Activist and social entrepreneur Topeka K. Sam has signed a development deal with 44 Blue Productions, Variety has learned exclusively.
Under the deal with 44 Blue, which is part of Red Arrow Studios, Sam will develop both scripted and unscripted series inspired by her fight to change the many problems that plague female incarceration. Sam recently made headlines after creating the video that inspired Kim Karadashian West to visit the White House in a successful bid for clemency for Alice Marie Johnson.
“There are 1.1 million women under the control of the U.S. criminal justice system, and 86% of them are survivors of sexual assault, 80% of incarcerated women are mothers, and 50% of women in prison suffer from severe mental illness,” Sam said. “Since 1980, female incarceration has ballooned by 800%, growing faster than men. These are statistics we just can’t ignore and will not ignore any longer. Working with 44 Blue will help us shed light not only the individual stories that need to be told, but also the effective legislative vehicles, policy and regulatory statues that must be in place in our efforts to facilitate true impact on the overall human dignity throughout this broken criminal injustice system for my sisters and my people.”
In 2012, while working as an entrepreneur and as division chairwoman for a transportation agency, Sam was indicted for selling large quantities of cocaine as part of an ongoing federal investigation. While awaiting trial in country jail, she learned firsthand about the disparities in the criminal justice system for women, particularly women of color. After her release in 2015, she founded The Ladies of Hope Ministries, 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. She 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. She will also be a panelist at the Variety-Rolling Stone Criminal Justice Reform summit on Nov. 14.
“I met Topeka earlier this year after hearing her speak on a panel at The Women in the World conference,” said Stephanie Drachkovitch, co-founder and president of 44 Blue. “Her story of personal redemption and women’s prison reform really resonated with me because of 44 Blue’s long history of telling stories about the corrections system, not just in the United States, but corrections around the world. No one else has produced as many hours or as many stories about the criminal justice system as 44 Blue. We’ve always been inspired by stories of extreme human condition—from MSNBC’s iconic and long-running ‘Lockup’ to OWN’s ‘Breaking Down the Bars’ to A&E’s ‘Nightwatch Nation.’ Topeka’s dynamic personality, personal story and fierce commitment to change are making an impact, and I knew we had to find a way to share her voice with the world. We’re now ready to highlight Topeka’s insight and perspective on how women are treated throughout the entire criminal justice system — it’s a story that 44 Blue can’t wait to tell and partner with Topeka as Executive Producer in both scripted and unscripted series.”