He left prison for the first time since he was a teenager. Then he started filming.
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The Kresge Foundation

14 days after finishing a 20-year sentence in prison, Bilal Coleman appeared on video in an unlikely setting: a garden full of fresh herbs.

With this, Coleman kicked off his video diary project called "The Freedom Chronicles," which documented his first year out of prison.

He doesn’t say much in that first video, which was filmed in December 2015. His mentor, another formerly incarcerated man named Anthony Forrest, shares the names of various plants around them. He encourages Coleman to break off pieces and smell the rosemary and basil — the scent of which, Coleman says, reminds him of his grandma.


These were Coleman’s first experiences of life outside of prison since he was a teenager — and most people in his place wouldn’t dream of sharing something so personal with the world.

Coleman meets goats on his 11th day out of prison. All images courtesy of Planting Justice.

For most people, the first year out of prison is a struggle. After incarceration, many have trouble finding stable jobs, accessing basic needs like healthy food, and transitioning back to daily life on the outside.

In fact, in Coleman’s home state of California, 7 out of 10 former inmates go back to prison within a year after being released.

Coleman was only 17 years old when he was sentenced to 20 years at San Quentin State Prison — so at 37, he didn’t exactly have a ton of work experience. Like so many others returning to their communities after incarceration, he faced the world with the odds stacked against him.

But when he got out, he had a good reason to start filming his journey — a job waiting for him at an organization called Planting Justice.

Planting Justice is an Oakland-based nonprofit that empowers people to grow their own food. In 2009, when co-founders Gavin Raders and Haleh Zandi launched the organization, they wanted to support people who are most affected by issues such as poverty and a lack of access to nutritional food. And they couldn’t think of a better way to do that than hiring people who, like Coleman, are leaving prison.

Planting Justice staff members Maurice "Big Mo" Bell and Darryl Aikens with co-founders Haleh Zandi and Gavin Raders.

"We really wanted to build the world that we want and need, and focus on solutions," says Gavin Raders, executive director of Planting Justice.

The organization offers a living wage and full benefits to all of its staff — an opportunity that’s all too rare for people with criminal records. Since its start in 2009, the Planting Justice team of landscapers has built over 450 edible gardens around the Bay Area.

Today, they employ about 35 full-time staff members, and just over half — including Coleman — are formerly incarcerated.

They've garnered some significant support, including plant sales from customers all over the country and $300,000 a year in small donations earned through street canvassing. They were even awarded a grant through The Kresge Foundation’s Fresh, Local, and Equitable initiative, known as “FreshLo,” for building healthy, inclusive communities.

FreshLo is all about supporting work that leverages creative, neighborhood-based food enterprises for community development, and these Bay Area gardens are brilliant examples.

The Planting Justice edible gardens grow in unlikely places — empty lots, schools, and concrete neighborhoods that don’t have fresh produce or green spaces for miles.

About 100 of the gardens they’ve built so far have been free or on a sliding scale, with fees depending on income, for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.

A Planting Justice garden begins to grow at a juvenile detention center.

In spite of his inexperience, it turns out that Coleman is actually the perfect fit for this work. He’s from the very communities that Planting Justice serves and can relate to their struggles on a personal level.

"You try to instill a life skill within the youth, but what you don’t understand is you’ll receive one as well," he shares in the video for his 200th day out of prison.

Planting Justice has a success rate of nearly 100%. In nine years of existence, only one formerly incarcerated staff member has returned to jail.

What began as a simple landscaping service now includes education programs, farmer training, and a holistic re-entry program to help former prisoners transition back to a stable life.

And in 2017, after a lot of hard work and the help of over 900 donors, Planting Justice acquired a 2-acre plot of land to open up a nursery and farm. Rolling River Nursery provides landscaping services to the neighborhood, and ships plants, herbs, and trees all over the country. It’s located in deep East Oakland, California, in an area called Sobrante Park, which is known for having some of the highest rates of unemployment and crime in Oakland.

Sobrante Park is exactly the kind of place that needs green jobs like the ones Planting Justice creates, and Raders hopes that similar neighborhoods throughout the country can replicate their model.

Staff members at Rolling River Nursery.

In his final "Freedom Chronicles" video, Coleman celebrates his 365th day of freedom — and shows a total transformation.

This time, Coleman’s the one naming the plants, and he’s much more outgoing than he was when he started. His smile glows as he shows viewers his work, including the gardens he tends daily and a high school where he passes his skills on to youth.

"I feel overjoyed!" he exclaims about beating the odds by thriving in his first year out of prison.

It’s clear that he’s gained some skills, including newfound abilities in public speaking, youth education, and analyzing issues like economic and environmental injustice that affect the communities where he lives and works.

Coleman on his 365th day of freedom.

Coleman’s story shows how an opportunity to thrive after prison can help lift up a whole community.

Coleman was still working at Planting Justice at the time of this writing. He also enjoys spending time with his two kids, and he’s developed a passion for health and personal fitness.

On top of providing fresh food, vital skills, and an opportunity to escape the cycle of mass incarceration, the formerly incarcerated staff members get a chance to help lead these initiatives to transform their neighborhoods.

At the end of his last video, Coleman grins as he looks over the results of his hard work.

"Seasons pass, tomatoes are gone, the chard has popped back up like the spring," he says. "That’s resilience."

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.