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The Last Dance- My Journey To Freedom

Klara Miller

Written by Sex Trafficking Survivor & Advocate Jennelle Gordon

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The last dance, the time I thought would never come. The last time I let myself be abused, objectified, bought and sold all for my traffickers gain. The last time I ever wore six inch heels- lustfully dancing for a man, for his sheer pleasure and my excruciating pain.

This is a brief excerpt of my story of slavery, faith, freedom, healing, transformation and my mission to empower other women to do the same.

I was stolen. My faith in myself squelched, my love for myself hidden, and fear ruled my life. After suffering many traumas and being a ward of the state as a child, my traffickers found this vulnerability and pounced away at breaking me down to their weak subservient victim. If you have ever felt vulnerable, weak, uncertain, trapped, guilty, abused, oppressed or ashamed then this true story is for you.

Vegas is all neon lights, glamour and glitz but few grasp the magnitude of the devastating problem of human trafficking in this opulent City of SIn. This is the main place my years of trafficking occurred, although there were other states and traffickers as well. Many inquire how this transpires, how does one go from college student to sex trafficking victim? The answer is simple- it’s science. It’s the science of knowing what a young girl is deficient in and then supplying that very need she is missing. My trafficker happened to be a mastermind, played into my insecurities, and in a short time I was working around the clock for months and years on end without a day off. The exotic dance clubs became brick and mortar for my product- me. I was selling the most lucrative product of all time- sex. The price was high and the stakes higher.

My years of captivity led to severe physical, emotional and mental abuse. I suffered numerous beatings, strangulation, concussions, teeth loss, and these are just the minor physical implications. A loaded gun to my head was a normality, things that most people only see in an action packed movie became my everyday life. The worst trauma I recall was being  thrown down a flight of stairs after being repeatedly punched in the face by a linebacker body builder, then strangled until I passed out, to which I awoke to more beatings and being thrown into the car window. After years of enduring this abuse, the emotional trauma followed in the form of IBS, severe anxiety, depression, panic attacks and the inability to sleep.

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There comes a moment in your life when your life blueprint catches up to your reality and the awakening that they aren’t the same overrides the fear of your current life circumstances, or the change that would follow. That moment finally occurred for me and I knew I couldn’t be held hostage to my fear of my trafficker any longer. The doctors informed me I could die with another concussion and I knew he would end up killing me if I didn’t escape. Most victims never can escape and end up a statistic..

I would love to say I escaped my trafficker and my life was a fairytale afterwards but that would be a lie and after living a lie for ten years, I only live the truth now. Truth be told, once liberated from my trafficker the road back to reality and integration into society was paved with turmoil.  I didn’t have a support system, as I was estranged from family and the more I resisted the life I was trafficked in, the more I found myself home in that very life. It truly was my unwavering faith in God that allowed me the grace to find healing.

The healing came in the form of yoga, holistic nutrition, and Tantra which focused me into the reconnecting with my sensuality and spirituality. I became certified in everything I mentioned and started my healing journey, quickly realizing the reason for living is giving and  all the trauma I had experienced had a purpose. With this realization, I was inspired to form Dance Om, my own unique concept for women’s healing and empowerment. It combines the healing aspects of yoga, energy, various forms of dance with world music to take women on an exotic dance journey to their sacred, sensual, spiritual Self.

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My almost three year old son was another aspect of that healing, as I chose to have an all natural birth, and move to Orange County to raise him as a single mother reintegrating back into society after being trafficked for nearly ten years, this was a huge feat. Today you can find me speaking out publicly on my experience as a human trafficking survivor and advocating for those still imprisoned who have no voice to do so. My latest venture is the non profit club I started at my college campus called Humans 4 Justice Orange County. This group of students creates awareness about human trafficking not only on campus but in the community. Our main aspiration is to fund survivors education as this has been a tool in me regaining my power in life. After thirteen years out of school I returned to not only become an honor student but to become a leader on campus, lecturing for various professors and offering a message of connection to my peers through yoga and mindfulness. A highlight was when Tony Robbins reached out to me after hearing my story and personally invited me to his conference as his guest. He wants to collaborate with me at his schools that rescue and rehabilitate women who’ve been trafficked. The most important lesson I have learned in my life is that healing is not a project to be completed at a certain date but rather a timeless journey. My journey is to inspire other women who’ve suffered traumas, that they too can overcome and be outstanding in life. My mission is to educate, empower and enlighten women to have a voice, to be bold, to be connected, to be passionate, to be prosperous, and to live life in a state of wonder- because this life is a dance of what we most desire and fear. For me, while living in captivity, fear consumed my life but the desire to be free and happy finally won in the end. I remember promising myself that once set free from my life of exotic dancing it would be my last dance, however the new healing modality I created- Dance Om, has me dancing for an entirely different purpose.

Connect with Jennelle through her Instagram- @jennelle_gordon

Reflections of an Indigenous Doula

Klara Miller

Written by Erynne M. Gilpin • Photograph of Karu Peruzzo Mineira by K. Peruzzo 

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“An empowered community is made up by empowered individuals and empowered families, and to me empowerment is feeling at home with who you are, and that begins with the moment of birth. So my own birth story is a great source of strength to me. And so when you ask the questions about our children, I have to go the long way around and say it begins with the way they get born.” (Mohwak Midwife Katsi Cook in an interview by Wessman and Harvey)


She was tired. Labor was coming on fast. Her contractions were strong, and she cried out for a moment’s rest, a moment of relief. “Ambe little one”. Her body takes over. Her partner’s strong hands hold her through the waves, and I place a cool cloth infused with sweet oils on her forehead. Breathing through. “Send your breath to him. Send your breath to him.” I sing the water song in my head. “Speak to him in the language. He is coming. Nipiy. Nipiy. Hiy Hiy Chee Migwetch Gitchi Manitoo….”

… and he was born.

For mothers and families around the world the ways in which we birth our young babies is an act of sovereignty, self-determination and ceremony. Here on Turtle Island (Canada), there are strong hands, hearts and minds which dedicate their lives to ensure that indigenous babies are born in ways which uphold culture, their language, ceremony, and the land. Sadly, racism is alive and well within health care institutions across Turtle Island, and it is paramount that indigenous families and mothers can access care from indigenous birth-workers, midwives and doulas (“aunties”).  Our family alone has lost more than one family member due to racist neglect and inadequate care in the Canadian health-care system and Indian Hospital system. As Western medicine, often male-dominated, took precedent over indigenous healing traditions (from the mid-1800’s and on), many traditional healers, often women and two-spirit, were removed from positions of healing authority. Our teachings, our medicines, our songs, our ways were regarded as alternative, less scientific, and ultimately inadequate for the delivery of healthy and safe births. The impacts of the removal of births from the home territories, waters, and hands of indigenous communities has had deeply “profound spiritual and cultural consequences, which are difficult to quantify. The loss of traditional birthing practices has been linked to the loss of cultural identity.” (NAHO, 2008)

As indigenous birth-workers, we believe that the woman carrying a child is profoundly spiritual and sacred. She is a spiritual entity which connects the elder Kokum-Pîsim to our home Kã wee ooma aski through the rush of nipiy. Our teachings remind us that our children are closest to the Spirit World and hold special authority in our communities. Women’s bodies are intimately interconnected to water, as it passes through with new life in child-birth, and shares the cycles of the moon with our own cyclical menstruation. (Anderson, 2000)

In upholding these responsibilities, women have the opportunity to inspire a relational accountability to the land and water and challenge younger generations to reflect about the ways that our ancestors protected the lands and waters. Birth does not begin with conception nor end at entry into this world; birth begins in the Spirit World and continues through the entire life of the being. The land provides the medicines to heal the little ones as they grow into strong healthy relatives, and the water allows the breastmilk to nourish their journey. Our existence is not separated from the land. Of course, our responsibility to the mothers, families, and little ones cannot be divorced from our sacred responsibilities to defend the land and waters and protect the sacred.

We, as birth-workers, regard those who carry life as those who also carry cultural teachings, relationship, and care for the Nation. Cherokee elder Marilou Awaiakta reminds us that carriers of culture are accountable to the well-being and strength of the entire community. Furthermore, in her book Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back, Annishinaabekwe Leanne Simpson explains that breastfeeding is a child’s first exposure to relationship based on reciprocal exchange, enabling  them to learn about “treaties, the relationships they encode and how to maintain good treaty relationships.” In this way, “the family is a microcosm of the nation,” and how we care for our families determines how we care for our nation. These ideals are not constricted to gendered notions of femaleness but rather require a personal commitment for all community members to protect and pass on cultural teachings to future generations. The fragmentation of family and the undermining of the role of motherhood through colonial political genocide has created a crisis and the need to rebuild strong families.

For indigenous birth-workers, birth is an act of resurgence. Birth is an act of love for our people. Love for the lands that raised us and the waters that bring us forth. Birth is a process which binds us to one another in relationship and accountability. Birth is what connects us to our ancestors before us and to our generations to come. From the “Birthing The Nation Project” at HOʻOULU ʻĀINA in Kalihi Valley, Hawaii, to the “Seventh Generation Midwives” in Toronto, Canada to the “ekw'í7tl Indigenous Doula Collective,” to the “Indigenous Freedom Babies,” to “AMUPAKIN Achimamas” in Ecuador, indigenous birth-workers are birthing the Nations around the world. To us, the way we birth our little ones is an act of ceremony. Of governance. Of truth. Of resurgence. Of memory. Of life. Of joy. We believe that all indigenous families should have seamless access to indigenous care-takers. All indigenous families have the right to birth their children in ways which are culturally significant, safe and dignified.

I wake up at sunrise and bless nipiy before I drink her in. I smudge and give thanks. I ask that my hands may be steady and my heart strong. I ask that I may know how to best support and love the Mother in her time of labor, and offer friendship for years to come. In a few moons, my own sister-in-law will give birth. We will travel to southern territories and learn from birth-workers in Brazil. I hope my grandmother is proud of me.  I feel honored to be a part of this circle. This circle of blood, water, earth and memory. Hiy Hiy Chee Migwetch Bizindawiyeg. Mii Sa Go Minik.

About the Authour:
Erynne M. Gilpin is of mixed Saulteaux-Cree Métis, Filipina, Irish and Scottish ancestry. She is a PhD candidate of Indigenous Governance (UVIC) and Doula. Her research centers Indigenous land/water based healing traditions as emancipatory practices of contemporary governance; with specific attention to women’s leadership, body-governance birth-work traditions as decolonial praxis.

Connect with Erynne via Instagram @erynne.michelle

Ophelia Bloom • A Birth Story

Klara Miller

Written by Mary Grace      Photographs by Daddy & Grandma

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Ophelia Bloom -- born at home on the most perfect July afternoon.

On the days leading up to her birth, I was starting to lose my cool. I just wanted her here with us already. I was sick of being pregnant and was doing everything I could to coax her out, but nothing seemed to work. She already had a mind of her own -- and she picked the perfect day to come. 

The day before she was born, we spent what was to be our last day as a family of three. We wandered the upper east side,  got lunch at one of our favorite places, afterwards we had ice cream and visited with Michael's grandparents. The perfect summer day.

I was going to walk all the way home in hopes that it would trigger something, but decided against it. I was already tired and didn't feel like exerting tons of energy to only be disappointed. Instead, when we got home Michael and I had a corona and listened to Dr Dre's, The Chronic. We danced and joked and I bounced up and down while eating hot cheetos.

A few hours later, at around 12:30am, my water broke. I was excited - overjoyed and full of so many nerves I felt like I was going to burst! THE BABIES COMING! 

I called my mom right away.

I wasn't having contractions yet so I took a shower and started setting things up just waiting to feel the first one. They did not start. My mom arrived at the apartment and we all went back to bed. Throughout the rest of the night they started coming slowly -- I slept. Only waking up as they came and went.

By 7am they were coming regularly. We filled up the pool. Had coffee and breakfast and waited it out.

By 10:30am I called the midwife.

Olive was wide-eyed and curious with excitement. 

Olive really wanted to get in the pool with me. She couldnt believe it -- a pool! In the living room! As things started getting a bit more intense -- she decided to take a bath.  When she was ready, she came back out.

Right before the baby came out -- she went into our room and just stood in front of the mirror, looking at herself. I wonder what she was thinking --

Everything's a blur, but I remember her presence -- everyone's presence. Olive was kind and gentle -- pouring water on my arm, wetting a cold wash cloth to drape over my head. My husband was my strength and comfort -- the feel of his skin on my cheek and the strength of his embrace. My mother was my reassurance -- talking calmly and soft. And my midwife was there to guide me. She never interrupted the flow and gave me space so that my body could guide me. 

 I remember my mother giving birth. I remember sitting and waiting. I wasn't afraid. And neither was Olive. I hope that I have given her a respect for birth - respect for the strength of women - and the power of bringing life into this world. Birth is intense, messy and loud but there is so much beauty and power within it. As my sister said "you are moving the earth" The most incredible gift. Life.

Connect with Mary Grace through her Instagram @msmarygrace

Women's Circles: The Alchemy of Community

Klara Miller

Words and self portrait by Alison Love

In the beginning there were circles. Since ancient times, humans on this planet have engaged in circle work; huddling around the fire, sitting as a tribe and gathering as a community. Our history and future is women gathering in circle.

Circle work is not a definitive name labeled by any one path or lineage. It is a multidimensional path that is as simple as sitting in circle, and it available to us all. It serves as a door and portal to human history, a place for learning, prayer, practice, governance, ritual, celebration, remembering and most importantly, BEing. In this unique, modern time we are in a resurgence of women remembering who we are. We are awakening to our truth,  remembering that we are sovereign beings with the right to live our truth and our path as humans. Circle work is a supportive component of this awakening.

My own history with circles is rich and still expanding. In my early years, the desire to gather and circle was innate, whether a sewing circle in my high school Home Ec class, smoking a joint as a teenager in the parking lot, or a knitting group from my daughter's school. Circles have been a way that women naturally gather. We share in-depth stories of our lives, as a way of making meaning and understanding ourselves through the eyes and reflections of others. Storytelling, caring for others, listening, celebrating milestones, and honoring many of life’s thresholds and initiations are a part of our humanness and womanhood. In circle, we can return to the power of coming together, a tangible manifestation of the communal web that has been and can be a vehicle for collective transformation.

In my early thirties, it became clear to me that gathering in circle is a multidimensional path. After divorcing myself from community living for 10 years, I was searching for what spirituality meant for me. I had thrown the baby out with the bathwater and wasn’t interested in chanting, yoga or much of anything I had known and done. A friend of mine introduced to me medicine ceremonies. These ceremonies threw away the notion of the hierarchical guru, books of teachings and formal practice as I knew it, and allowed me to connect directly with God and ultimately myself. Being in a circle made sense, without having the proper language to explain my experience, I just knew it made sense. The accessibility of spirit was in the nature of all things, the circle itself, the medicine man/woman holding space, the participants bringing prayers, our pain, suffering, song, celebration, and music!The connection of life came alive from the relationship with the earth, her voice, her rhythm. My connection to this was instant.

We are living in a unique time that calls for ancient practices together with our inner technology to come alive for our souls and bodies to thrive on the planet. With this we are seeing the resurgence of women’s circles from feminine empowerment, to mother and bridal blessingways. For each interest, circles are sprouting up to support them. Women's Circles hold space and gives space for organic wisdom to arise, for the spontaneous to occur that only happens when women gather together.  Natural magic unlocks in each person that attends, whether you're the participant, the facilitator, or host. When attended consistently, there are breakthroughs, gifts, a healing, guidance, and bonds forged. At every circle I have attended, I have always left with more than I came with. I have gone away being more myself, more because I shared, more because I showed up, more because I met someone else’s needs, more because I danced wildly, laughed hysterically, or cried. Ultimately women's circles give permission for me to be me, and you to be you. Sometimes the benefits are immediate. Others are not so quickly translated, they are a time-released capsule that slowly and gently breaks the barriers of the heart. Circles call forth the feminine voice, the one that is receptive, allowing, sensual, creative, wild, and alive! The circle gently restores each individual back to herself, helps us listen, gives permission, activates compassion, builds leaders, and awakens community.

So where is the alchemy? Have you ever had the same day over and over? Have you seen the moon the same way each and every day? Do you have children and do they grow up overnight and right in front of your eyes? There is not one circle that is the same, just as you are not the same every day. The circle changes as we change. Every time you show up to a circle it has a new offering, as do you. The alchemy is the melting pot of souls gathering with intention in sacred space. Women's Circle are a metaphorical cauldron, where we place our hurts, desires, wishes, heartbreaks and by offering them forth together with the hearts and voices of others, they are alchemized.

My suggestion is finding a group you can sit with weekly or monthly, but consistently. Find your rhythm. Find your circle. It may even find you.

In our fast-paced world, women's circles offers us a time to stop, slow down, and listen to deeper voices waiting to be heard. With intention our soul wisdom is called forward and amplified by the collective wisdom of the other souls who are called forth. We sit in agreement, we sit in conflict, we sit with what is. We sit with who comes, committed to a deeper understanding of who we really are and who they really are. Together we make agreements about the good of our circle, and in that we practice the skills our world and our planet most need: compassion, truth, and love. Circle is where we go to remember, who we are alone and who we are together.

Connect with author through Instagram- @alison_love_photo