What I've Learned at Planting Justice


Today is bittersweet for Planting Justice as we say goodbye to one of our amazing canvassers, Alyse Toulouse. Some of you probably learned about Planting Justice when you met Alyse on the street! In her 16 months with us, Alyse has faithfully pounded the pavement for PJ, signing up hundreds of new members to support our work, and playing a major role in supporting and coaching new canvassers coming home from prison. We’ll miss Alyse and everything she has brought to our organization, and look forward to seeing her do amazing things in this next chapter of her life.

Working for Planting Justice has taught me about people, myself, my ethics, and the true need for liberation for former prisoners, low income people and people of color in this country and in every place touched by the dirty hands of capitalism. Through my relationships here I have learned about the true costs of substance abuse, survival crime and especially incarceration have on our families, friends and community.

Before I worked for Planting Justice I knew that growing up with a single parent meant I have been disadvantaged in some ways, that living in a food desert and attending a continuation high school, shaped my perception of the world and my self-image. When canvassing, I was able to tell my personal experiences in relation to our work. Through this practice I became comfortable being really honest about my experiences and standing in my truth, particularly in regard to my passion towards food justice, access to quality education across class lines, and restorative justice.

There are three big issues my family has long swept under the rug: my mother’s chronic disease, our economic hardship and the incarceration experienced by my siblings. Talking to strangers every day about education, prison re-entry work, economic empowerment and gardens as a solution to prevent food and stress related disease helped me understand what systems and institutions have shaped my family’s hardships and understand the work I’m here to do in this life I have been given.

A huge joy of my job has been watching co-workers who have been previously incarcerated tell their stories, “come out of their shell,” and re-grow their senses of humor, charm and communication skills. In this community I got to attend The Ella Baker Center for Human Right’s report release “The True Cost of Incarceration” which was really touching and helped me feel both prepared and supported in facing and helping my niece and nephew face the issues that criminalization has forged on my family. I have grown a beautiful new respect and appreciation for my own and others personal growth process in developing meaningful friendships with folks coming back into their lives out of prison. Through this work, I have grown a new found compassion for my brother who has been called a criminal since the age of sixteen.

Working for Planting Justice is unlike working for any other nonprofit. As a staff, we regularly participate in Anti-Oppression Trainings to explore topics like capitalism, criminalization, racism, sexism, economic class, family, police terror, nonviolent communication, as well as how white supremacy and patriarchy operate in our lives and in the workplace. Most workplaces don’t encourage staff to set up restorative justice circles to resolve disputes, but Planting Justice does, which has forever changed how I think about relationship building and conflict resolution at work. More than just a workplace, Planting Justice is a real community. I’ll never forget the experiences and friendships I’ve made here.

As I look to the future, I know I’ll always carry my experience at Planting Justice with me. I’m going back to school, and hope to work as an environmental health specialist. I know in my bones that ALL people deserve to live long, healthy lives - which means clean air, clean water, accessible, affordable, nutritious food, living wage jobs, and freedom from criminalization and violence. As I move onto this next chapter in my life, I’m grateful for all the staff, members, and supporters of Planting Justice who are committed to this vision of a healthy, sustainable future for all.

Peace and produce,

Alyse Toulouse

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