Skip to main content

Rewilding Nature and Rehumanizing People

To learn ecological restoration is not only to learn something of great beauty, and great healing properties, but it’s the most valuable thing you can do on the planet. I can’t think of anything that would be more valuable for people who are incarcerated. Perhaps prisons, from a social perspective, are the place we need to go to restore the human spirit

—John D. Liu, Ecologist and Filmmaker

Imagine a society where  the refuse we would normally discard into landfills and the human beings we would normally discard into prisons  were instead transformed into essential resources.  While not a new concept, it is a courageous one.  To “rewild nature and rehumanize society” is the core purpose of the nonprofit Unconditional Freedom, and can be seen in the new feature documentary, “At Home and In The World.”

A Solution Rooted in The Soil:

Unconditional Freedom started out as a California based nonprofit in the Anderson Valley region of northern Mendocino County.  We settled here as a group of friends, migrating from major cities around the U.S. to seek a lifestyle rooted in nature. This was our back-to-the-land moment.  In 2017, we started to notice the major impact that wildfires were having on the entire region, not just in terms of the direct destruction, but also in impacts on the human psyche. As we got to know our neighbors in the surrounding community, we began to understand that these natural pattern changes, such as increased drought severity, were having a profound effect on the community at large.

This connection is easily missed,  coming from large cities where most people do not rely on the surrounding environment for daily survival, but rather on supermarkets and box stores. In rural settings like Anderson Valley, the connection between humans and land is more obvious.  The first sign for us came in the form of  dramatic fluctuations in temperature and a drastic fall-off in rainfall we experienced on ‘The Land.’ With the headwaters of the Navarro River originating on our  160 acre property, this was a big deal. 

Among the watershed’s rolling hills, once prevalent redwood groves, apple and pear orchards, and vineyards, this was a landscape transformed by human development, and this once thriving agricultural community was starting to experience the impact of early desertification and climate change. 

What was once a slowly encroaching water crisis, over the last two decades, accelerated rapidly during our time here. The Navarro river that once flowed year-round through The Land, now slows to a trickle or even a dry river bed during several summer months.  The multitude of water rights granted to farmers in the valley, with requirements to draw water out of the river in the dry summer months, was adding to decades old problems of over sedimentation, and rapidly declining function in the hydrological cycle.

As we got more connected to the soil, we also began to get more connected with our own humanity. We discovered a source of purpose and joy in working with the soil, and it started to inform and influence our desire to contribute to those around us.

In the early days of the pandemic we started baking bread for our neighbors, and offering weekly meals to the homeless in neighboring communities like Ukiah and Fort Bragg. 

In keeping with the philosophy that “the things we refuse are the things we should choose,” this quickly evolved into us sewing masks and sending them to prisons.  We wanted to demonstrate that the discarded humanity we found in jails could be restored to dignity through work and purpose.  Hence, our program the ‘Prison Monastery’ was born.

The Prison Monastery

 

The Prison Monastery is a place where the incarcerated, removed from the pressures and demands of society, can contemplate their actions with dignity, and find their natural human capacity for contribution.  It was designed with the purpose of restoring penal institutions to their original purpose: a place that fosters penitence.  In fact, prisons in the United States were originally referred to as penitentiaries which, as former prison resident and philosopher C.S. Deriso described in a 1968 essay published in the Criminology Journal “…Penitentiaries evolved from the medieval idea of seclusion and meditation for sin. Their central purpose, to provide a place for repentance through isolation and reflection, has long been out of favor with modern penologists.”

What began as a trickle of creative thinking eventually developed into a flood.  John Liu, who pioneered compelling documentation of  ecorestoration projects in the desertified plains of Western China, highlands of Ethiopia, and other places around the world demonstrated that  even small, relatively localized attempts at ecological restoration or “rewilding” could have great downstream effects on surrounding ecosystems.

 

 

If we could marry the two ideas – rehumanizing society by restoring prison residents to dignity through contemplation and purpose – and rewilding nature through ecorestoration projects on prison grounds – we might achieve a profound impact in terms of reclaiming both humanity and space for nature.

But we needed a demonstration project to get the ball rolling.  It all began with a phone call to the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, at the onset of the pandemic. The prison was under lockdown. Their support system of outside programming could no longer enter the facility. 

 

The Prison Monastery  program launched here, the largest women’s prison in the United States, with      its Art of Soulmaking correspondence program. 545 women have enrolled in the program at CCWF since November 2020, and 6 inmate-led groups are currently running inside the institution’s housing    units.

 

 

Unconditional Freedom now operates in over 100 prisons across the United States with 4,000 participants in The Art Of Soulmaking, supported by 300 trained & certified volunteers. The program has been accepted on two prison tablet providers, which will soon enable it to reach a combined 240,000 individuals incarcerated. 30% of those on the death row unit are enrolled in the Art of Soulmaking program, and the prison staff psychologist guides 3 participant-led “Soulmaker Study Groups” based on the AoS book.  The newly launched Guards To Guardians program for correctional officers is supported by 14 mentoring officers with over 250 combined years of experience. Through its programs, participants have reported a 24% reduction in feelings of depression, anger, and reported significance of drugs and alcohol in their lives, and a 16% reduction in anger

 

The full prison monastery system includes a jail garden, an ecological restoration program, improved food nutrition, weekly Art of Soulmaking, meditation, and yoga. A regenerative farmer and educator leads the incarcerated men and women in tending to vegetable beds,  growing their own food that goes directly into the meals prepared by the kitchen that feeds them, and working their way towards certification in regenerative agriculture and ecosystem restoration. In 2023, Unconditional Freedom will begin rolling  out prison monastery systems in facilities across the country.

Rather than discard or reject, we see the unique and essential gifts of these populations, with the recognition that both prisoners and society as a whole suffer in the absence of the unique expression of each human.  Our approach works from the ground up, eliciting a natural human capacity and desire for contribution by starting with physical healing of the body, then nourishment of the soul, then liberation of the mind. Unconditional Freedom invites you to come along with us  on the journey, seeing through the eyes of those that the program touches, and those committed to its vision, in the feature documentary At Home and In The World 

This is how we change the world from the ground up. 

To Donate and support Unconditional Freedom’s efforts, please click here.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

— Buckminster Fuller

Bob Wilms

Director of Unconditional Freedom’s Earth Program

One Comment

Leave a Reply

What Does This Privacy Policy Cover?

Soil Foodweb School LLC (“SOIL FOODWEB”) is committed to your right to privacy.  This privacy policy explains how we may use or disclose information that we obtain from or about you through your use or in connection with your use of our website.  For the purposes of this Privacy Policy, the term “website” or “websites” identifies all web pages found on or related to the following URL’s:

www.soilfoodweb.com

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at [email protected].

How Do We Collect Personal Information:

SOIL FOODWEB provides access on or through its website to a wide range of content, services, and media.  Users may subscribe to register for classes and workshops, subscribe to electronic newsletters, request services, inquire about training sessions, and apply for job opportunities.  SOIL FOODWEB may require you to voluntarily provide personal information that we use to facilitate all of these features.

What Personal Information We Collect:

Personal information may include your name and contact information, like your company name, mailing address, phone number, user or login name, password, or email address, payment information (like credit card numbers).  Personal information also includes any written text or communications, notes, or inquiries that you provide either on our website or by e-mail communication directly or indirectly with SOIL FOODWEB.

How We Use Your Personal Information:  

SOIL FOODWEB uses (or “processes”) personal information only as necessary for our legitimate business interests, which include improvements to our products, services, and content on our website, and also in order to respond to queries or requests, complete registrations and payments, fulfill orders, and schedule service or training.  From time-to-time, SOIL FOODWEB may use personal information to contact you to send you information about our company, classes, or other services. 

You consent to these processes by providing your personal information.  You may update your personal information or “opt out” from receiving certain communications and correspondence from us at any time through email correspondence sent to [email protected]

Retention of Your Personal Information:

SOIL FOODWEB will retain your personal information for as long as necessary to fulfill respect processes, as well as to fulfill any obligations under applicable law.

Rights of Data Owners in and to their Personal Information:

Where applicable law requires (and subject to any exceptions), you may have the right to request SOIL FOODWEB to provide you with your personal information or to delete your personal information that is held by us.  You may also have the right to restrict or object to use or processing of your personal information. You may exercise these rights by contacting us through email correspondence sent to [email protected], using the subject line “Personal Information Review Request” or “Delete Account” or “Delete My Information.”

Disclosure And Access to Personal Information:

SOIL FOODWEB considers your use of our website to be private.  However, SOIL FOODWEB may access or disclose information about you and/or the content of your communications with us, in order to: (1) comply with the law or legal process served on SOIL FOODWEB; (2) enforce and investigate potential violations of our Terms of Use, including use of this site to participate in, or facilitate, activities that violate the law; or (3) protect the rights, property, or safety of SOIL FOODWEB employees, customers, or the public.  From time to time, SOIL FOODWEB may also disclose information to selected business partners, or other third parties offering products or services in which you may be interested, provided that such third parties agree to comply with the provisions of this Privacy Policy with respect to the use of your personal information. You consent to the access and disclosures outlined in this section.

How We Collect Non-Personal Information:

SOIL FOODWEB may obtain non-personal information from your use of our website and through the use of commonly-used information-gathering tools.  These tools may include “Cookies,” which are pieces of information shared between your web browser and a website. Non-personal information may include information about the browser that you use to access the site, the operating system that you are running, what items you clicked on the applicable web page, how long you viewed a certain page, and information about the website you accessed immediately before you accessed our website.  SOIL FOODWEB may aggregate your non-personal information with the non-personal information of other users of SOIL FOODWEB’s website or of other non-personal information collected offline. SOIL FOODWEB also may collect anonymous aggregated information, like general traffic patterns within our website, to help maintain the flow and content of the website. Any and all of this non-personal information may be used to support SOIL FOODWEB’s commercial, marketing, and customer service activities, or for any other reason.

Use of Cookies:

Use of cookies enables a faster and easier experience for the user.  A cookie cannot read data off your computer’s hard drive. For information on cookies, please refer to www.aboutcookies.org.

There are different kinds of cookies with different functions:

Session cookies These are only stored on your computer during your web session. They are automatically deleted when the browser is closed. They usually store an anonymous session ID allowing you to browse a website without having to login to each page. They do not collect any information from your computer.
Persistent cookies A persistent cookie is one stored as a file on your computer, and it remains there when you close your web browser. The cookie can be read by the website that created it when you visit that website again.
First-party cookies The function of this type of cookie is to retain your preferences for a particular website for the entity that owns that website. They are stored and sent between SOIL FOODWEB’s servers and your computer’s hard drive. They are not used for anything other than for personalization as set by you. These cookies may be either Session or Persistent cookies.
Third-party cookies The function of this type of cookie is to retain your interaction with a particular website for an entity that does not own that website. They are stored and sent between the third-party’s server and your computer’s hard drive. These cookies are usually Persistent cookies.

 

We generally use cookies as follows:

Functionality Some cookies allow our Sites to remember choices you make (such as your username, language or the region you are in) and provide enhanced features. For instance, a Site may be able to remember your login details, so that you do not have to repeatedly sign in to your account when using a particular device to access our Sites. These cookies can also be used to remember changes you have made to text size, font and other parts of web pages that you can customize. They may also be used to provide services you have requested such as viewing a video or commenting on an article. The information these cookies collect is usually anonymized. They do not gather any information about you that could be used for advertising or remember where you have been on the internet
Performance Some cookies collect information about how visitors use a Site, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. They also allow us to record and count the number of visitors to a Site, all of which enables us to see how visitors use a Site in order to improve the way that the Site works. The information these cookies collect is normally anonymous and is used to improve how our Sites works. However, some of these cookies may include Personal Information. Please consult your web browser’s ‘Help’ documentation or visit www.aboutcookies.org. for more information about how to turn cookies on and off for your browser
Marketing These cookies are used to deliver content relevant to your interests on a Site and third party sites based on how you interact with our advertisements or content

 

Use of Web Beacons:

Other tools include “Web Beacons,” which are clear electronic images that can recognize certain types of information on your computer, such as cookies, when you view our website tied to the web beacon, and a description of the website tied to the web beacon. SOIL FOODWEB may use web beacons to operate and improve our website and e-mail communications.  Web beacons can be used alone or in conjunction with cookies to compile information about users’ usage of our website and interaction with e-mails.  SOIL FOODWEB may use information from web beacons in combination with other data we have about our clients to provide you with information about SOIL FOODWEB and our services.  SOIL FOODWEB may conduct this review on an anonymous basis.

Use of Google Analytics:

SOIL FOODWEB may use Google Analytics, a web analytics service provided by Google, Inc. (“Google”).  Google Analytics uses cookies to help websites analyze how users use the site. The information generated by the cookie about your use of our website (including your IP address) will be transmitted to and stored by Google on servers in the United States.  Google will use this information for the purpose of evaluating your use of the applicable website, compiling reports on website activity, and providing other services relating to website activity and internet usage for SOIL FOODWEB.  Google may also transfer this information to third parties where required to do so by law, or where such third parties process the information on Google’s behalf. You may refuse the use of cookies by selecting the appropriate settings on your browser, however, please note that if you do this you may not be able to use the full functionality of our website.  By using our website, you consent to the processing of data about you by Google in the manner and for the purposes set out above.

Links To Other Websites:

Our website may contain third-party links that provide access to other websites, not maintained by SOIL FOODWEB or its affiliates.  If you click on these third-party links, you will be directed from our website to another external website, which SOIL FOODWEB has no control over and assumes no responsibility for the content, privacy policies, practices, or services.  Your use of any external website is not governed by this privacy policy.

Children’s Privacy:

SOIL FOODWEB does not knowingly solicit, collect, or retain information from any individuals who are under fourteen (14) years of age.  If we learn that we have obtained personal information of a child under 14, we will take steps to delete the information as soon as possible.

How We Secure Your Information:

To prevent unauthorized access to your personal information, maintain data accuracy, and ensure the correct use of such information, SOIL FOODWEB has put in place physical, electronic, and managerial procedures as well as encryption and transaction security software to attempt to safeguard and secure the information SOIL FOODWEB obtains from this website.  However, no safeguards or security procedures or software is completely effective, and we do not guarantee the absolute security of any information provided to SOIL FOODWEB through use of our website.

Attending Webinars

Soil Foodweb School LLC occasionally creates live webinars for either promotional or educational purposes, or other. Should you choose to attend such a webinar, your voice and/or image may be recorded during the course of the webinar. Soil Foodweb School LLC retains the right to publish the recording of the webinar on its website (soilfoodweb.com) and elsewhere. By attending the webinar, you are agreeing to this.

Policy Revisions:

SOIL FOODWEB reserves the right to revise this Privacy Policy from time to time in our discretion.  If SOIL FOODWEB makes modifications, SOIL FOODWEB will post the revised Privacy Policy on the website, which will take effect immediately upon posting. It is your responsibility to periodically review this Privacy Policy.

Contact Address:
PO Box 287
Corvallis, OR 97330

Our Privacy Policy
Read our Privacy Policy.
Provided that you are eligible to use the Site, you are granted a limited license to access and use the Site and to download or print a copy of any portion of the Content to which you have properly gained access solely for your personal, non-commercial use. We reserve all rights not expressly granted to you in and to the Site, the Content and the Marks.


USER REPRESENTATIONS

You may be required to register with the Site. You agree to keep your password confidential and will be responsible for all use of your account and password. We reserve the right to remove, reclaim, or change a username you select if we determine, in our sole discretion, that such username is inappropriate, obscene, or otherwise objectionable.
You may not access or use the Site for any purpose other than that for which we make the Site available. The Site may not be used in connection with any commercial endeavors except those that are specifically endorsed or approved by us. 

PRIVACY POLICY

We care about data privacy and security. Please review our Privacy Policy [CLICK HERE]/posted on the Site]. By using the Site, you agree to be bound by our Privacy Policy, which is incorporated into these Terms and Conditions. Please be advised the Site is hosted in the United States. 
If you access the Site from the European Union, Asia, or any other region of the world with laws or other requirements governing personal data collection, use, or disclosure that differ from applicable laws in the United States, then through your continued use of the Site, you are transferring your data to the United States, and you expressly consent to have your data transferred to and processed in the United States. 
[Further, we do not knowingly accept, request, or solicit information from children or knowingly market to children. Therefore, in accordance with the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, if we receive actual knowledge that anyone under the age of 13 has provided personal information to us without the requisite and verifiable parental consent, we will delete that information from the Site as quickly as is reasonably practical.]
Our Terms & Conditions