44 Blue Productions has partnered with activist and social entrepreneur Topeka K. Sam, to develop both scripted and unscripted series inspired by her fight to change the culture of degradation, humiliation and unfair sentencing that surrounds female incarceration.
Recently Topeka, who is the Founder and Executive Director of The Ladies of Hope Ministries, made headlines and garnered national attention after creating the video that went viral around the story of Alice Marie Johnson, and which inspired Kim Kardashian West to help secure clemency for Johnson after a visit to the White House.
“44 Blue has a long history of documenting the stories of the US criminal justice system, from our long-running LOCKUP series on MSNBC, to our current NIGHTWATCH series on A&E. We’re proud to partner with Topeka to showcase her fight for justice and her work around prison reform,” said Stephanie Noonan Drachkovitch, Co-founder and President of 44 Blue Productions. “It’s an honor to be trusted to share her story, as Topeka works to rewrite the laws that govern female incarceration.”
“I couldn’t be more excited about partnering with Stephanie and the team at 44 Blue. I knew they’d be the perfect fit to help tell the story of my work,” said Topeka K. Sam, who will also serve as Executive Producer on the series. “It’s crucial to choose the right team when telling stories as important as these, ones that literally mean the difference between life, death and freedom.”
Topeka was raised in New York by entrepreneurial upper middle-class parents. By the time she was in her early 20s at college, she began veering off campus and was exposed to a very different world. As years went on, she stumbled into living a double life: as an entrepreneur of an online mobile phone case boutique and division-chairwoman of a leading transportation agency, while selling large quantities of cocaine on the East Coast. In 2012, she was indicted as part of an ongoing federal investigation. With no substance misuse issues herself, she awaited trial in the county jail without bail. It was during this time that Topeka heard stories firsthand about the epidemic and disparity surrounding the incarceration of women, and more specifically women of color, and how women were criminalized for addiction and poverty, and she realized the impact her actions had. She felt an urgency to bring the faces and voices of women in prison to public attention and raise awareness of women’s incarceration and post-incarceration issues in order to change the criminal legal system. Through this experience, her strategy to ending mass incarceration is ending poverty; poverty of mind, poverty of spirit and poverty of access to resources and opportunity. She is on a mission.
After her release in 2015, and in response to what she saw and learned in prison, Topeka founded The Ladies of Hope Ministries – The LOHM – whose mission is to help disenfranchised and marginalized women and girls transition back into society through resources and access to high-quality education, entrepreneurship, spiritual empowerment, advocacy and housing. She is also the co-founder of HOPE HOUSE NYC – a safe housing space for women and girls. Topeka serves on the board of directors for Grassroots Leadership, Coalition for Public Safety and the first formerly incarcerated person on the board of The Marshall Project. She is a Beyond the Bars 2015 Fellow and a 2016 Justice-In-Education Scholar both from Columbia University, a 2017 Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow working on Probation and Parole Accountability, a 2018 Unlocked Futures Inaugural Cohort Member, 2018 Opportunity Agenda Communications Institute Fellow, Director of #Dignity Campaign for #cut50, Host of “The Topeka K. Sam Show” on SiriusXM UrbanView Channel 126 Sundays 9 am est. and founding member of The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.
Topeka has been featured in Vogue, SalonTV, Vice, New York Times, and in Glamour Magazine and Black Enterprise for being, “The Black Woman behind the video that led to the Trump Clemency of Alice Johnson.” She has spoken at the 2018 United States of the Woman Conference, 2018 Women in the World Conference, 2018 White House Prison Reform Summit and as a TedxMidAtlantic Presenter.
Topeka continues to work selflessly and relentlessly in her fight for the dignity, decriminalization and decarceration of women and girls.