So thankful

Amber goes from a criminal life to being drug-free with a job

MARYSVILLE – When you meet Amber Brown with her big smile, sparkling eyes and bubbly demeanor you wouldn’t believe she was once one of “Washington’s Most Wanted.” But here’s proof:

FUGITIVE WANTED BY THE SNOHOMISH COUNTY VIOLENT OFFENDER TASK FORCE Aug. 14, 2014 — Authorities are on the hunt for a possibly violent female fugitive on the run. Amber Boos (now Brown) is wanted for weapons and drug warrants. Detectives say she is good at hiding, using other people’s names and even her family to avoid arrest. Her long criminal history includes robbery, kidnapping, ID theft, drugs and guns. Boos is most likely in Everett, Marysville, Bellevue or Sammamish. Followed by a few weeks later:

FUGITIVE CAPTURED Sept. 2, 2014 — Wanted woman, Amber Boos, was arrested by the Snohomish County Violent Offender Task Force, thanks to a Crime Stoppers tip. She was taken into custody at an apartment off Casino Road in Everett. Deputies say she was very unhappy. She is WMW Capture #551.

That’s all hard to believe about the 29-year-old Brown, who can be found now behind the counter at the Whistle Stop Sweet Shop on Third Street.

Many things helped in her transformation, but first how she got there.

Amber

Amber grew up in Redmond, and was bothered that she didn’t know her biological father. Her mom married Michael Boos when Amber was 5, and he adopted her. But when her parents had a baby boy, William, Amber felt out of place. She started drinking at age 11, stealing boxed wine out of her mom’s refrigerator. “I was drinking it in sippy cups while watching cartoons” in the fifth grade, Amber said.

She got in big trouble, but that didn’t stop her. At 15 she started smoking weed, taking pain pills and skipping school. At 16, her parents filed at-risk youth papers, making the court her legal guardian. She went into in-patient treatment and was sober for 146 days. She still had “not dealt with her family issues,” and she turned to cocaine.

She went to a private Christian alternative school in Bellevue and graduated. “They were so lax there. You hang out with friends.” She said she tried any drugs her friends were doing “to mask how I was feeling.”

Her parents

Her mom, Barbi, said Amber wasn’t always a rebellious child. It started when she went into junior high. “All the kids are doing it” Michael remembered her saying. He continued there are so many rich kids there who feel entitled. “There’s heavy drug use here, and nobody believes it,” he said.

They added no matter what they tried, Amber would rebel.

She ran away many times, so they would call police. “She called me every name under the sun except mom,” Barbi said.

Rehab sessions were brutal, they said. And they became frustrated with the counselors. “Every one would say something different,” Michael said.

But one thing they all agreed on, Amber wouldn’t want to get better until she hit rock bottom.

“And only she would know when that was,” Michael said.

Amber

Things got worse for Amber after high school. In April of 2007 she and a boyfriend were high and wanted drugs. They saw a minor whom they knew had connections so they forced him at gunpoint into their car. They stopped at the Everett mall to plan what to do next, when the boy jumped out. He later told police, and they were arrested on gun and kidnapping charges. Her parents bailed her out “for a nice chuck of money,” and she got to go home. That didn’t last long as she was kicked out and started selling drugs with a new boyfriend. Warrants were issued for her arrest, and that’s when she was one of Washington’s Most Wanted. She ended up getting caught, pleading guilty to a lesser charge of “intimidating,” and serving nine months in the Snohomish County Jail in Everett.

“I grew up in a nice community,” Amber said. “Stuff like this goes on in broken homes.”

Nobody messed with her in jail. She was able to take care of herself. “If you don’t act scared they won’t mess with you,” she said.

But she was scared. “It made me harder.”

Her parents

People would tell the Booses to quit helping Amber because they were just enabling her. But they couldn’t do that. “I’d be the first one to show up at the local jail to see what’s going on,” Michael said. “Not to rub her face in it, but to show that through all of this we’re still here. We’re not going away.” He said their biggest fear was getting a call – not from the jail, but from the morgue. “For the longest time I was really scared she’d be dead because of her continued drug habits,” Barbi said.

When Amber got out of jail, the downward spiral continued. She went to Las Vegas for three years – which she said was the lowest point in her life. She was in an abusive relationship and was on heroin and meth and selling large amounts of dope. She called her mom, who got her a plane ticket home in 2011. “I promised her I’d clean up and do what’s right,” Amber said. Instead, she reunited with old friends and went back to using. Amber then made a big mistake being caught as a felon with a gun. She was arrested. It was around then she met her husband, Kevin, who himself had been in prison for 10 years. He was big in a certain part of the drug world.

“Because of his status, I had to give up certain drugs,” Amber said. “We had a connection I’ve never had with anyone else.”

They ended up getting married, but soon after she was sent to the women’s prison in Purdy for two years on the gun possession charge. She said it’s easy to get drugs behind bars. “I was not even clean in prison,” she said. “Long-timers become your best friends.” When she got out, she continued using. “When Kevin picked me up, the first thing we did was get high,” she said.

Amber

So what turned their lives around? Amber said it was when Judge Joseph Wilson helped Kevin in 2017. “Drug Court saved his life,” and therefore hers, she said. Amber said it gave Kevin somewhere to live, surrounded him with positive people, kept him accountable and gave him a structured life. He cleaned up and became active in the community. “It should be available to more people,” Amber said of Drug Court.

It was about this time that Kevin met Steve and Lynn Reid, who own the Whistle Stop, but also are involved in various Christian ministries around Marysville.

“From then on they’ve been our saving grace,” Amber said. “They loved him and offered him help. They didn’t judge him for his past and gave him opportunities.”

Amber said she was in jail for missing a court appearance when Kevin told her about the Reids. “I don’t even know these people, and they want to help his wife who is in jail,” she said.

Because of her past, Amber said it is hard for her to let her guard down; she always expects people to look at her differently.

“But the first time we met it felt like we’d known each other for years,” Amber said of the Reids. Lynn said Amber has been a great help at the store and as a friend. “I go to her. It’s not all one-sided. I came out more blessed,” Lynn said.

Her mentors

Lynn Reid met Amber a year ago in October, the night she was released from jail. At dinner at her house, Lynn said she was surprised with how confident and open Amber was to having a relationship with God – which is what Steve and Lynn preach.

“We prayed with them and helped them financially get on their feet,” Lynn said.

That’s what the Reids do as part of their HR Project. “We believe it’s our Christian duty to give everybody the opportunity to give their life for Christ – to live the way God wants us to,” she said.

The Browns aren’t the only ones they’ve helped. Lynn estimated they’ve tried to help about 20 people, but their success rate is only about 10 percent. Amber not only works at the Reids’ store, she’s the manager. Kevin helps, too, working without pay when he can to “help us keep the store going. They’re part of the family,” Lynn said.

Her husband

Kevin said the Reids were strangers to both he and Amber, but “they’re like family to us now.” He said they give him a place to stay for free and helped him find a place where he and Amber could live together. They also helped them get marriage, mental health and spiritual counseling.

“It was a blessing,” he said.

Kevin said others may have wanted to help him in the past, but he wasn’t open to it. This time he was.

He said he is amazed at the trust the Reids show them. He had lived on the streets and been in prison most of his life. Kevin said everyone wants someone to “save them. But nobody can save you if you’re not trying to be saved.”

He said being helped takes a “lot of work on your end as well.” But the work has been worth it. “We didn’t want to ruin this opportunity given to us,” he said.

Her parole officer

Even Jessica Sanford-Hansen, Amber’s parole officer with the Department of Corrections, is a fan.

“What she’s doing is a fantastic thing – rare and wonderful,” Sanford-Hansen said.

She has been doing this type of work for six years, the last two with Amber.

“At first she wasn’t doing so hot, but then all of a sudden she started doing really well,” Sanford-Hansen said. “She’s doing amazing – against all odds.” The parole officer said she can count her number of successes on one hand. She said she wishes Amber could talk to others about how she made it.

“It has to be her” to make the decision, Sanford-Hansen said. “It can’t be imposed. They have to flip a switch and be done runnin’ and gunnin’.” For more people to be successful, she said society needs to help them get housing and a job.

“Decrease the barriers,” she said, adding many won’t give people housing or jobs when they do background checks and find out they were criminals.

Her parents

The Booses said that since last Thanksgiving they have worked hard to develop a relationship with Amber and Kevin. They had barbecues at each other’s homes last summer. Also last summer, Michael and Amber started writing letters to each other. “We got pretty brutal,” Michael said. “But once everything was said it was a lot easier to work things out.”

Now that communication is open, Michael is talking to them about the difficulties of a regular life. For example, when Kevin complained about working graveyard. “Welcome to the real world,” Michael said he told Kevin. “Whoever said life was easy? It sucks. Now you’re saying the same thing as the rest of us.”

However, he also told them how proud he is. “Look what you’ve accomplished. You did that on your own,” he said. Of his daughter, he said: “You are self-sufficient. You can actually do this for yourself.”

Amber

Amber said reuniting with her family also has helped to turn her life around.

“I have the best parents,” she said. “We’ve worked through the problems. They never gave up on me.”

Amber grew up Catholic, but when she went to Las Vegas she was sexually assaulted. “I hated God. I cut him off.”

Now, she is again active in her faith. She goes to bible study with Lynn, and attends a Sunday night gathering at the Whistle Stop that she says is “amazing.”

Amber said now is the best time of her life. Kevin’s working full-time in construction. They have their own place, a car, and they’re building their credit. “I have everything going for me. Nothing’s holding me back,” she said. With their new life, Kevin and Amber plan to renew their vows – this time with their family there. “My dad can walk me down the aisle,” Amber said.

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