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Man creates museum in Suffolk about prison that aims to combat crime

"If I do not give this information back to society, then I went through everything for nothing." Amar Skinner spent 11 years in prison. Now, he's changing lives.

SUFFOLK, Va. — The building that sits at 444 North Main Street in Suffolk holds a story of rebirth.

"It was called... the Castle Inn," Amar Skinner said, who now owns the building. 

"They rebuilt it after it caught on fire."

But Skinner has his own rebirth story.

"My hands and my feet was shackled down long before I went to prison, because the prison was in the mind," Skinner said.

 "And as I unlocked the mind, the spiritual forces unlocked a lot of things for me."

Skinner said he grew up in Suffolk and led a life of crime.

"I went to prison for a first-degree murder charge, which was reduced to second-degree," Skinner said. 

"I also had malicious wounding charges from shooting up a gambling house."

After going to prison in 1997 and serving 11 years behind bars, Skinner said he never looked back.

"I was determined that I would own every business that I used as a service or a product," Skinner said. ""That's how I [ended] up with six businesses right now."

Then, in 2021, a full-circle moment happened for Skinner. He converted a building on Suffolk's historic Main Street to the Ex-Felon Entrepreneurship Retail Museum, or EFERM.

The museum showcases the history of the prison system, supports inmates re-entering society and shares ways to disrupt criminal influences.

"It promotes living, not killing," Skinner said. 

"It promotes empathy... meaning you place yourself in the shoes of other people, and you won't make them your victims."

Skinner said he hopes being transparent about his past could change someone else's future.

"If I do not give this information back to society, then I went through everything for nothing," Skinner said.

 "The child that looks like me coming up that don't think that he can be nothing but what he sees in the rap video, I hope that it'll show that child that, 'I can save my community'."

Click here for more information about visiting hours or to schedule a private tour at EFERM.

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