should set up some programs where you can actually speak with the community and the community can tell you how it’s best to deal with them. Because, I mean, that’s just that’s what I do. I tell people how to deal with formerly-incarcerated people. Well first you treat them like humans. You treat them just like you want to be treated. You don’t treat them like they’re formerly-incarcerated, but a lot of people . . . yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: You have such hope and spirit within you. You work in an area that forces you to deal with incredibly dark things. So where, where do you find your inspiration and hope and spirit?


Ruby Welch: When I come back to my sanctuary, my home, that’s when I’m able to just cry it out and renew myself. And I do sometimes have to take a break from everything because it’s mentally draining. But I believe that our universe was created for harmony. It wasn’t created for us to be fighting against each other on a daily basis, whether they’re Black, white, green, pink, purple, whether incarcerated, not incarcerated, whether a politician, not a politician, whether Christian or atheist, I believe, because I’m one of those people, I don’t care about any of those things. I don’t care about, about a sexual orientation, I don’t care about any that. I care about humans. And I accept people right where they are. And it’s going to take people in the world pulling on, like I said in the beginning, whatever your higher power is, and believing that your higher power is to create harmony and peace. Because I’m a Christian, I believe in God, I’m unapologetically a believer. I’m a woman of God and I love it, and I thank God for God, and a lot of people ought to thank God for God because I used to be a bugga bear. I know this. But now the things that used to upset me, if I can’t do anything about it, I don’t worry about them. But the things that I can change, are not only the policies, but also the mindsets and the ways that people look and think about formerly-incarcerated and incarcerated people. Because I’m going to be the person in their face saying, well, look at me, what do you think about me today? Let’s not think about 1996 or 1999 when you incarcerated me. What do you think about me today? Let’s go from today, forward.


Ana Marie Cox: Thank you for coming on the show, and thank you for coming into my life.


Ruby Welch: Well, what I do want to say, what I always try to say is, you know, once, I was behind concrete walls, prison bars, but today I sit before you and I set my own bars and no walls can contain me. And I’m just so thankful for that, and I thank you, Miss Ana Marie, for having me. I hope it makes a difference in what I said, someone has really listened to what I’m saying. And what I do want to put into the universe before I leave is that if we all focus on giving to the world the best that we have, the best will come back to us. Thank you, Ms. Ana Marie. I appreciate you so much.


Ana Marie Cox: And that was Ruby Welch of F.E.L.O.N. Formerly Incarcerated Empowered Leaders Overcoming Negative Stigmas. On this week’s Adorables segment, you’ll hear from one of the people that helps keep Crooked running, our summer news intern Mari Cardenas, and learn about their grumpy-faced but very sweet cat Sora.


Ana Marie Cox: Mari, thanks for coming on the show.


Mari Cardenas: Thanks, thanks for having me. You know, any chance to show my cat.


Ana Marie Cox: And I see him. He doesn’t look particularly happy to be here, but he’s putting up, he’s tolerating the holding. Why don’t you tell us his name and for our podcast family, describe him.


Mari Cardenas: So my cat for the podcast listeners, his name is Sora after Kingdom Hearts. What he looks like: he is very long, very fat, he is white, I think he’s a tabby. He’s like a medium-hair. I’m getting very specific here. He has gray, he has a little black, he is a little brown.


Ana Marie Cox: So he’s like a gray tabby with white markings


Mari Cardenas: Yes. White markings. And he has these cute little dots on his bottom paws. Yeah, he’s diabetic. So we give him insulin shots two times a day—two milliliters, if anyone’s curious. And he’s about, I think, eight years old. We found him in the bush. So . . . yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: So he’s a tough guy.


Mari Cardenas: Yeah, he’s a tough guy. He’s also in California. So he’s, he moves around quite a bit.


Ana Marie Cox: And is there a story behind his name?


Mari Cardenas: It’s just kind of after like Kingdom Hearts, which is just like this video game. But it also is Japanese for sky.


Ana Marie Cox: What is the biggest way you spoil him? I mean, you do a lot for him. Sometimes I ask that question as what’s the most you go out of your way for your Adorable? But the insulin thing is, that’s—


Mari Cardenas: That’s what I’m saying. Like, he’s—


Ana Marie Cox: That’s high maintenance.


Mari Cardenas: That’s what I’m saying. Like he’s a really expensive cat, because like, honestly, like, I feel like that’s the most expensive, like going to vets and stuff because. He has to get a lot of glucose scans. So like basically like you just spend like a lot of money, like $800, $1000 so you can make sure that like his insulin levels are all good. Yeah. So I feel like that’s the biggest or like sometimes we have like salmon so like well like make like Poke, which just like a little like Hawaiian bowl that you basically like cut up like salmon or like tuna, like you put like rice and like avocado, all that stuff. So like sometimes we have leftovers, we put it on the floor and he’ll eat it. He’ll be very happy.


Ana Marie Cox: He, I just think it’s so funny watching him because his the expression on his face is one of barely tolerating, but he’s clearly also digging it.


Mari Cardenas: Yeah, no, it’s crazy because, like, I feel like he’s such a tolerable cat because I literally just like hold him up like with hands like straight up and he’ll just be like flying in the sky or like the air basically. And he will not move. Like anyone can hold him, anyone can like touch him and he just doesn’t care. Like he’s like—


Ana Marie Cox: He just happens to have like resting fuck off face.


Mari Cardenas: Yes. Genuinely.


Ana Marie Cox: Yeah, probably on the streets that really served him.


Mari Cardenas: For rea. And it’s like, you know what, like just like his mother, you know, we just have that cat-atude and I’m not mad.


Ana Marie Cox: So the last question is, is a little bit of a combo. First, I’d like you to think about what cause he might support, like political cause of some kind, perhaps. We are part of the Crooked Media network. And also, if there’s a voice that you do of him, you could say the cause that he supports in his voice. You can separate those two or just give us the cause, but of course, we like to hear from the adorable.


Mari Cardenas: This is true. I mean, he is in a Latino household, so I feel like he wants to abolish ICE. That’s his number one thing. He’s very, he’s very against that. And so he works very hard night and day for this cause.


Ana Marie Cox: Do you have a voice for him?


Mari Cardenas: I feel like his voice—I don’t even know! Let me look at this MF.


Ana Marie Cox: And you know what? Maybe you’ll discover his voice.


Mari Cardenas: True. Maybe I’ll find it deep in his heart. Because he looks a little miserable right now, bro. He really looks like, maybe his voice is like “let me go.”


Ana Marie Cox: See, I just think it’s the resting fuck off face. I think that he’s clearly like, if a cat is, you’re going to find out how the cat feels by their actions. Right? And he’s just like, he’s just lying and he’s just not even, he’s boneless in your arms. So I think whatever his expression is, he loves it. He loves cuddling with you.


Mari Cardenas: Yeah, we’ll find out his voice. I will return back.


Ana Marie Cox: Thank you so much for coming on. Thanks to both of you.


Mari Cardenas: Thank you.


Ana Marie Cox: Thanks to Ruby Welch and to Mari and Sora for their time. The show is a production of Crooked Media. Alison Herrera produces the show with assistance from Jordan Waller. Izzy Margulies books our guest. Louie Leeno, engineered this episode. Please consider taking the survey you’ve probably heard about on all the other Crooked podcasts at, as we’re all trying to figure out how to return to a normal that’s better than normal. You can help us figure out how to better serve you. Complete it and you will get a coupon for 20% off anything in the Crooked merch store, including our official With Friends Like These T-shirt, a cool retro ringer. With the reminder to take care of yourselves.