Tag Archives | #Empowerment

Two sides to Cleveland

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There’s another side to Cleveland. It doesn’t involve the Cavs or the RNC. There’s no flashy Michael Simon restaurants or yoga studios. It’s a place where people struggle to survive, where engaging in crime is the only employment prospect & where individuals are exploited without consideration for their humanity. It’s a Cleveland away from the popular narrative, a side of a city that few want to acknowledge, let alone be a part of.

Today at the pop-up I was working with a client. He’s been locked up for half his life—lived about 6 blocks from where I do. If we were closer to the same age, we’d probably have been friends growing up. I was helping him get through a resume; he’d never had one. We got to the past employment portion & he looked up at me and said; “the only job I’ve ever had was in prison”— he was a dishwasher inside a federal penitentiary.

I did the best that I could, helping him build a resume & cover letter. I showed him how to apply online for jobs but could tell that our short time together would do very little to keep him out of the prison pipeline in the future. Crime was the only way he knew how to earn a living, the only place that he could earn a living. What business will give a convicted felon with no employment history a chance?

The two sides of Cleveland are always troubling to me. I’ve been in opulent neighborhoods where housekeepers and nannies fawn over trust-fund babies, and homeless encampments where our citizens, our sisters & brothers, are living in makeshift tents. Neither knows that the other exist, even though they’re just miles apart.

It’s easy for the well-educated masses to condemn the socioeconomically disadvantaged holding to the adage that “if they just worked harder, they could get a job”. That’s rarely, if ever, the case. The affluent say that because they’ve never sat in a room with the generationally poor, people without cars to travel to the jobs, people who struggle for their next meal, people who engage in crime to feed their children. The affluent, the well educated don’t understand the privilege that they’ve been given, the advanced initial starting point that they have in order to thrive.

Like I said, the gentleman I was working with today was brought up about 6 blocks from me. Our positions could have easily been reversed; me spending decades in lockup, being a member of a violent street gang, him with the PhD and endless opportunity.

If you’re reading this, and I really hope that you are, don’t hope for a better future. Hope is cheap and wishing is for fairytales; if you want change, it requires actual physical work and long-term dedication. Locking people up doesn’t create a better world but building community does.

– JB

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We can do better.

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His first time out of Cleveland was to go to prison:

Sometimes in life, you meet the most extraordinary people in the most damaging circumstances; I’ve met angels in the slums and demons in the church pews. I’ve seen mothers cut off the limbs of their children to make better beggars, and I’ve seen fathers starve themselves so that their children could eat. The world is a magnificently horrible, amazing place. Rarely do things get to me anymore but yesterday, I sat and heard a phrase that is hanging over me: “my first time out of Cleveland was to go to prison”.

We as Cleveland are celebrating our rebirth; we’re no longer the mistake on the lake. Over the past few years, we have become a destination, a restaurateurs paradise, the chosen land for the Republican National Convention. We’re planning new high-rise apartment buildings, hosting successful festivals, becoming the location of choice to film movies.

But, we can do better.

For all the advances that are being made in Cleveland, they are very local-centric; just occurring in high-end, gentrified neighborhoods. While I understand that money propagates money, the elevator has to go both ways. People who have become successful, become wealthy, have the responsibility to press the down button so as to help others do the same.

Upon leaving a secured facility recently, I had a CSI Miami moment. I was walking out and someone asked me “what do you do exactly”. I’ve been known to wear dark sunglasses, because, let’s be honest, they’re pretty cool. I looked at the inquisitor, removed my glasses and replied, “I leverage white, middle-class privilege and higher education to help the exploited and oppressed”; I put on my sunglasses and kept on walking. It was one of those exits that come around only once in a lifetime. It was, for lack of a better term, totally boss; I only wish that I had theme music cued up.

We as Clevelanders can do better for our communities. We can build the elevator higher and higher but we can’t forget to return that elevator to the ground floor; it’s the ground, the streets that need the most attention.

Now I’m not saying, hey wealthy suburbanites, come in & save the inner city. I’m sick of the white savior complex; it needs to go away. I’m saying we need to invest in our city, not to impress, but for success. We need to end food deserts, where our residents don’t have access to clean and nutritious food. Let’s put a Whole Foods, or even a local grocer in the middle of East Cleveland; it could be profitable. Let’s empower urban residents by increasing guaranteed small-business loans to rebuild the cities infrastructure and hire the at-risk population. Let’s  sentence juveniles not to prison, but to education. I believe that Cleveland State University coupled with local school districts could easily construct an education program in conjunction with juvie so that our young urban men and women are exposed to a classroom as much, or even more, than a prison cell.

We have one of the highest educated populations per capita in the country. We just need to combine those damn, overpriced brainpans to figure out the solutions, and then implement them in conjunction with, not for, our urban residents.

We can do better.

Our city is intentionally divided along racial and economic lines and this inequality physically manifests itself through domestic human rights violations; human trafficking, domestic child soldiers, lack of food and clean water, lack of education, disproportionate minority confinement etc.

We can do better.

My friend and co-TEDx presenter Basheer Jones used his time on the stage to say that children, living one mile from Lake Erie, have never seen it.

We can do better.

I spent time with a young man. The first time he left his neighborhood, left Cleveland was to go to prison.

We can do better.

– JB

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Interns Wanted!

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So, you’re a college student on Spring Break & you’ve just discovered that you need, or want, a summer internship…

You’ve got some options.

A: Apply for a boring internship that usually requires you to get coffee for people and make copies


B: Apply for an internship with us where you will never, ever, be getting anyone coffee. You might have to make some copies though…

We are taking on 4 interns for this summer (May 15-August 15). Below is what we are looking for:

  • Must be above 18 years old with transportation
  • Must be in the education, legal, sociology, psychology, communication or criminology fields although we are open to other fields of study
  • Must be able to meet in-person and online in Cleveland and possibly Kent, Ohio
  • Must be able to work directly with clients who are human trafficking survivors, convicted felons, at high-risk for human trafficking and/or work in the commercial sex industry
  • Have a high interest in social justice, freedom and equality
  • Beneficial if you are a fan of The Walking Dead and funny pictures of cats.
  • Many of your responsibilities will be “hands on” with our clients so be emotionally prepared. We suggest reading up on domestic human trafficking before you apply.
  • Most of our work is confidential so if you are an over-sharer on social media, don’t bother applying. We can’t have someone going on twitter and posting “OMG, just worked with a convicted felon #WhatACreep…

You will be working between 10-20 hours per week on various projects, arranged around your schedule (we understand that most college students have to work and want this to be a beneficial experience for you).  We would like you to work on one of our projects, but, if you have an idea you’re hankering to implement (yes, I said hankering) we’re open to hearing about it.

If you are interested e-mail us your resume & we can sit down or Skype for an in-person interview

Jesse @ imaginefreedom.org


– JB

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Gang Members & Cupcakes

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How long has it been since you’ve had cake this good?

… I don’t know, years.

Yesterday we were given the privilege to partake in singing happy birthday, to celebrate a young man’s 21st birthday. His eyes welled up with tears as the whole room erupted into clapping, laughing and the eating of cupcakes.

He was serving the last months of his sentence; don’t know for what, we don’t ask. We didn’t have a candle for him, so we used another clients lighter, at-first, the young man didn’t want to blow out the lighter. I told him that it was his 21st birthday, he had to blow it out and make a wish; he did.

We started to pack up to head home for the day, the young man and his friends were helping us to load our vehicles, that’s when he came by to talk to me.

“ I heard you’re the guy in charge to talk to. I want to talk to you about my tattoos”.

He was in a gang, I won’t say which one for security reasons, but he wants out, wants a new life; he wants a new path.

So, what does a gang member have to do with human trafficking?


This young man is unable to leave his gang without fear of repercussions, by the very legal definition that is human trafficking; when someone is forced perform an action through physical force, fraud, or coercion. Sure, you might be thinking “but he committed crimes”. Yes, he did. He served his time & wants to turn his life around & to start doing good in the world. We can’t let our hearts break for international child soldiers, while ignoring and condemning domestic child soldiers. Yes, forced gang members are domestic child soldiers.

Getting his tattoos removed is a first step towards re-establishing this young mans identity as a former gang member. He will no longer be a domestic child soldier, a home-grown combatant.

So here’s the deal. We need a tattoo removal specialist in Cleveland. Someone who will work quietly, discreetly and for as low of a cost as possible.

What can you do to help this young man out?

How can you make his 21st birthday wish come true?

Share this blog, help us find the right person who can help.

– JB

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Food helps heal.

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One cannot be intimidating while holding pudding and eating chocolate chip cookies…

“This is the creamiest macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had” said the 6’6” 500 lb, bald, bearded, heavily tattooed, convicted felon: “Thank you so much for bringing it”.  He was a gentle giant who wanted to make a better life for himself on the outside. On the street, he would be intimidating, but here, at the pop-up, he had a pudding cup in one hand, two cookies in his mouth and a drizzle of cheese on his mustache.

Our pop-up deals with career services, it’s not a perfect model (yet) but it’s a crash course of resume writing, cover letters, professional clothing, and job applications for our clientele. We do as much as possible in as short of time as possible with as little money as possible. The pop-ups are an experiment based on ending the cycle of human trafficking and exploitation. The general public likes to think that trafficking can happen to anyone, anywhere, at anytime, but that’s not accurate. Trafficking occurs within very specific parameters to a very select group of individuals. Trafficking often starts with economic desperation from both the trafficker and victim/survivor.

 Ok, enough of that research & human rights stuff, this blog entry is about food…

When I was a kid, I used to love going over my grandmother (Mema’s) house because she always had something to eat. It wasn’t always the best food, but it was awesome because I got to eat it with my Mema.  We would eat, and talk, and laugh, and watch television and when I left her house it felt like everything was good; I felt good, I felt whole and I knew that somebody cared about me.

The biggest part of our services (in my own personal opinion) is the food—greasy, creamy, stick-to-your-bones food. The type of food that you know you’re not supposed to be eating, but it’s oh sooo good… This months pop-up (yesterday) we had macaroni & cheese, spaghetti, pizza, wings, chili, chips, cookies, oranges, jello & pudding & a whole table of assorted other stuff.

At first, the clients always try to act professional, looking at the food, grazing, but not really eating. After all, we’ve been habituated our entire lives that food and work don’t go together. Our amazing and dedicated volunteer staff always stop that real quick “go get some food & let’s hang out”. It’s the most commonly heard phrase every time someone walks in. At the first plate, our clients are a little skittish, just getting to know us. By the 3rd or 4th plate, we’re best friends, laughing and eating, and working towards a better future. It’s like Mema’s kitchen, but with the expressed purpose to end the cycle of human rights violations.

I love our pop-ups; I love the volunteers (who have quickly become like family) and the clients. It’s the best part of my month. I love laughing and eating and helping our people to feel good again, to feel whole, just like my Mema taught me.

Food helps heal, and we go through a whole bunch of it. If you’re ever into helping out, and are in Cleveland, we would love to enlist your culinary abilities. Shoot me an e-mail Jesse @imaginefreedom.org


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The answer is no.

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Let me clarify our organizational position on something:

Don’t ever ask us if you can have a survivor speak at your function.

Our answer will be no.

Don’t ever say “but I’m sure we can get you a bunch more donations if our people can hear a survivor speak”

Our answer will still be no.

Don’t ever respond with “but if the audience can hear about the abuse, and the horrible situations that person has gone through, they could really relate more”

Our answer will yet again, be no.

You can beg, you can plead, you can curse us. We will never ask one of our clients, one of our friends, to stand alone in front of an audience and entertain them with stories of “the life”.

Why do you need to hear a survivor speak? Is it for them, or is it for you? Is it so you can put up a great FB post “wow, just heard an amazing survivor story, so sad, how do people do that to each other”.  Because for you, it’s an interesting evening. For them, it’s reliving their lives, experiencing the triggers, putting themselves out there in front of an uncertain & uncaring world.

Here’s a better option, because we as an organization, as a movement, have no time for hashtag activism, fair-weather friends or armchair quarterbacks: Get off your duff & actually do something.

Donate, fundraise, volunteer, help.

If you really want to hear a survivor speak, help them develop their voice, one-on-one. There are a number of programs to do it, ours included. Help them get a job, get their kid back, get their felonies expunged, cover up their tattoo’s, find a place to live, write a resume, pick out clothing. It’s dirty, it’s gritty, it’s hours & hours of boredom combined with minutes of sheer terror. It’s real & it doesn’t make for a good FB status update (partially because most orgs won’t let you post about it on FB).

Survivors are special. They’ve gone through shit that would have killed a normal person. They’re not to be gawked at, not to be referred to as “sex slaves”, not to be put on a stage for FB status updates. They are people, they are survivors & more than anything they just want a chance at a normal life with the same opportunities that everyone else has.

So go ahead & ask if you can have a survivor speak. We will say no & then we will walk away… sometimes we will laugh as we do it :-)

– JB

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Why my new hoodie matters.

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My yearly hoodie has been purchased & will be delivered in about a week. I know, I know, who cares about my hoodie right? Your fingers are most likely slowly moving across your keyboard or phone to leave this blog entry… give me a second to explain.

 At the beginning of fall each year, I buy the same hoodie. It’s a Dickies brand masterpiece. I wear it just about everyday until spring (which in Cleveland is a pretty long time). By the time the year is out, the hoodie is worn, stained & perfect.

This year, I’m trying a new color; it’s charcoal rather than black! Crazy huh? Just like Ricky Martin taught us, Livin La Vida Loca! 

But seriously, why does this matter?

I’m working on creating a demand for ethical products. I’m letting my dollar act as my voice.

Every year, I buy a Dickies brand hoodie because they signed on to the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act & regularly review their supply chains for forced & child labor. Is it a perfect process? No, but it’s a start & it is contributing to creating a demand for ethically made products.

It’s a process called Buycot. I’m sure you’re familiar with the term boycott correct? Boycot is where you don’t buy something. Buycot is the exact opposite. You find an ethical product that you like & buy the heck out of it & get real loud about the process. Tell everyone you know about why you’re buying a particular product. Buycot!

So there it is, I buy a Dickies hoodie every year because they actively work to evaluate their supply chains. Buycot in action.

What are you Buycotting?

– JB

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Will you help a felon?












We were handing out flyers for our upcoming professional services workshop when I witnessed one of the most valuable moments of my advocacy career.

A group of us were in a high-risk area. This particular area is known for underage stripping, sex trafficking, prostitution & all sorts of badness. We were going to various businesses & giving them info for our services. All of the business owners were receptive. Most of them talked about seeing girls victimized & were very excited about someone doing something to help them.

We were on the road when we saw two women on the street. My compatriot was a bit nervous & asked “if we should go talk to them”, before she even got the words out of her mouth my Honda element was doing a  U-turn in traffic so we could get there & give them an invitation to the event. I saw as my friend gave them our elevator-pitch about what we we’re doing & what services we are offering. Both of the women took flyers, one asked “if we would help a felon”. We both answered with a resounding “yes”, her face lit up; she smiled.

As we pulled away the ladies took their position on their corner. Each of them were clutching the flyer.

By the time we made it to the next business & I had a chance to look back, they had been picked up.

At least we got them the info. I hope that they show up. I hope that we can give them a hand.

– JB


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We’re planning something & we need your help with it. Seriously. Not like your help by “liking” the status or doing a rendition of #HashtagActivism. Actual, serious, you getting off the computer—help.

We have plans to build The Cleveland Freedom Center. Problem is, it’s going to take about 1.8 million to build & about a million a year to run… we’re a little short… we’ve got $3000.00…

But, that $3 grand can do some serious good if allocated correctly.

We’re going to start opening Cleveland Freedom Center Pop-Ups in high-risk areas every 3-6 months (or as long as our limited funds hold out) . They will concentrate on one particular aspect of ending human trafficking & will be open for one week to offer direct services to at-risk & survivors of human trafficking. Our first one is going up in Mid-August around the Cleveland Airport.


We’re looking for volunteers in the following areas (4-8 hours in one week):

Resume writing

Job searching

Hair & Makeup

Professional Clothes Shopping

Tattoo cover up & removal

Intake (filling out forms)

Telephone answering

Job Coaching


If you can’t do the time, do the dime!

We’re also looking for fiscal donations, hair & makeup, professional clothing etc… in order to pull this off.

So seriously, we need you. Others desperately need you.

If you can help out in any way shoot me an e-mail jesse @imaginefreedom.org

– JB

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An amazing conversation


















I recently had an amazing conversation with a stripper (her description of her job, not mine). She was in her early 20’s, heavily tattooed and one of the nicest people I have ever had the opportunity to speak with. She wanted to know what she could do to help end human trafficking.

It was a very cool moment.

Now you’re probably thinking that I tried to convince her to leave stripping, or to make impassioned speeches to others, or to completely change everything about herself. If you thought any of those things you’d be wrong.

I adhere to a strict code of “judge not yet ye be judged”. I do prefer if people leave the commercial sex industry, not because of the moral or ethical conundrum, but because it represents limited opportunity. You see, basing ones income on attractiveness is not a wise move as good looks are a depreciable commodity. In time, appearance decreases exponentially, therefore it is a poor choice to earn a living with and puts one at-risk for sex trafficking. Basing ones income on knowledge however represents an appreciable commodity as intelligence rarely decreases over time… I digress…

Her life experience and circumstance puts her in a very unique situation to work with others who are at-risk for sex trafficking. Think about it, who better to work with and understand sex workers and the victim/survivor, than someone who has lived it and worked it.

I told her that when she was ready, to track me down & I would find a place for her in The Imagine Foundation. I would love to work with her to emulate the work of Ink 180 (Learn about them here); they are a tattoo shop specializing in removing gang tattoos and the brands of sex trafficking victim/survivor (I also got a super sweet new tattoo with them).

I guess the whole moral of this blog entry is that the people who are going to end human trafficking aren’t necessarily the suburban, educated and well-adjusted people of the world. Sometimes they’re just a 20-year-old exotic dancer who wants to make a difference.

So, what are you doing to build a more free world?


– JB

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It’s Jan 11. Here is what you should do!

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Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. So that means around the country all sorts of advocacy groups are going to be throwing out pictures meant to stir your emotions and rally support. There will be impassioned speeches & all sorts of rallying cries but at the end of the day, it is just a day…  If we truly want to make a difference we need to institutionalize the issue so that we aren’t just doing things or raising awareness on one day of the year, but on every day of our lives.


Here is a list of things that you should do today to make a difference!

1. Share That January 11th is National Human Trafficking awareness Day on Facebook or other social media.

2. Find out where you can purchase locally grown produce.

3. Buy a Fair Trade Chocolate Bar & chomp on that thing (chocolate is awesome, fair trade is even more awesome)

4. Check out these pants from All American Clothing  You can source their products all the way to the farm that grew the cotton

5. Talk to your son regarding the objectification of women. Teach them that women are people, not objects.

6. Commit to buying at least 1 refurbished piece of electronics this year

7. Try to purchase locally harvested (in the U.S.) or farmed fish

8. Don’t buy commercial sex including prostitution, porn & going to strip clubs

9. Drink a healthy cup of fair trade coffee with a ton of fair trade sugar & some locally produced cream

10. Tell others about some of the simple life changes they can make to build a more free world.


p.s. if you want to know why or how any of these things work please read through this blog or shoot me an e-mail jesse @imaginefreedom.org

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10 things to build a more free world in 2014

So 2014 came huh? I was sick & I missed the obligatory “Happy new year, blah blah blah” post that Executive Directors of non-profits are supposed to do… Sorry…I have really been slacking on the whole social media footprint & blogging thing. We’ve got a couple of big projects in the hopper & they’ve been taking up a bunch of my time. I’ll get back on it though.

Happy 2014!

Happy 2014!

To kick off the new year, how about a list. From what I see on Facebook & Buzzfeed, lists are all the rage so here we go:

10 Things that you can do to build a more free world in 2014!


1. Fair Trade Products: Fair trade products are cool, not just because the pretty girl/guy at whole foods things so but because they generate a tangible wage for the grower/producer. It’s important to note that Fair Trade products do not mean “forced labor free” products, but since the grower/producer receives a fair wage, she or he are less likely to be economically exploited or to exploit others. Check out some awesome fair trade products here: Ten Thousand Villages 

2. Don’t buy Porn or Commercial Sex: I’m a dude, I’ve always been a dude and I’ll always be a dude. I’ll be the first one to admit that I used to think porn & strip clubs & prostitution was awesome, emphasis on the USED TO… Until I started really researching the damaging effects that porn, commercial sex & prostitution has on people, I really didn’t understand. For most of my life, I looked at the people caught up in these industries as objects, not as human beings. By purchasing porn, or commercial sex you are economically validating the practices and encouraging others to engage in the same. In short, you are creating demand for it. Let’s be honest here, what is porn or commercial sex satisfying in your life. I bet you’re lonely, why don’t you try to meet someone real instead of engaging in a fantasy world. Learn a bit about the damaging effects of porn & commercial sex here from Tamara Toryn.

3. Goodweave Carpets: I’m 35 now, so all my friends & colleagues are growing up, having kids, and becoming professional & stuff… from what I understand from Facebook that means purchasing lots & lots of furnishings & cheap IKEA garbage. If you’re going for some floor coverings go Goodweave certified. They are an awesome organization that works to rid carpets of child labor & forced labor. Learn more about their company here: Goodweave

4. Vintage Jewelry & Precious Metals: I’ve written before on how I think I’m half pirate. I am a precious metals investor. Because of my love of all things gold & silver, coupled with my responsibility to be ethical I’ve discovered the vintage & secondary market for jewelry & stones. If you’ve never been before GO TO A PAWN SHOP they are awesome! There is no such thing as a used diamond, and gold settings are so cheap at pawn shops. Check them out, dudes especially… if you’re going to be proposing soon you better get your significant other a vintage ring. Think about it, “Hey honey, I want to spend the rest of my life with you, here’s a blood diamond and gold harvested by a 6 year old by gunpoint”… yeah, you don’t want that hanging over you.

5. Live the Macklemore Lifestyle: Yep, this one was stolen from my right hand girl Courtney (she coined the phrase). I don’t care what you think about Macklemore, his music, his politics or anything he stands for. His views on thrift shops rock though! Even though you most likely think about sex trafficking when you think about human trafficking, very little of the actual exploitation by the numbers has to do with sex, it is mostly manufacturing. By reusing the existing supply of anything you are reducing the financial incentive to exploit others. Check out your local thrift store!

6. Locally Grown Food: I’m lucky enough to live in Cleveland, home of a busting-at-the-gut food scene… I haven’t been to an applebees since my early 20’s. Cleveland has some serious food & luckily they have embraced the localvore movement. By eating local you are helping the environment, and humanity. If you know where you food comes from, you are less likely to be financially supporting exploitative growing practices. Eat local = end slavery & this summer, plant yourself some tomatoes too!

7. Refurbished Electronics: Geek it out this year, but do so responsibly! I’ve outline previously how purchasing refurbished electronics helps to end human trafficking. Watch the video (it has nearly 26 views). By reusing the existing supply, you are removing the financial incentive to exploit others & you are sending a serious message to manufacturers. You also save money!!! Check out some of the refurbished deals at one of my favorite sites here at  WOOT 

8. Volunteer: We need help, and every other abolitionist organization needs help too. Now this help isn’t always glamorous, sometimes it involves data entry or stuffing envelopes or sitting around in meetings but it is help that is sorely needed. Now it seems that everyone is willing to help when it comes to making impassioned speeches in front of people, or donating time overseas, but there are so many things besides that which need done. Can you see your role as a part of the big picture, instead of your role being the big picture? If you’re interested in volunteering with us shoot me an e-mail jesse @imaginefreedom.org

9. Donate: If you can’t do the time, do the dime. Yes, unfortunately building a more free world does require money, I really really wish it didn’t… Raising funds is the single most difficult thing to do for an organization because we’re busy doing our work… we’re not fundraisers. If you’ve got a few bucks toss them in the kitty, if not, consider throwing a fundraiser for an abolition organization. I know we would be forever grateful!

10. Tell others: If you’re one of the dozen or so people who have made it to the end of this blog, tell others what they can do in 2014 to help build a more free world. If we take little steps every day, we get there. If we wait around for the government, or the UN, or whoever else to step in, it’ll never get done. Tell others, don’t ever shut up.

Have a safe & happy 2014, let’s build a more free world together!

– JB


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Go Refurbished This Cyber Monday


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So, it’s the holiday season. That means there’s plenty of panic and freaking out regarding all sorts of electronic gizmos and doodads and whatnots. For decades now people have rushed to big-box retailers, standing in frigid lines awaiting their opportunity to pay hard-earned money for a bunch of plastic, wires, and batteries… well, not always batteries.  We’ve all been exposed to the dreaded “batteries not included” monster. This year, I’m wondering if you might not be into doing things just a little bit different.

 Refurbished electronics help the environment and help humanity.

If I lost you after that refurbished statement, please stay with me. For some reason refurbished electronics get a bad rap. Many people think that they’re buying someone else’s garbage, or that just because items are refurbished they’re somehow inferior; they are not. Generally speaking, factory refurbished items are just as good for a far better price.

So maybe you’re wondering why the heck I’m talking about refurbished electronics when our goal and work has to do with human trafficking?  Well, I hate to break it to you, but there’s human trafficking and economic exploitation in almost every piece of electronics manufactured today. Now sure, you naturally going to nod your head because you heard of stories of Foxconn and other manufacturers that use child labor and questionable labor practices in the assembly of their phones. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Inside of electronics are metals, precious metals. Oftentimes there is gold, silver, platinum, palladium, rhodium, copper, and a variety of other metallic elements.  These metals often originate in countries and areas that are known to use exorbitant amounts of child and forced labor. In short, kids and forced labor victims often mine and process the metals that are inside electronics.  These metals are then fabricated into parts that are then often assembled into working pieces by child and forced labor.  And unfortunately, by purchasing electronics made through exploitative practices we are economically validating those practices, which in turn encourages more exploitation. So how do we stop it?

By refurbishing and reusing the existing supply of electronics, you are discouraging exploitation and creating a demand for more ethically made and ecological products. How does this work you ask? It’s simple supply and demand. People are exploited because there is demand for brand spanking new items that contain all the metals we just talked about; brand-new items require the mining and manufacturing of brand-new metals and parts. So how do we reduce demand?  Refurbished electronics.

The refurbishing process takes factory seconds, items with blemishes, broken screens, bad batteries, or even something that was sent back because it was a display model. These items are then dissembled cleaned polished completely repaired and often given a warranty similar or even exceeding the original warranty that came with the new product. By the time the factory is done refurbishing the product is just as good as the original, but you pay significantly less for it because it is a refurbished product. The refurbishing process reuses the existing supply, which discourages future exploitation in the product lines. It’s not a perfect thing, because quite often the existing supply do have elements of exploitation in them, but  remember you are discouraging future exploitation and generating demand for more ethical alternatives in the long run.

If 20% of the American population begin regularly purchasing refurbished electronics and stating that they do so because they know that there is elements of forced and child labor in their products, manufacturers will change their policy or they will fail economically; both options are acceptable. The number 20% is not some obscure number its based on research that comes out of Malcolm Gladwell’s “tipping point”. The tipping point is where a behavior spreads exponentially (virally) and is then accepted as the norm.

This holiday season make your purchase count, make a statement with your money. Buy refurbished electronics. It’s not fair that the presents we give our loved ones may come at the expense of other people’s loved ones. It’s not fair.

 Refurbished electronics are good for the environment and good for humanity.

 Your dollar is your voice, spend wisely.


–       JB

p.s.  If you’re wondering where I buy my refurbished electronics from, I log on daily to a website called woot.com,  not all their items are refurbished but a great deal of them are.

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Et Tu Big Bang Theory?


sheldon from nerds to pimps











Pimps are nothing to be celebrated or appreciated. Pimps buy, sell and abuse women and children for fun and profit. By celebrating them, their names and their culture you are validating their practices which in turn, encourages more to engage in their behaviors.

The pimp is a social phenomena, and I’m not sure that the normal person understands what they’re saying when they use the word. If our culture understood who pimps are, they would never want to be associated with the word.

Lets examine a case story of a pimp. I’ve changed the information because I want to respect the privacy and confidentiality of all those involved. This case took place in Cleveland, Ohio.

There was a runaway girl named Heather, she bought a fake I.D. and worked as a stripper. One day, a guy went into the club and watched her strip. He asked if she was underage and she told the truth and said yes. He told Heather that the two of them could make a lot of money together.

John then began to prostitute the girl, when she wanted to leave he abused her and told her that he would kill her family. He took her out of state and trafficked her in other major cities. Again, she tried to leave but he abused her, raped her, and threatened her family. He sold Heather for quite some time before he was caught. He’s now serving a sentence in prison, Heather never truly recovered.

The word pimp needs to go away. Don’t use it to describe something good or interesting.

Words make a difference.


– JB

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Human Trafficking in Suburban Grocery Stores

cool movie scene


A brief rant about the reaction to human trafficking.


Last week, I came across a Facebook status that really and truly should not have been shared at all. However, the content created such an emotional uproar that things got out of hand quickly; several thousand shares and like and comments later, people were no longer discussing the topic of the post, but rather attacking Obamacare and gun control laws. What in the world…?!


misinformed white woman


Now read the post, then hear what I have to say. Make sure you go over everything twice in order for everything to sink in properly. I am not here to criticize this woman’s story, but I will point out how misinformation can spread exponentially, especially in regards to the issue of human trafficking.
Myth #1: Human trafficking is in Cedar Rapids.

Reality: Human trafficking can be found anywhere in the United States and all around the world. It is not just reduced to sex trafficking, either – the food we eat and the electronics we use are more than likely rooted in forced labor in many countries. This means that every time we buy chocolate, coffee, cell phones and laptops, we have made some contribution to human trafficking.


Myth #2: You will be kidnapped while grocery shopping.

Reality: While kidnapping does happen out there, human traffickers are more likely to prey upon runaways, illegal immigrants and teens who talk to strangers online.


Myth #3: Having a CCW and taking a self-defense gives you the upper hand.

Reality: For those of you who are still uncomfortable with running your errands, here are a few tips that have been derived from the methods that human traffickers may use while trying to pick up a victim in a public place…

1. Someone compliments your eyes. If a stranger (usually a man) tells you that you have pretty eyes, just look at him confidently and say, “I know, thank you,” and keep walking. Why? Human traffickers target women with low self-esteem. If you’re confident about who you are – and you should be! – then the trafficker will quickly move on to find someone else. While this may deter other men from trying to ask you on a real date, you can still rest easy that you won’t be pulling a gun on anyone today (and possibly missing).

2. Someone wants to meet you alone. While common sense should be screaming, “Stay in a group! Say no! Stranger danger!” I just thought that I should add this little ditty in case you really do feel as if you are being followed: Stay in a group, say no, and definitely tell someone about stranger danger. Store clerks and security will definitely help you out if you feel unsafe, so please do not hesitate to ask for help. I used to work a very late shift in a not-so-great neighborhood, and security was always happy to walk me to my car if I felt uncomfortable venturing into the parking lot alone.


Myth #4: Life is like a scene from “Taken.”

Reality: NO ONE IS GOING TO INJECT ANYTHING INTO YOU AND THROW YOU INTO AN UNMARKED VAN. People are taught to worry about the creepy guy in the van, but what we should really be concerned about is the nice guy online.


Fortunately, the Grand Rapids police finally stepped in and released a statement that this was only a rumor. This may have angered a few people, but that’s probably because they didn’t know the really facts about human trafficking and how to end it! You are so clever for checking in with us, and know you can pass this knowledge on to your panicked friends.


clever doctor!


Please remember that being informed and making the right decisions as a consumer are the two most important characteristics of being a modern day abolitionist! For more information, please visit our site to read more articles, talk to us and view some very informative videos about what else you can do to help children worldwide.


Courtney M.

Board Member

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Ethical choices.



Being responsible is a massive pain in the ace…


It’s currently fall in Cleveland, which means yesterday it was 75 and sunny; today it’s 35 and raining. I don’t have anything warm to wear and my new hoodie hasn’t arrived yet. To give you a little background, I order one hoodie a year. It’s black, 4xl and made by Dickies. I buy one every year, wear it daily until it gets warm enough to not wear it and by that time it is a tattered, worn piece of garbage. I buy this exact hoodie every year because it fits, it lasts, it is relatively inexpensive & Dickies is compliant with the California Transparency in Supply Chains act meaning that I can be relatively sure that no kids were forced to make my stuff.

As I said, my hoodie for this year hasn’t arrived yet and I’m currently in my favorite coffee shop writing this and shivering my ample posterior off…

This is no fault of Dickies, I ordered it yesterday… I could easily go to the store & buy another brand, but the thought of some kid being forced to work on the other side of the world is too much for me to handle anymore. I will only buy clothes made by responsible manufacturers.

I decided a while back that I would do my best to live as an example, admittedly its a huge pain but last night, for one person I saw that they understood.

I was in a think tank meeting for The Cleveland Freedom Center, a live-in human trafficking treatment center that meets three distinct precepts. The center has to be completely ethical, economically sustainable, and repeatable. The ethical part is the most difficult, because we can do no harm to any human or animal in anything we do (from the food we eat, to the products we buy).

One of our think tank members, a newly retired, old-school business man didn’t understand the need for ethical behavior on our part. After all, in the business world the ends often justify the means.

I listened as one of our think tank members, relayed perfectly the need for global ethical behavior to the old-school business man. She said that we can’t do whats right by doing whats wrong, that helping one person can not harm another.

I have never been so proud, to hear the words & ideas I’ve worked for so many years to relay, come out of someone else’s mouth. Our think tank member constructed her argument perfectly and concisely. It took her about ten minutes to tell the old guard about why we had to do our work this way.

After the lesson in ethical justification, the old-schooler walked me to my car and said “well, I guess there is some hope for this world after all”. I looked & responded  “thanks Dad, see you next week”…

We have to always remember that our planet, a small blue spinning marble is tied together in an immense system of interconnectedness. Every action elicits a reaction in our tiny-big world.

Violence won’t ever end violence, hurting someone won’t ever bring and end to pain, acting unethically won’t ever bring about a free world.

Do something every day to make the world a better place.

– JB





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Words matter!








The lone activist takes the stage, the anticipation of the crowd is palpable… She/he stands in the spotlight and says “ladies and gentlemen, we are here today because there are people in the world who are buying and selling others… it is slavery. These slaves are often bought for between 50-200 dollars, they’re sometimes forced to preform 40 sex acts a day! We need to rescue these victims… We need to fight human trafficking!!!!” And with that the crowd goes wild. They are going to find out who is behind this human trafficking and they are going to make sure that they are punished to the fullest extent of the law… Hell, forget the law, that crowd wants to hang the guilty parties…

This scenario plays out time & time again across the human rights world. It is well meaning, but not structured or effective. It is in essence, inadvertently propagating (continuing) the situation.

Let’s break this down NFL play by play style:

1. Blaming others: True, there are people who are buying and selling others. Human trafficking is often ranked among the top criminal enterprises worldwide. The reality of blaming others though is a bit more complex that it may seem. Let’s start off with sex trafficking because that’s where most everyone is interested. If you do purchase commercial sex or porn, stop it. Buying validates the practice by giving money to the producers, in essence creating a financial incentive to exploit others. Even if you don’t purchase commercial sex, you may be helping to create demand for it. Examine your purchases, do the clothes/makeup/products you buy sexualize others? I watched a cheezeburger commercial the other day, girl was grinding up on a wet sports car. What does a gyrating girl and a wet sports car have to do with my tasty burger choices? Nothing. It just so happens that guys buy cheezeburgers, and they often like sex. Buy purchasing this companies burgers after you see the addverts validates their practices. If a corporation sees that their advertisements are working, they will keep on putting them out there. In a short time that company is completely sexualizing others. Sexualized others creates demand, demand creates sex trafficking. If you want to end sex trafficking, stop blaming the “others” and start examining our own life practices. Sex trafficking exists because of demand. No demand, no supply, no trafficking.

If you’re talking forced labor in products… see above. Want to end forced labor? Stop buying stuff made by forced labor. No demand, no supply, no forced labor. Make sure the companies you buy from have a statement clearly outlining no forced or child labor, perscribe to the CARB act, & are eco-friendly (reduce, reuse, recycle helps to reuse the existing supply which in turn helps to end forced labor)

2. Calling people slaves: I will smack you in the literary face right now if you ever refer to anyone as a sex slave or a slave. I’m serious, try me! Calling someone a slave reduces them to property, they are no longer human, they are an object. By calling or refering to human beings, your brothers and sisters as a slave you are re-victimizing them. The system is called slavery; refer to the individuals caught up in the system by their clinical definitions. If a person is currently being victimized they are a human trafficking victim, post-rescue they are a human trafficking survivor. If you’re not sure what to say simply refer to them as a victim/survivor; I use that term all the time when I write & lecture.

3. Using baseless numbers: I’m a quantitative researcher. I use numbers, I love them, I thrive on them, I need them. Using numbers in human trafficking helps me to make sense of an otherwise chaotic system. The problem with the numbers associated with human trafficking is…. wait for it…. they’re mostly bunk. Before you even consider saying ANY number associated with human trafficking you have to evaluate their methodology. Don’t just parrot the number back that you heard somewhere. Examine the source, is it a peer-reviewed journal article, advocacy report, state report, or just some dude giving an estimation. Whenever I hear a number ( and note, I am an anti-trafficking activist) I will ask the person if they can prove that number. I have only found one researcher currently producing accurate numbers & that is Dr. Celia Williamson of Toledo University. Read her work.

4. Fighting human trafficking: You’re not fighting, battling, or even combating human trafficking. You’re ending it. To use “battle rhetoric” you reduce a very complex situation to a school yard scuffle. To even suggest a “fight” implies the possibility of losing which frames the argument in a dichotomy (yes or no). Trafficking is not a yes or no proposition, it is a continuum with varying levels of involvement, complicity and blame. So quit with the battle rhetoric, remove the possibility of failure & start looking towards an end. You are ENDING human trafficking.

5. The Law: It is no quiet secret that I have little-to-no respect for the government or elected officials (and yes, someday I do want to run for office because of this). I also have very little respect for laws. Human trafficking is illegal in all sorts, forms and every which way possible. Let’s have a little sociopolitical lesson right here. A few of the current federal statutes for sex trafficking are as follows §18.1519 (sex trafficking of a minor),  §18.371 (conspiring to obstruct a sex trafficking investigation of a minor), §18:2421 (Transportation in interstate commerce with intent to engage in prostitution), §18:2422 (Persuading, inducing, enticing, and coercing an individual to travel in interstate commerce to engage in prostitution), §18:2423 (Travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct), §18:1591 (attempted sex trafficking of children), §18:2251 (attempted exploitation of children/production of child porn), §18:2552 (possession of child porn), §18:2256 (distribution of child porn)…. I’m not going to put up any more valuable blog space to continue. There are plenty of laws out there banning all forms of human trafficking. You could publicly hang, draw and quarter a trafficker and john and it wouldn’t make a dent… to end trafficking, end demand. No demand, no supply, no trafficking.

6. Emotional/impassioned speeches: Every rah rah speech I’ve been to about human trafficking ends the same way. People pour out of the auditorium all riled up and then there’s a general feeling of “what next”. We need more sharks… sharks are cold-blodded, emotionless, methodical … they identify their target and then they go for it. If you want to end human trafficking identify the supporting structures and then figure out how to modify and/or stop those supporting structures. Teach people to end trafficking, don’t emotionally rile them up. Identify the problem and then present the audience with palpable and easy-to-implement solutions. That way, there is no “what next” feeling.

So there you have it. That was a bunch of words to help you frame your work. I hope it makes a difference.

If you like this blog, please share it.

– JB





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Change male culture, change the world.


Stand out in the crowd & your message will get noticed.

Stand out in the crowd & your message will get noticed.

Boys will be boys, you can’t fight human nature…

I call Bullshi-…

To state that we can’t change males outlooks, actions, & opinions is akin to saying that we are nameless, faceless, stupid-soulless beasts (reminder, I’m a dude). There is currently a war on women. I’ll go so far as to say our male-centric culture supports and almost encourages the demeaning and exploitation of women and it’s so engrained into our culture that we don’t even notice it anymore. Think I’m wrong? Look around. Look at song lyrics, don’t just jam out to the beat, but listen to the lyrics. Check out advertising. Watch commercials. You will find women objectified and demeaned, and over the decades it has becomes acceptable and unnoticed in our society.

So when we talk about sex trafficking, and most of the time is spent warning young girls about being trafficked; I ask why aren’t we doing something more on the guy end?

Let me lay it out like this. Sex trafficking is a demand-driven system. Sex trafficking occurs because men want to buy. That’s it… That’s the only reason sex trafficking occurs. It isn’t anger, or punishment, or rage or hatred or any other emotion. Sex trafficking is a business, run by traffickers, supported by johns and exploiting the victim/survivor.

If there is no demand, there is no supply!

So as advocates, why aren’t we doing more to change the ethos of the dude? (Ethos means character)

If you even think about saying that “boys will be boys” garbage I will jump through this computer screen right now…

Remember the early 80’s? That was when the entire eco-campaign kicked off. When I was a little kid, we used to walk around and when we were done with out slushies we would just throw the cups on the group and keep on walking. Then one day, I saw a commercial about not polluting (no, not the one with the crying Native American. I thought that one was weird). It was an owl and he simply said “give a hoot, don’t pollute”. Every time I turned on my cartoons, there was Woodsie the owl reinforcing that message. It spoke directly to me and Woodsie told me that polluting was bad. Then the coolest super hero in the world came out: Captain Planet . You won’t find any kid of the 80’s that can’t recite the theme song from heart: “Captain planet, he’s our hero. Gonna take pollution down to zero”…

Their messages were simple, clear and repeated all throughout my childhood and the message stuck. I am now completely and totally against pollution and it is so engrained in my thoughts and our overall culture that I would never think about throwing garbage in the environment. Their unified and continuous message changed my outlook & our country.

So here’s the deal.

We as advocates need a unified and continuous message. We need to aim it towards young men and we need to say it, and say it, and say it until it becomes part of the very fabric of an entire generation.

Let’s start right here.

Real men don’t buy girls.

If we repeat this for the next two decades, just as pollution fell, so will sex trafficking.

Don’t believe me?

Go dump a garbage bag full of trash on the sidewalk and see if it doesn’t send you into a cold-sweat panic. Eco-throughts are engrained in you.

We just need to do the same for human rights.



– JB

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Will you build a free world?

IMG_0010Forget Cancer. I haven’t been able to write lately because of doctors appts & people asking in a gentle voice if I’m ok. If you know of someone who is sick, don’t precede every conversation with a gentle “How are you doing”… it’s insulting. So let’s get this out there. I’ve got cancer, it’s not cured yet and I’m going to have to go through more surgery, chemo blah blah blah… garbage. This simple fact does not remove me from my responsibilities or my passions. I’m back to work, back to the gym and back to living every breath to build a free world.

Now that I have that angry rant off of my chest, let us begin.

As of today there are more people in bondage than at any point in human history. They are just like you & I, but their ability to choose their destiny has been removed.

Now the only question that remains is what are you going to do about it?

Don’t look to the government, don’t look to law enforcement, don’t look to the church. I have directed the question at you. What are YOU going to do about it?

Ignoring the problem is easy, forgetting about these people is easy, continuing to live your life as you do is easy. Living to build a free world is hard.

What are you going to choose?

Choice is hard. Robert Frost wrote his quote about differing paths through a forest. It’s a classically misused quote about choices and choosing a unique existance. I prefer Morpheus (yes, the Matrix). “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

So what are you going to choose? I know it’s a confrontative question and I know it’s hard to answer but it is an answer that you will have to know if you are going to proceed on this path.

Are you ready to live everyday to build a free world? A world devoid of exploitation, a world of equality, a world of fairness and love?

You & I may never get to live there, our grandchildren may never get to experience it. But our lives can mean something. Our lives can be an example for future generations and we can lay the foundation for a human race that only knows of hardship through reading history books.

Live as an example & the rest will fall into place.

– JB


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Superman ruined superheros!

jpg no superman

I’m from Cleveland. We’re the butt of jokes, we’ve been called “the mistake on the lake”. Our river was once on fire and we haven’t had a winning sports team since the creation. As a Clevelander there are a few items that one must abide by without question. These include but are not limited to an undying commitment to the Browns & Indians, a love for all things Bernie Kosar, Big Chuck & Little John ultimate respect for Dick Goddard, and an understanding that Superman was born in our hometown.

I’m going on record right now, that even though I know and can respect Siegel & Schuster giving birth to a flying spandex-wearing alien… I can’t stand Superman.

I hate everything about Superman, the logo, the blue tights, the infatuation with Lois Lane… I can’t stand his alter ego Clark Kent, the bumbling reporter… Superman sucks! And you want to know the worst part about it all? Superman ruined superheros! I know that my hated of all things from Krypton will draw some ire from our supporters but hang in there for a moment with me.

Superman teaches people that to be a hero, you’ve got to be something special, or different, or exotic. You don’t!

I was in the gym today, I love lifting weights. I’m not any good at it, but I do enjoy it. I saw a couple of my former students in there, one has cerebal palsy and is confined to a wheel chair. Kid is in there lifting, working to get rid of his “man boobs” (his terminology, not mine). That kid is a hero. His brother works out with him, when moobs (again, his terminology not mine) needs to get into one of the weight-machines his brother picks him up out of his wheel chair and puts him into the machine so he can get his lift on. Those kids are heroes because they could give up but don’t. Some freaky, spandex-wearing flying man-alien has nothing on them.

It ticks me off that the normal people of the world aren’t honored for their exceptional actions and the circumstances that they triumph over.

The young girl that made me drive into the middle of our metroparks system so I could cry like a 5-year-old princess the other day is a hero, but nobody gives a damn about her because she can’t fly or battle aliens or any such garbage. She is a survivor and that deserves more respect and admiration than any stupid Clark Kent.

The way I see it, true heroes are the individuals who wake up everyday and greet adversity, hardship, and pain with a smile and ask life “is that all you’ve got”. Those are the true heroes of the world.

Forget Superman, give respect to the normal people who kick ass for the good of the world on a daily basis.

So what’s your deal? Are you a superhero?


– JB



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