Blog / Human rights

Weekend Roundup: The Pope, Prison, and Punditry

I believe our failure to take responsibility and create change around mass incarceration or climate change comes from our collective forgetfulness: we have forgotten we are one.
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Happy Equal Pay Day

In honor of Equal Pay Day — "Girls, gossip, and the gender wage gap."
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The True Cost of Fast Fashion

 

The fashion industry is the world's second most polluting industry after oil, responsible for 10% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. 

The fast fashion industry (think cheap, short-lasting, and synthetic fiber) is the biggest polluter of freshwater on the planet; is responsible for the destruction of 70 million trees every year, which are turned into fabrics like rayon; and accounts for 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of worldwide insecticide use. 

Pesticide and insecticide use has been linked to an unmistakable rise in farmer deaths, neurological disabilities in children living along polluted waters (like the Ganges in India), and egregious violations of human rights and women's rights (80% of garment workers are women, many of whom are not paid a living wage or guaranteed safe working conditions). 

And, as we know when it comes to skincare, our skin is our largest organ. Cotton doused in pesticides, insecticides, and toxic dyes not only pollutes our earth, the source of all our food, but once it's turned into clothing and sits daily on our skin, it pollutes our bodies.

This is not ok. We need to start investing in high-quality, long-lasting clothing, instead of cheap throw-aways. And we need to hold our designers and retailers responsible: vote with your dollar, choosing companies that support a fair wage for workers (including children), safe working conditions, and a healthy planet.

To learn more, watch The True Cost movie (now streaming on Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon Instant Video).

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Letters from Solitary Confinement | ASHLEY ASTI

I wrote to Britney after I read a letter she had written to the San Francisco Bay View paper. “I am writing seeking justice, help and assistance,” she explained in the article, “fighting the cause for women in Texas prisons.” Indeed, this cause is bigger than her; she is one bold voice in a movement toward humane treatment of all beings, even those in prison.

Britney has been held in prolonged solitary confinement for four years, and is still confined there, reaching the world beyond her cell walls through public pleas for justice: “I am a walking, living proof of a life that has been pulverized, destroyed and abandoned by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice,” she writes in the Bay View, describing being denied “sleep, nourishment, clean ventilation, peace and privileges.” Her article lists egregious excesses of power and grievances, including abuse, excessive ‘use of force,’ threatening language and racial epithets by guards (we often forget that words spoken without recognition of spirit or a shared human connection are dangerous, too), and denial of the incarcerated women’s rights to medical and psychological assistance. “We need help!” she writes. “I suffer daily for the wrongs I have or have not committed along with other women who don’t deserve ‘double jeopardy’ punishment and abuse. Just being in prison is punishment enough.”

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After reading Britney’s words, I took her address posted at the bottom of her article and wrote to her to offer my support and our birthright of being heard. “I want you to know that I hear you and I believe you,” I wrote, “and I believe in you, too.” Below is the letter she wrote back to me and the words I wrote in reply.

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Britney has given me full permission to share her words, but as I sat down to decide what to do with them—how to present them?—I struggled with whether I should share her writing in its entirety. I worried that our letters, side by side, would leave a subtle, but unnerving sense of difference, that the contrast would be jarring. I worried whether her letter, in its entirety and on its own, would be believed, respected. Will people feel her, I wondered, will they take her seriously? So I started composing a version of this where I included only excerpts of her writing. I’m not sure whether I was trying to protect her or me or the truth of what’s hiding in her bold voice, as it stood there in its weakness and its strength on its own, no protection, no filter.

And that’s when it came over me: I cannot censor her. If I want to hold a space for voices that have been forcibly pushed underground, out of sight—even for voices of people who have made huge mistakes—I must do just that: hold the space for those voices to speak in their fullness. To express themselves as exactly they are. I cannot hide her desperation (even if I didn’t want to see that that is part of her experience), cannot cover up her pleas to God because that is all real. That is what solitary confinement has done to her—and we must see it. 

And, yes, it may be unnerving. My ease of writing—typed, emailed, with lines from poems and the advantage of the internet—shows my privilege and my place of relative freedom outside prison walls. Her labored writing, handwritten on a small bit of paper she has purchased from commissary, speaks to the contrast—not of our humanity, but of our situations. No human deserves the kind of punishment that strips them bare of their humanity even as they live and breathe. This kind of punishment lowers us, too. It dehumanizes us, too. Ninety-five percent of people who are imprisoned get released. We must offer a punishment that allows each individual to make amends, to grow, to heal, to come to terms with what they’ve done, and to honor their victims as best they can. Otherwise, we are setting ourselves and them up for a future on the outside that is just as dangerous, just as peace-less.

“Well what has put her there?” my brother asked me about her time in solitary confinement, meaning she must have deserved this treatment in some way. “Nothing can warrant this,” I said. Justice matters. Atoning for our sins in a way that teaches us our life lesson and supports the health and peace of our communities matters; we must spend our lives making up for our wrongdoing. Caring for our victims matters even more. But twenty-three or twenty-four hours a day in a room with no natural light, no touch, no human connection, little or no human voices day after day, sometimes year after year—how does one survive that? How is that human? A UN Report declares that solitary confinement for upwards of 15 days is torture. And, maybe more importantly, solitary confinement fosters isolation and disconnection; once again, a breeding ground for further violence.

If it were me, I don’t know that I could make it. I don’t know that I could remain human.

So below are her words and my words in their fullness. May her voice soar.

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from her to me

June 27, 2016

Hey! God bless you Ashley . . . 

I appreciate you & want to thank you for taking the time out to contact me during these tribulations and evil time. I received your JPay [letter] and I was comforted and felt your support and concern. I must say I am hanging on only by the strength of the Lord. This place is worse than hell itself. My article in the SFBV [San Francisco Bay View] is only a brief summary of what evil and hatred lies in the wake of darkness. I succumb to Gods word so I refuse to be defeated, therefore I just trust in Him to conquer this battle that is His, in which has already been won. Amen? Yes, I still suffer, I’m just praying my petition falls through and the federal courthouse acknowledges my concerns and grievances. I hope I’m released from Ad-Seg [solitary confinement]. I appreciate you and by all means, whatever way you can lend aid and assist me in letting my voice be heard, please do so. God bless you Ashley. My main goal is to go virile (viral), social media, newspapers every city, every state. Justice is what I seek. I’ve been stripped of everything in life except my dignity and morals. This place has stolen my joy, hope, and respect. All I have is my sanity to cherish and utilize to fight for the cause.

. . . I hope and pray this missive reaches you in good spirits and uplifts you just as your words uplifted me. Being captive in a cell 24 hours a day with no access to normal society is torture. I suffer from inhumanity daily and it takes a toll on my mental and emotional stability. A mind is a terrible thing to waste so I do my best to keep busy reading everything there is to learn about every subject on earth. I exercise everyday to stay positive and healthy. But at the end of the day, the abuse I suffer overrides the optimism and I become pessimistic. Sad to say but true. Growing up in a broken home I am accustomed to being on my own and having no support. So getting your letter truly encouraged me to keep going, don’t give up because somebody cares, even if I don’t have family. I wanted to thank you again for writing to me! God bless! Feel free to write me anytime. I will write back. Take care and write soon.

God Bless!

Britney

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from me to her

July 1, 2016

Britney,

I received your letter this morning and feel blessed by your spirit and your words. And it feels, to me, like divine timing. Just this morning, I was wondering how to find my own path to peace, how to welcome in acceptance. “I just trust in Him to conquer this battle that is His, in which has already been won,” you write. “Amen?” Amen. Your words speak to and through me. 

Before even receiving your letter, I wrote about you. I shared your article in the Bay View and I emailed the Bay View’s editor with gratitude for her creating the space in her newspaper to share your vital and courageous words. She wrote back to me, “I was especially thrilled to get that letter from Britney. . . . Though many women in prison use our free pen pal service, few write the brave truths that she did. I hope her story will empower more of her sisters.”

She also reminded me that women in prison are so vulnerable and that it takes courage just to be a subscriber to her paper—I had almost forgotten. I had almost forgotten what depths of courage you had to reach into, what strength, what boldness in the face of uncertainty it took to share, publicly, your plight. I had forgotten because your personal, spiritual power oozes out of every word of your article and your letter to me. 

You wrote to me, “I hope and pray this message reaches you in good spirits and uplifts you just as your words uplifted me.” I thank you for this, as well, a reminder not to let the darkness of your circumstances blind your light. As I read your letter, I love how it feels lived in. Your hands have held the paper I find in mine; your letter carries the intimacy of touch across space and across time. And in your handwriting, I get to discover the shapes that are uniquely yours. 

Your letter is full of weight, too. “I suffer from inhumanity daily,” you write, and reading this pains me. “Being captive in a cell 24 hours a day with no access to normal society is torture.” I didn’t expect to feel you so deeply, to take on your pain, but I cried for you when I held and read your words. I cried for all of us, this is how low we have sunk. I write to you on Friday, July 1, a day that marks a weekend ahead of celebrations of our national liberty. Yet we don’t know we’re still in bondage; how can we be free when we inflict such torture on our brothers and sisters? We are one, and we forget that too often.

But you are so wise: still, your letter uplifts me. Because your spirit is unconquerable; its beauty and power and brilliance unquenchable. This morning, I discovered this poem by Laura Weaver. It begins,

There is a place within

that cannot be destroyed

by flood or fire

by bloodthirsty armies

or devastating illness—

it is this untouchable essence of us

that quakes with irrepressible light

and bears the intolerable weight

of all that must be felt to awaken.

 

It ends,

 

Before I came to this life,

I was shown this world

from the distant shores of it—

and in that moment, I saw

the full arc of my days here,

the exquisite range

of this embodied dreaming.

Oh how beautiful, I cried.

Oh how terrible. 

Oh—This terrible beauty.

And the angel who guided me

simply pointed and nodded,

and said—Yes.

May you find a ferocious self-love rolling through you at every moment you feel disrespected, dehumanized, silenced. May you know that inside you is that untouchable essence of you that quakes with irrepressible light. Yes, may you know how brightly you shine and that this magnificent, interconnected universe—God, if you’d like—is always with you. Always.

And so am I. 

Britney, keep writing. I will keep sharing your story. And I will also share every moment of peace I can extend across time and space to you. 

For a sense of normalcy and so you can put a story with my name, I will share a little more about me with you. I am 26-years-old and live with my parents and my older brother in New York on Long Island. I am a writer and creator of an organic skincare line, meaning I create oils and creams to nourish our bodies, oils and creams that come from plants that are not sprayed in toxic chemicals like pesticides or herbicides. Our earth and our bodies deserve peace, respect, and love. My mission is to celebrate and honor those who wear my skin creations. I do not wish to make anyone “look better,” but to accept everyone as who they divinely are. Because there is beauty in authenticity, in being exactly who you are.

You wrote, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste so I do my best to keep busy reading everything there is to learn about every subject on earth.” I am an avid reader, too. Am I allowed to send you books if they come from a publisher, like Amazon? Is there a list of books that are accepted and those that aren’t? I will do some research on this. 

Are there photos I can send you, reminders of things you love? Pictures of gardens, animals, sports—anything. 

Britney, I send you all the comfort I hold inside me. Once again, I believe in you. You are not alone, even in your loneliest hours. If I could, I would wrap you in a bear hug!

In friendship,

Ashley

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Why Clean Water Matters | ASHLEY ASTI

 

How clear it is: we are made of water. 

Water creates us, becomes us; literally, is us. Clean water matters because the vitality of our bodies matters. Because we matter. Because water is the life force behind all creation. Without it, there would be no life at all. Anywhere.

Our food grows with water. Again, water is our life force and the earth’s life force. Water fuels us, directly and indirectly. Without clean water, we would have nothing to eat. Again, there would be no life. 

Access to clean water symbolizes the most basic and essential right of all beings: life. The right to life.

When communities don’t have access to clean water, women and girls spend far too many hours each day walking back and forth, far distances, to gather water. Oftentimes, six hours a day; 40 billion hours a year in Africa alone. These women are not free: they are enslaved to the need to bring back this life force to their families. These women cannot go to school because they are too busy walking, carrying this burden, literally, over their heads. They are not free to spend time discovering what they love, to create business, art—their missions cannot bloom under the oppressive distance they must travel each day on foot. 

These women have Life in them. Purpose, creativity, talent, strength. Imagine if we set them free? 

Not ensuring that all creatures live free, with access to clean, readily available water, is violence in its own right. Each year, unclean water kills more people than any other form of violence, including war. Yes, including war. We are responsible for this. Peace should be effortless, natural. We’ve turned something so simple, basic, and essential to life as water into a weapon of mass destruction. For the survival of humanity (and all living beings upon the earth, including the earth itself), clean water must not only be on our radar; it must be our priority. 

I feel like a broken record, but I must repeat myself: clean water is not an isolated issue. Meaning the fact that we, as a global community, have not done enough to ensure that all living beings have access to clean water represents a problem within our collective, global soul. We have forgotten we are one. Every day, why do the news reporters not remind us this before they present us the day’s stories, even the ones in far-away places? That woman who carries the buckets of water over her head for hours each day, she is not so separate from you, remember that. What happens outside the walls of our homes or the borders of our nation is not separate from us; separateness is our most misaligned and disastrous illusion. 

After all, at the core of our beings, we are made of space, of energy; we are not solid as we think we are. When scientists go deep into our bodies, at the end of it, they find nothing. Absolutely nothing. Empty space. Subatomic particles are split and split and split until—space; pure potential.

In other words, we are not solid: we are energy co-mingling with all the energy around us, constantly exchanging with everything in our living universe—with the phone screens we touch, the hands we shake, the chairs we sit in, and even that which is not visible to us, that with which we don’t seem to come in direct contact. Our separate and solid bodies are not so separate and solid; on the deepest levels, everything about us is shared. 

Which means Gandhi’s words ring true: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” We are undeniably interconnected, which means we are undeniably powerful.

The key to solving all of our global woes is not in the mind, but the heart: in knowing in our hearts, trusting in our guts, that we are one. Only once we recognize this, once we remember this in the depths of our souls, will we know that our behavior throughout the world is inescapably intimate. Every choice we make, including in our daily lives, shifts the world. 

And, so, it is up to us to decide: in which direction will you move the world? The choice is in your hands.

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The Holistic Healing Movement for Survivors of Domestic Violence

 

                                   *Art work by Molly Boeder Harris

 

I had the honor of interviewing Molly Boeder Harris, the founder of The Breathe Network and a survivor of sexual assault, and Tara Tonini, a Program Director at Exhale to Inhale and a survivor of intimate partner violence. As leaders in the anti-violence movement, these women are courageous reminders of the power of speaking our truth, telling our stories, and uniting with other survivors and allies.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 1 in 3 women in the US have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Every 9 seconds in the USA, a woman is assaulted or beaten.

Approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States.

More than 3 women are murdered each day by their husbands or boyfriends.

1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.

And domestic violence is the 3rd leading cause of homelessness for families.

We must do more to support survivors, who are our sisters and brothers, friends, and daughters. And we must end this cycle. 

In this interview, Molly and Tara talk about the power of using trauma-informed, holistic healing modalities to support and empower survivors in ways that make them feel safe, heard, and whole.

I invite each of you to join us in the conversation, sharing your own stories or voices via Facebook, email, and Twitter (tweet me @ashley_asti).

Today's Guests

Molly Boeder Harris is the Founder and Executive Director of The Breathe Network, a nonprofit that connects survivors of sexual violence with sliding-scale, trauma-informed, holistic healing arts practitioners across the country. 

You can connect with Molly via thebreathenetwork.org or mollyboederharris.com.

Tweet Molly @MollyBoHa

Tara Tonini is a Program Director at Exhale to Inhale, a nonprofit that empowers survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault through the grounding and healing practice of yoga. 

You can connect with Tara via exhaletoinhale.org or taratonini.com

Tweet Tara @exhale2inhale

Listen to the interview:

 

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