Have you and your friends ever dreamed of a grand collaborative project that you could all do together? Something that incorporates the common interests that you all share, something that you could each contribute to and be a part of? Maybe it was a treehouse or an art project or a photoshoot. Maybe it was just a distant fantasy, or maybe it was something you spent months planning. Perhaps it came to fruition, or perhaps it fell by the wayside as many brilliant ideas do. For Amanda Jacobson and her two middle school best friends, Lucy Fitzgerald and Kenyon Laing, a distant desire became a very real and very successful small business in the most modern sense of the word—The Wine & Crime Podcast! These three women created a unique, witty, and socially conscious comedy/true crime podcast that continues to climb the charts and afford these women opportunities they had never imagined possible. They drink, they laugh, they get serious, and they scream their catchphrase “Fucking Patriarchy!” just often enough to let us know that they mean it. Amanda graciously agreed to do an interview with Adolescent to touch on the ups and downs of working for yourself, the pressure involved in having a public platform to air your opinions and priorities, and what she has taken away from the experience.
“I moved to Minnesota from Connecticut in fourth grade and joined the crew,” Amanda recalls of befriending her co-hosts after relocating with her family. She was graciously accepted into the posse, and the three often recount childhood memories and implement inside jokes on the podcast. As the trio grew older, Amanda felt herself adrift in the tide of adulthood—even as Kenyon and Lucy found their way into higher education and a career-oriented direction. “I was never a good student. I graduated high school by the skin of my teeth. I made it because I was charming and my teachers all liked me,” she recalls lightheartedly, although it’s obvious that the lack of scholarship isn’t because she’s unintelligent. Rather, Amanda is a relatable character because she’s very intelligent and motivated to learn from experience and empathy rather than instruction and busywork. She was always bright, a quality reflected in her teachers’ impression of her, but found herself uninterested and understimulated by a traditional, general education-focused curriculum and classroom environment. “I meandered through some classes in community classes, but I was kind of directionless for a while.”
Within a year of launching the Wine & Crime podcast, Amanda has returned to school with a new fervor for the field of psychology. Inspired deeply by the research she has done on the stories of crime that fill each episode of the podcast and by her own personal life experiences with mental health and addiction, she’s working through a program to become a substance abuse counselor. “Oh my God, it’s so hard to get back into it. But it’s been kind of amazing, actually.” she says. “I did lose a close friend of mine to substance abuse-related causes. I’m feeling very lucky because Minnesota has the nickname of ‘The Land of Many (Ten Thousand) Treatment Centers’ because of how many resources are available. It’s been interesting to see the rising opioid crisis as it becomes more and more apparent, especially in our neighboring states that are at a disadvantage to combat it because of the lack of resources in public health. Of course, selfishly, I know that it’s also job security when I finish my counseling program and I’m looking for a job,” she jokes. I’m quick to remind her that her aspirations are incredibly altruistic in nature, and there’s nothing selfish about taking care of yourself so that you are better suited to take care of others. “Getting people to and from treatment works! The numbers show that the fewer resources you have, the more deaths you see. I think it’s important to understand that recovery looks different on everybody, and there are people in recovery who listen to our show and they can find some common ground with what we have to say about the subjects of addiction and mental health.” Amanda says adamantly. The podcast hosts often speak candidly about their own struggles with mental health, offering anecdotes about anxiety and depression.
So many of the issues Amanda is referring to are encapsulated in her approach to speaking about crime and the way it is handled by law enforcement. The Wine & Crime gals, as they’re often referred to, actively urge their listeners to register to vote and do so for people who will implement the change that is so desperately needed. “I’m filled with hope about this upcoming election. I already voted in my local primaries! Minnesota is largely a blue state because most of the population lives in large, metropolitan areas, but there are still a lot of rural farming communities that vote Republican, so I feel like my vote will help offset the harm done by this administration. There [are] a lot of very privileged and influential people that are doing these communities a disservice by feeding them lies and false promises of a better future [which] they have absolutely no intention of delivering.” In “Episode 85: Craigslist Crimes,” the gals tell the story of a killer who lured desperate, down-on-their-luck men to their death with the promise of food, lodging, and a job as a farm hand. They then compared this killer to the current political administration, which relies on the fear and desperation of economically disadvantaged voters to establish a political agenda contrary to the one they had promised. “People are always wondering how to make a difference, and it’s so simple! If you’re frustrated with the state of our country and our current administration, go change it.” She notes that the voter turnout for her local primaries was the best in forty years, a testament to her sentiment that every vote counts and the opinions of real Americans can make a huge difference.
There are a number of politicians—most notably our own president, but also new Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh—who have recently been accused of sexual misconduct. On her social media, Amanda shared an account of her own experience with aggressive sexual behavior. “There was physical pain. I didn’t process it as assault, because I had consented and I didn’t say no, so how could it be?” She recounts using humor to cope: “It’s murky and grey and these experiences are different for everyone… He likely doesn’t know how that experience was for me, or that he crossed a boundary without my consent in the moment. He may never know. When we elect abusers to office, or even entertain the opportunity for perpetrators of sexual assault to take office, we send a message to everyone with a story that we might hear you, but we don’t care… If I’ve learned anything from being silent and not prioritizing my needs, my wellness, and my safety, it’s that it only hurts me more.”
When you’re a registered voter, it’s important to keep the three social and political issues most important to you at the forefront of your mind. This can help you make the right decisions when it comes to reviewing policy and selecting candidates who you think will be proactive in solving the problems that affect you, your inner circle, your community, and your country as a whole. “My top three are social services, health-care, and education.” She’s obviously chosen social services as a priority for many of the same reasons she’s chosen to pursue psychology and substance abuse counseling as a career path. But Amanda feels just as passionately about health-care based on her own experiences. “I’m a Type-1 diabetic, and I’ve personally been struggling with the health-care system my whole life.” Amanda says. ”I currently have partial insurance through my school, but it’s not great. I run the podcast, so I am kind of self-employed.” She shares the sentiments of many young people who are either unemployed or in a situation in which affordable insurance is unavailable. “The average cost for a standard three-week supply of insulin costs hundreds of dollars, and so many people can’t afford it. Insulin isn’t an option. Like the markup on HIV drugs! It’s kind of fucked up.” Amanda says with understandable frustration.
Although education seems like an obvious priority, Amanda feels passionately about it due to personal experience. “My sister is a teacher in the Boston area, so I’m always hearing first-hand accounts of what it’s actually like to have such an important role in an underfunded and underappreciated system,” she continues. “It’s not a secret that teachers are undervalued and under-supported. It’s even hard to make a living sometimes.”
I asked Amanda if there was a certain case that forever altered the way she looked at the world. Though she was quick to answer the question immediately after I posed it, I was deeply impressed with the consideration that had gone into her answer. “There is a degree of shame in privilege. I am a cis white woman and I do not deal with many issues, but I was aware of the degree of racial inequality [which] exists in law enforcement because my immediate circle [and I] are pretty in-tune to social issues. I watched these stories unfold on Facebook and was utterly horrified. I covered the “Unbelievable Acquittals episode,” and I had to pause during the recording of the Philando Castile case because I had such a hard time finishing my narrative. It was incredibly hard because I wanted to do him justice and do justice to the experience of his fiancee and child who witnessed the whole thing.” Diamond Reynolds, the innocent victim’s fiancee, filmed the whole incident on Facebook Live. The clip was just barely over a minute long, showing the officer pull the car over, shots be fired, and Diamond be detained, the officers knocking her phone to the ground. The video footage went viral and sparked a massive outcry to amend the cracks in our law enforcement system. The officer that shot and killed Philando Castile was acquitted on all charges in June of 2017. “It will probably haunt me until the day I die,” Amanda says, “For many people of color, this is their daily experience with the people who are supposed to protect everyone. Empathy and understanding [are] the only way we are ever going to solve anything, and I was struck after the episode aired by how many people said they had never heard about this before. I have an inner circle that was aware of this kind of thing, so I just figured everyone was watching this happen in front of them like we were.” She says, stressing the importance of surrounding yourself with the kind of people who care about issues the same way that you do.
The podcast has given Amanda, Lucy, and Kenyon a platform to discuss these issues in depth with their listeners. But the podcast also gives the gals the opportunity to share bits of themselves with the world, even if that means exposing a whole lot of their deep, dark secrets. At the inception of the show, Amanda was in a long-term relationship that fell apart as her priorities changed and the transparency of her personal life shifted to where it is now. “We are always our authentic selves on the show, and I think that’s what attracts so many listeners to the show. I’ve always had a very open relationship when it comes to talking to my family and friends about my lifestyle, so it’s no surprise when my parents hear about my sexual exploits or gross body stuff on the show!” Amanda laughs. “There’s a big part of me that believes some of my authenticity on the show bothered [the person I was with], and he was making a decision for the both of us that I wasn’t ready to make.” She recalls, “It’s hard to hear from the person you thought you were gonna be with that they don’t love you anymore. You’re proud of yourself and you’re going places and you think you’re with someone who’s ready to do that with you, but they’re not ready. And that’s okay too.”
But Amanda has a whole bunch of listeners that absolutely adore her. People relate to her humor and capricious energy as well as her brooding side. She’s not one to shy away from even the most uncomfortable topics, even at the price of exposing her least attractive qualities. “People relate to us, and even if they don’t know us personally they feel a connection to us. It’s kind of funny when someone comes up to you and knows so much about you and you’re like, ‘Woah, I don’t know you!’ but it’s also kind of cool,” says Amanda of her admirers. “My imposter syndrome is so real [that] every day I have this moment where I’m like, ‘WHAT HAVE WE DONE?!’ but the three of us have each other and we are all savvy in our own way. It’s nice to be in business with other strong women who can help bear the load of running a business.” The gals don’t always get along, just like any close-knit friend group who spends a lot of time together. “We’ve definitely had our moments. We can bicker and fight, but we put it to bed and move forward. This job is stressful! We definitely fight over dumb stuff all the time, but at the end of the day we are on the same team and we’re going to talk it out and move past it. If we dwell on outbursts, we’re never going to succeed,” she says. “You have to be humble in order to start a business, because you think you know everything but you don’t. A lot of what goes into it is just asking questions and doing a lot of research. We have to attribute some of it to luck and good opportunities, but you have to appreciate the little gifts you’ve been handed along the way.” The gals recently attended Kenyon’s wedding in South Africa. “We stayed in Cape Town for two weeks and we mostly just ate, drank, [and] looked for adventures. I cried so many times on the way home. I can definitely see why Kenyon loves it there, and the experience has definitely given me the travel bug.”
“We went to CrimeCon in Nashville this year and we are fully intending on going to CrimeCon in New Orleans in May of 2019,” says Amanda. The Wine & Crime East Coast Mini-Tour starts in New York on November 1st with a stop in Washington, D.C. on November 3rd before ending up in Boston on Election Day. You can listen to the podcast on Spotify or directly on the Wine & Crime blog's "Listen" page. You too will love these three childhood friends who chug wine, chat true crime, and unleash their worst Minnesotan accents!
This interview has been condensed and minimally edited.
Annie Walton Doyle