Finding Freedom in Prison [guest post]

A while ago, I came across the blog One Dress Protest and recognized a kindred spirit. Kristy Powell, the creator of ODP, is wearing one dress for one year to call attention to the ideas and motivations behind how and why we wear clothes. In this guest article (originally posted on her blog), she shares a story of a transformative and liberating moment from her life…

August 25, 2011

Last Saturday I got arrested. Having never been arrested before, it feels strange to write that. Like most Americans I associate getting arrested with committing egregiously unlawful acts that require punishment … or, you know, getting drunk in public and being picked up by the cops.

For a short video clip that happens to feature my anxieties leading into the action, see below:

In my case, though, I was arrested for willfully breaking the law for something I believe in. Together with 60-some others, last Saturday I plopped down in front of President Obama’s front lawn in Washington D.C. Normally you’re allowed to sit down on a sidewalk on a summer morning. However, due to security laws, you can’t do it in front of the White House. Yet, when the D.C. Park Police told our group to go, we all stayed put. We were there to commit non-violent civil disobedience.

I’m generally a law-abiding citizen. I do all the things normal people do in their everyday lives to keep from breaking the rules of my city and our country. Yet last Saturday, that changed.

Starting on August 20th, me and over 2,000 others committed to risking arrest over one of the most important environmental issues of our time. TransCanada, a Canadian oil company and one of the most powerful organizations in North America, if not the world, has proposed building a pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the oil refineries in Texas. This 1,700-mile pipeline would pump some of the dirtiest crude oil through some of America’s most pristine wildernesses and farmland. The oil extraction process in Alberta has already destroyed miles upon miles of majestic boreal forests and the ecosystems that once inhabited them.

James Hansen, a NASA scientist and the foremost climatologist in the world, recently wrote that if a pipeline is constructed to begin maximizing on all the oil under the ground in Alberta, it is essentially “game over” for our efforts to stem global warming and allow the earth to heal itself. In short, this pipeline is a huge issue. Hence, when I sat down in front of the White House last Saturday, I was standing up for an incredibly important issue.

As an example of the significance of this issue, I’ve not found a more poignant video than this one. It was created by Josh Fox, the Oscar-nominated director of Gasland:

As many of you know by now, last January I made the decision to wear one dress for one year. Over the last 235 days, you have followed along as I’ve sorted through confronting issues such as our culture’s understanding of beauty as it relates to clothing, how fashion contributes to my identity as a woman, and the overall sustainability of the fashion industry, an industry that flourishes when we are convinced that we need more, more, more.

As I sat in jail this weekend, being held on charges of “failure to obey a lawful order,” I thought about these issues and how they’ve contributed to my development during the last eight months of my one dress protest. While sharing a holding cell with thirteen other absolutely inspiring women who joined me for protest at the White House on Saturday, I specifically thought about the prisons I had been locked up in before I donned my one dress last January. Those prisons were, of course, mental and psychological ones, but their power in my life before doing my one dress protest was no less confining than the iron bars I sat behind over the weekend.

Since January I feel like I’ve taken huge steps to liberate myself from the constrictive prison of self-abnegating ideas of beauty, such as the belief that I need to look a particular way or keep up with the latest fashions to feel as I have worth in society. I’ve confronted the prison of my identity as a woman, and how it is a blatant fallacy to believe that my womanhood can somehow be affirmed by the status symbols of the clothes I wear. And perhaps most importantly, I’ve woken up to the prison of environmental unconsciousness, where in my striving to be beautiful through the clothes I used to adorn my body I really just became comatose to the environmental impacts of my fashion consumption.

To put it plainly, my one dress protest has begun to liberate me from the oppressive prisons of mundane life as a woman in the 21st century. It’s taken wearing one dress for eight months to realize the extent to which these prisons have confined who I am, told me lies about my worth as a person, and caused me to neglect my most important responsibilities to live in peace with the earth.

There is a great irony to my journey of self-discovery and liberation through my one dress protest, though. That is, by undergoing this transformative experience of wearing one dress for one year and engaging the prisons that have heretofore confined my life in extraordinary ways, I gained the courage and clarity to do something that landed me in prison for the right reasons.

By taking the initiative to emancipate myself from the prisons of my life, I ended up in a real prison for actively living into the freedom that my one dress protest has provided me.

In the next few weeks President Obama will make a decision on whether to sign off on the construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Over 2,000 people have committed to risking arrest in front of the White House to let the president know that he has the support to make the courageous decision to say “No” to this pipeline and make good on his prophetic promise that under his administration, “the oceans will begin to slow their rise and the planet will begin to heal.” Join me in supporting President Obama, as well as those turning out to sit-in in Washington D.C., in the work to prevent this pipeline and live into a new world of freedom and possibility.


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3 Responses to “Finding Freedom in Prison [guest post]”
  1. Very powerful. Thank you for sharing it Maia.

  2. Mujin Karuna says:

    From Prison Blues to the Robe of Liberation
    Year after year I studied and practiced the Dharma from under the gun towers
    at Florida State Prison, Raiford. As so many know, fighting the system day
    after day just to be able to practice as a Buddhist and receive books and study
    material deemed voodoo by the D.O.C Chaplains, is enough to drive a person to
    just give up on everything that they so believe. It blows me away now that I look
    back it all. But still, unlike the words within the Bible, the Dharma is a living
    breathing Thing. It’s who you are, and impossible to shake once touched by it.
    Walking the yard watching the Holy Rollers preach the word of the Bible to their
    flocks, just looking for a way out without having to take responsibility. The very
    same mind that landed them in the place called prison. Day after day listening to
    their cries to God, swearing they have it right this time, how their lives have been
    touched and change forever by the hands of God. “I gave it to God; I will never
    come back to this PLACE.”
    So time goes by and they are seen leaving the main gate, nothing but the Bible in
    their hands and that gift from the preacher man, the Chaplains, and God. So the
    sunsets and the moon rises, months go by and there they are, standing at the
    canteen window, back on a CRD violation, and back to the preacher man, and
    the Bible.
    Tick-tock, and there I was, the free world. Wondering what was so different, as I
    tweak and freak adjusting to the World. Falling to This and That, losing all that I
    put so much into, the Dharma blanket of security. There it was. The day had
    come. I had fallen so far away from the Dharma, from myself. It was just a matter
    of time and it would be me standing at the canteen window. I had become so lost
    and far from everything and everyone, I couldn`t even face the Dharma and open
    a book. It was then that I was closest to the Dharma. Blinded by the very conditions
    that had landed me in prison, I couldn’t even see it. It was one of the realist
    teachings, one that cannot be found in any book nor set forth by any teacher. It
    wasn`t till I said FUCK-IT, that the Dharma showed its face. Mumon and his moon
    were always watching. He never left, and I understood then, he had been always
    there, lifetime after lifetime.
    So I sat for a year and karma just unfolded without effort. The Dharma carried me
    to my teacher who guided me over the years while in prison. I found myself on a
    flight to LAX with $39 on a food stamp card from Florida, not a dime
    on me, and one set of clothes. My friends saw something in me that I
    couldn’t: a monk. They were the ones that came together, bought my
    ticket, and saw me off in Tampa. So on February 26, 2011, (two
    years from my February 9, 2009, release date), I was ordained under
    the Pure Land Vietnamese Zen tradition. It was just as Daido
    Roshi had always said: a monk is a monk before he’s a monk. The
    robe of liberation, once just words in a book, in a place so far from
    where I stand NOW. And now I can sit here and truly via experience
    say, the Dharma is who you are, not just words that sound
    good from a preacher man. It shows you the ugly, and makes you
    stand up and face yourself and take responsibility. So just keep it
    real, and have faith in yourself, nothing but yourself and all that the
    Dharma has given to you.
    Keep your head up, and your practice strong!!

Check out what others are saying...
  1. [...] Freedom in Prison The One Dress Protest was initiated by a woman calling attention to the motivations and reasons behind purchasing and wearing clothing. A month ago she was arrested, along with many others, for participating in an act of civil disobedience against the TarSans pipeline. Read her recent reflections and how they relate to her campaign to wear one dress for one year HERE. [...]


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About Maia

All my life, I’ve loved the idea of liberation and looking deeply into the question: What does it really mean to be free?

That's what the Liberated Life Project is all about.

You can find my work on two other places on the web -- click on the badges to the right to visit "The Jizo Chronicles" (my blog on socially engaged Buddhism) and Five Directions (my consulting business).

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