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Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Her punishment's been much worse.

No matter your opinion on this Wikileaks source, it matters how she's treated.

Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Her punishment's been much worse.

It's been more than three years since former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was convicted of leaking government documents.

In 2013, Manning was found guilty of stealing and disseminating 750,000 pages of documents and videos to WikiLeaks. As a result of her crimes, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.


Depending on your point of view, Manning is either a hero or heretic. On one hand, she helped expose torture, abuse, and other abhorrent actions by the U.S. military; on the other, it's entirely possible that releasing classified documents to the public put American lives at risk. While few could argue her innocence — she pretty clearly broke the law — the moral judgment remained far more nebulous, not neatly fitting into boxes of "good" or "bad."

At the time of her conviction, 52% of Americans viewed Manning as a traitor.

Being transgender has complicated things for Manning.

Part of her struggle is directly related to the fact that she is a transgender woman; in prison, she has been forced to comply with male grooming standards regarding the length of her hair. Additionally, she's had to fight for access to medically necessary hormone replacement therapy treatment.

How Chelsea Manning sees herself. By Alicia Neal, in cooperation with Chelsea herself, commissioned by the Chelsea Manning Support Network.

At every turn, it seems like Manning's jailers are looking for reasons to further punish her. In July, Manning attempted to kill herself by hanging in her cell. Later that month, Army officials announced that as a result of her suicide attempt, Manning would face additional charges that could result in indefinite solitary confinement and an additional nine years in prison without the chance of parole.

According to her attorney, Chase Strangio, Manning's living conditions constitute "cruel and unusual punishment."

"This is not about accommodations or 'special rights,' but about recognized legal standards for equal treatment and the provision of medically necessary care," Strangio wrote in an email. Courts have routinely recognized that medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria cannot be withheld solely because the treatment is stigmatized or less understood.

"When we incarcerate people against their will, we, as a society, have an obligation to see to it that their medical needs are met," Strangio explained.

Soldiers outside the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where Manning is being held. Photo by the U.S. Army.

On August 9, Manning announced that she would be going on a hunger strike to protest her living conditions.

"Today, I have decided that I am no longer going to be bullied by this prison — or by anyone within the U.S. government," she wrote. "I have asked for nothing but the dignity and respect — that I once actually believed would be provided for — afforded to any living human being."

"We must care for those whose freedom we restrict." — Chase Strangio

She pledged to refuse all food and drink with the exception of water and her currently prescribed medications until she is given "minimum standards of dignity, respect, and humanity." Adding that she has submitted a "do not resuscitate" letter, Manning acknowledged that her protest may very well lead to her death.

When asked what meeting Manning's demands of dignity and respect would look like, Strangio highlighted two key things that need to change about her treatment in prison.

First is the matter of receiving medically necessary care to treat her gender dysphoria, including permission for her to adhere to the hair length and grooming standards of female inmates.

The U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Photo by the U.S. Army.

Second is the matter of being allegedly held to different standards than other prisoners when it comes to punishment. Strangio listed a number of things, ranging from possession of expired toothpaste to improper labeling of reading materials to the aforementioned suicide attempt.

Manning wants a written confirmation from the military that they're able to meet these requests. On Sep. 13th, Manning ended her hunger strike after receiving assurance from the military that she will be given access to transition-related health care.

Manning's hunger strike is a bold move, and it's drawing attention not just to her plight, but to that of prisoners around the world.

Manning's hunger strike should matter to all of us who believe in a true system of justice. Arbitrarily withholding medical treatment from prisoners — whether stemming from misunderstanding or malice or "because that's just the way it is" — erodes the Constitutional protections we've developed as a society.

"Chelsea is in pain and she is under our care because we have decided as a society to detain her," Strangio adds. "We must care for those whose freedom we restrict."

Poor, and possibly unconstitutional, treatment of prisoners affects more than just those in military prisons like Manning.

Inmates in at least four states recently went on strike to protest what they say amounts to forced labor, making just cents an hour for their work behind bars.

Photo by Michal Czerwonka/Getty Images.

No matter how you feel about Manning's actions, there are good reasons to support her in this struggle.

It may be easy to brush off the needs of people who've been convicted of a crime. It may be easy to justify inhumane treatment with lines like, "If they didn't want to be treated like that, they shouldn't have committed a crime," but that's not who we are — or at least it's not who we aspire to be.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

When Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, she was sentenced to just that: 35 years in prison. She wasn't sentenced to 35 years in prison and denial of medically necessary health care. She wasn't sentenced to 35 years in prison and humiliation. She wasn't sentenced to 35 years in prison and the loss of her gender.

The same goes for prisoners around the country being subjected to substandard conditions. Our justice system, while imperfect, is meant to set the limits of punishment; it's unfair to arbitrarily add onto it. Doing so, justifying negative treatment, sets a very dangerous precedent that can undermine our very existence as a country and as a society.

It starts with caring. It starts with empathy. It starts with you.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."