Amber Whitford, a longtime CDCR employee, finds comedy in work, life and even unseen disabilities.
Now assigned to Human Resources as an Associate Governmental Program Analyst, Whitford enjoys comedy to help achieve work-life balance.
(Read the rest of the story below the following video.)
As a comedian and comedy show producer, she’s able to burn excess energy and quell the urge to fidget.
“Comedy allowed me to stop being silly outside of (comedy clubs),” she said. “I feel like I have more control. I’m my own fidget, so being able to channel that, write it down and have a space has really changed my life.”
Since 2002, Whitford has moved around in the department, working at the Correctional Training Center, Sierra Conservation Center, Kern Valley State Prison and the Division of Adult Parole Operations.
“I like working at CDCR because I have been able to meet people from all walks of life throughout the state of California,” she said. “I enjoy working with people, the public and headquarter staff.”
Currently, she works in hiring and recruitment.
“When people are going through the hiring process, it can be really scary. They are nervous and I’m really great at putting people at ease,” she said.
Parole, organization charts and helping others
“My assignments in DAPO gave me a sense of getting paid for volunteerism,” she recalled. “(I was) working with parole agents and community programs (to help) parolees access rehabilitative activities and resources in order to reach the Department’s goal to reduce recidivism.”
Whitford finds satisfaction from order, such as compiling and creating organizational charts.
“I enjoy working on a project that has a start to a finish. I love keeping the monthly org charts in order. They set the path of communication from unit to unit, and department to department. We have tens of thousands of staff, so it’s important to look at an organizational chart and find the person who can answer (a question) or lead you in the right direction,” she said. “We have to report our structure and authority to CalHR, State Personnel Board, (and others), so I like to make them nice and neat.”
Whitford finds comedy is part of work-life balance
“(I got started) after appointing myself artist-in-residence at Comedy Burger at Harlow’s Starlet Room,” she recalled. “My comedy career is a hobby. It started with hosting a monthly Invisible Disabilities Comedy show, highlighting the challenges people don’t see, in a humorous way obviously. (The show) gave people a chance to see that we are all alike in many ways but maybe not ready to hear.”
She uses her own unseen disabilities as comedy fodder.
“(I do) comedy about my disabilities, as a person who (fidgets). I also talk to myself. I’m not trying to be extra but I am comparably extra and hopefully we can all laugh about it.”
When a comic missed a planned show, Comedy Burger tapped Whitford to fill-in.
“(The producers) asked me to be on deck in case they had future cancelations. I was lucky to support the show, be a back-up, and get booked for the show. All of my CDCR headquarters people came out to support me at these shows and continue to be some of my biggest supporters.”
Comedy promotes understanding with coworkers
“Comedy gave me the platform to explain to my coworkers who I am. My goal was to have people understand one another,” she said. “It’s important for people to share better who they are and people connect with that.”
Whitford has also used her comedy to benefit charitable efforts.
“I donated my time as an entertainer at a fundraiser for Lights of Tomorrow, a local nonprofit run by a DAPO colleague and mentor,” she said.
Whitford on early comedy and Star Trek
“I’ve been writing since I was a kid,” she said. “I have material (going back from) elementary school. And I wouldn’t have taken the leap to get on stage without the support of my husband and encouragement from my HR colleagues.”
Outside of working at CDCR, being married, having cats and a comedy show, Whitford is also a Star Trek fan.
She’s the Strategic Operations Officer of a Star Trek club. Members volunteer for charities, benefiting the community. Whitford has even managed to bring some of her CDCR friends into the group.
“It’s a lot easier to get coworkers out to a live comedy show than it is getting them to a Star Trek club meeting,” she said.
Video by Clarissa Resultan, producer, videographer and editor
Additional footage provided by David Whitford, Jacqui Pirl, Wendy Lewis, Kathy Karns and Nick Larson.
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