Thistle. Noun. A prickly herbaceous plant. Many species are abundant as weeds. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, thistles are no more than another useless, invasive plant that stains the Earth. However, the women of Magdalene disagree. Thistle plants are a symbol of perseverance. They have prickles that prevent large creatures from attacking them. They endure the harshest of conditions and continue to survive. Thistle plants signify growth and beauty.
In 1997, Becca Stevens founded the Magdalene Program in Nashville, Tennessee. The Magdalene Program offers housing, food, medical and dental needs, therapy, education, and training for women who have endured prostitution, trafficking, addiction, and life on the streets. The women of the Magdalene Program represent the exquisiteness of thistle plants. They are strong females who have endures the hardest of hardships and take in the light that the world has to offer them. The program teaches its residents “love heals”. Click here to see the #LOVEHEALS campaign picture hanging in the Thistle Farm. Through showing these women who have endured physical and emotional pain unconditional love, the women who run the Magdalene Program truly embrace their philosophy that love can heal even the deepest wounds. The Magdalene Program does more than stabilize the lives of these women. The program seeks to give these survivors the skills in manufacturing, packaging, marketing and sales, and administrative skills that they will need if they want to move forward with their lives and find employment. Through their social enterprise, Thistle Farms, the women of Magdalene create candles, soaps, scents, teas, and all sorts of products to sell.
I was fortunate enough to participate in the morning meditation that the women working in the Thistle Farms partake in and to receive a tour from Stacye Wilson, the volunteer coordinator. Every Tuesday and Wednesday morning at 9 A.M., the women of Magdalene and local volunteers form a circle, where each person introduces herself and expresses a positive thought that they have. By having this meditation, the women of Magdalene not only start their day off with positive energy, but also spread this this energy to the people around them. After meditation, the women go on to their stations to start their day of work. Some women make candles and other products, some create origami out of recycle paper and thistle plants, and others handle the shipping of the Thistle Farm products. As an extension of the Thistle Farm community, the Thistle Stop Café was developed earlier last year. With the help of over one hundred volunteers and donated wooden floor from Al Gore’s tobacco warehouse, the café was created after a year. The Thistle Stop Café offers tea, coffee, and baked goods. As I grabbed a cherry scone and a cup of tea from the café, I couldn’t help but notice the chandelier-esque teacups that hung around the place. As explained during the tour, each teacup was donated and each teacup holds a story behind it. Each teacup holds a story of survival and reminds survivors that they are not alone.
Emotional trauma is an important issue that women who have endured sexual violence whether it is through forced prostitution or sex slavery must overcome in order to find peace. During morning meditation, one survivor expressed her concerns with becoming involved in a relationship and the difficulties she has with trusting that the man she is getting herself involved with is not trying to take advantage of her. She stated that she was going back to therapy to resolve these issues. This relates back to Kristen Barber’s Sex and power. In this article, Barber writes about Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon who state that “women learn to view sex in a way that reflects men’s desires and wishes.” (45). As these survivors of Magdalene were rescued from their previous lives, the Magdalene Program taught them that their sexuality was their own and men especially had no right to assert their dominance on these women. The program teaches them that women are powerful beings who should not have to feel as though they must fulfill these men’s desires and wishes. The Magdalene Program, the Thistle Farms, and the Thistle Stop Café continue to help these women recover from physical and emotional trauma and find ways for these women to once again find security and independence through the skills that they are taught.
The Thistle Farms have helped found ways for women to find work. Are there other ways or even more effective ways to help survivors of prostitution, trafficking, and addiction lead normal lives again? Is love a powerful enough tool to heal the open wounds caused by physical and emotional trauma?
For more information about the Magdalene Program, Thistle Farms, and/or the Thistle Stop Café, visit this website: http://www.thistlefarms.org/. The location of the Thistle Farms and Thistle Stop Café is: 5122 Charlotte Pike, Nashville, Tennessee 37209. To volunteer or donate, contact Stacye Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.