Thursday, July 11, 2019

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Plant survey at Breathing Space

Breathing Space Report
Richard Mandelbaum

I visited Breathing Space on August 17 2016, and was taken around the property by Angel Ramos and Ray Rios.  While walking we discussed the possibilities for the property.

The plants I identified on the property that have some potential are listed below with some notes, and then some additional thoughts at the end.

Medicinal plants growing at Breathing Space:

Jewelweed / touch me not             Impatiens sp.                                   
Useful in many topical preparations such as salves, ointments, etc.  This was abundant around the old farm house and on the trail to the river.

Witch hazel                                       Hamamelis virginiana         scattered plants
Useful in salves, ointments, tinctures, infusions.  There was not a lot on the property but it is possible we missed some.

Oak                                                     Quercus sp.                          
Oak bark is used as herbal mouth wash, topical preparations, and in small amounts in teas.  Smaller trees could be harvested for inner bark by thinning out the woods without disturbing mature trees.

Blue cohosh                                       Caulophyllum thalictroides
This herb is an over-harvested native plant, and is listed by the United Plant Savers as “at risk” so it needs to be protected.  That said there was more wild blue cohosh growing at Breathing Space than I have ever seen anywhere else – enough to harvest it sustainably, and it could be propagated in the woods to maintain the population.

Goldenrod                                         Solidago spp.
This is a common plant but there is enough here to include as a tincture, tea. etc. for wild harvesting.

Chaga                                                 Inonotus oliqua
This fungus that grows on birch trees (yellow and black birch) is used medicinally.  It is not very abundant though so it would be best to use in small amounts or for educational purposes.

Hemlock                                            Tsuga canadensis
This is the native hemlock tree, a conifer, not the poisonous hemlock which is a completely different plant.  The hemlock tree’s needles can be distilled into essential oil.

Yarrow                                               Achillea millefolium
Yarrow is a commonly used medicinal herb that can be made into tincture, tea, etc.  There was a fair amount growing on the lawn by the buildings.

Solomon’s seal                                  Polygonatum sp.
Solomon’s seal can be made into tincture or used as tea.  There is not a large amount of it growing but it could be propagated in the woods.

Lobelia                                               Lobelia inflata
Lobelia is most often used as tincture.  There is a small amount growing by the river.

Black cherry                                      Prunus serotina
Black cherry is abundant on the property, especially in the woods on top of the hill.  The inner bark is used as tea or tincture.  Smaller trees could be harvested for inner bark by thinning out the woods without disturbing mature trees.

Mugwort                                           Artemisia vulgaris
Mugwort is a common roadside weedy herb; at Breathing Space it is mostly by the edge of the woods near the old farm house and in that general area.  Mugwort can be dried as tea or tinctured, is used in Chinese traditional medicine as moxa and as tea, and also by local herbalists.

Sugar maple                                      Acer saccharum
Sugar maple is fairly abundant on the property.  Perhaps someone who has experience tapping trees and making maple syrup could evaluate the feasibility for Breathing Space.

Black / sweet birch                          Betula lenta
Black birch bark is used as a tea or can also be tinctured, or distilled into essential oil.  Smaller trees could be harvested for inner bark by thinning out the woods without disturbing mature trees.  The trees can also be tapped for birch water (a traditional beverage in Europe and becoming increasingly popular in NYC and the area), or made into birch syrup.

Hawthorn                                          Crataegus sp.
There were several hawthorn trees growing in the woods on top of the hill.  More could easily be planted.  The leaf, flower, and fruit are all used as tea or tincture.

Black walnut                                     Juglans nigra            
We didn’t see this on our walk but Angel and Ray mentioned there is a fair amount growing in the area that they have access to.  The green hulls are harvested and dried for tea or tinctured.

Thoughts and Next Steps:
The woods at Breathing Space have enough medicinal plants naturally growing for some small-scale production of remedies and educational purposes. 

·         Preparing herbal teas would require drying facilities.  I can imagine part of the barn being converted into an effective drying facility and perhaps funding could be sought for that.  There would no doubt be county or state health codes, or USDA regulations to comply with. 
·         Ointment, salve, cream, and/or tincture making would require some additional equipment, although to begin it would not have to be expensive.  On the other hand, the FDA has oversight of tincture making so a facility would ultimately have to comply with the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices (although in reality many very small companies do not).

Growing and Harvesting:
·         The open space by the buildings could potentially support a very small amount of herb growing. 
·         Often people separate wild crafting and growing with a strong line, but it is not always so black and white.  One possibility to strongly consider in my opinion would be woodland cultivation.  Garden beds can be prepared within the woods, simulating natural habitat and without much disturbing of existing trees and shrubs.  In this way many of the plants listed above could also be cultivated in the woods so that the native population does not diminish.    Also, many additional plants could be considered for wild-simulated propagation, such as our native American ginseng, goldenseal, black cohosh, and others.  These can be valuable crops that can be grown within a natural woodland setting, and are native plants so would also be a way of repopulating the woods with important native herbs.  Another use of woodland would be to grow mushrooms on logs, such as shiitake mushrooms.

Educational opportunities:
·         Breathing Space’s commitment to the ecological well-being of the land was very clear and impressive to me while there.  Breathing Space may want to look into the Botanical Sanctuary program of United Plant Savers, an organization dedicated to preserving our native medicinal plants.  This is the link to learn more:
·         The land could be used as a teaching space for community members to identify herbs, prepare and use remedies for affordable and natural family and self-care.  Partnerships with local herbalists, herb schools, and others could facilitate this and build capacity.
·         Herbal study groups for the community and for students of herbal medicine.
·         On-site education including signs on the trails, brochures or pamphlets describing the plant life and how the herbs can be used. 

We also discussed potentials for community partnerships with the ArborVitae student clinic.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Breathing Space keeps making an impact through its Mikey Likes It investment
Check out the story:

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Dear Friends,
            As another year comes to a close Breathing Space would like to take this time to thank all its supporters, volunteers, staff and everyone who has come to visit for another successful year. You’re help, encouragement and wise counsel has been invaluable to the successful transformation of our clients.  Thank You!
            This year as many of you may know, we had great client successes. One of our client’s transitioned out to a family life and new job and other client moved into permanent housing with family services continuing to be provided. We continued to mentor youth and help provide summer job opportunities for them though our entrepreneurial project.
Our plans for next year include providing services to women in crisis and those on a re-entry journey. We are currently working with other nonprofits to grow this service area and are excited for the work to come. We hope with your support to continue providing temporary housing and other services to our communities of care.
            Once again we thank you for your support and dedication to those in need and invite you to attend our events and purchase our products. Please visit us at: and direct your contributions and questions there.
            Here’s to our mission of creating a healing community for men and women returning from prison. That creates entrepreneurial green businesses that sustain our community and the reinvigoration of our most valuable resource: PEOPLE.

Thank you,

Angel Ramos,
Chief Operating Officer
Breathing Space Inc.
(917) 280-6944

Monday, July 6, 2015

Slavery still alive and denied.

Check this article out:


23 Cents an Hour? The Perfectly Legal Slavery Happening in Modern-Day America

The government and corporations have a pool of powerless, exploitable workers in skyrocketing prison populations.
By Terrell Jermaine Starr / AlterNet July 1, 2015
Photo Credit:
If you thought slavery was outlawed in America, you would be wrong. The 13th amendment to the Constitution states that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
In plain language, that means slavery in America can still exist for those who are in prison, where you basically lose all of your rights.  (You don’t gain a lot of your rights back when you get out of prison, either, but that is a different story.) So, given the country’s penchant for rapacious capitalism, it may not come as a surprise that there is much of the American prison system that exploits American prisoners much like slaves.
In fact there is large-scale exploitation in American prisons benefiting American corporations and the military-industrial complex. UNICOR, better known as Federal Prison Industries, or FPI, is a government-owned corporation that employs inmates for as little as 23 cents per hour, to provide a wide range of products and services under the guise of a “jobs training program.” In theory, this is supposed to give inmates skills that will prepare them for the workforce upon release.
Critics of FPI have long claimed it exploits prisoners who don’t have the right to organize for representation to protect their rights and it unfairly competes with small businesses that can’t provide goods and services for the average pay of 92 cents an hour FPI workers make. The program employs around 13,000 prisoners per year. In 2013, it reported gross revenue of $609.7 million.
According to FPI’s website, inmates employed in the program carry out a wide range of services that include making house and office furniture, mattresses, flags, traffic signs and military items. These items are usually made for other federal agencies, but private companies can contract workers through FPI as well.
It is no surprise that the inmate/slave labor force has grown along with mass incarceration in America. The Prison Policy Initiative counts 2.3 million people in prison, according to the 2010 census, by far the highest rate of incarceration in the developed world.
Many more are ensnared in the criminal justice system’s other branches. At the end of 2013, nearly 5 million adults were either on probation or parole, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics. All of these populations and even those not even convicted of a crime are vulnerable to exploitative fees and byzantine rules seemingly designed to catch people and get them back into the grips of the prison system. Basically, there is a trifecta of exploitation in the American criminal justice system. As reported on AlterNet, the bail system in America keeps many people in jail in a massive form of pretrial detention one has to buy one's way out of. And police departments are increasingly funding themselves by charging poor people exorbitant fees for minor infractions.
In terms of prison labor, one of its controversial services is the production of solar panels. Reuters reports that Suniva Inc, a Georgia-based solar cell and panel maker, uses prison labor for 10 percent of its manufacturing needs to keep its costs low so it can, in part, keep up with producers from China. The company is also backed by Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Over the last 18 months, Suniva moved all of its solar panel assembly to the United States from Asia. Suniva’s deal with FPI helps it to avoid U.S. government tariffs on Chinese-made panels and capture lucrative government contracts. Roughly 200 inmates make solar panels in factories at prisons in Sheridan, Oregon and Otisville, New York, according to Reuters.
Solar panels made in America are more efficient in generating electricity from the sun, allowing companies like Suniva to sell them at premium rates. As for the inmates, Suniva’s vice president of global sales and manufacturing Mike Card says he doesn’t know how much they are paid.
Manufacturing solar panels is actually a good skill to have, but according to Alex Friedman, managing editor of Prison Legal News, FPI has no job placement program for inmates once they are released.
“You can have lots of skills, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get a good job when you get out,” Friedman told AlterNet. “You can be really skilled at whatever it is, diesel engines even, but you also have a felony record. You’re getting out from prison after five or two years or whatever it is and starting from scratch.”
Another field where FPI inmates are providing labor is through military contracts. In 2013, federal inmates stitched more than $100 million worth of military uniforms for the Department of Defense, according to the New York Times. The federal inmates who make these garments earn no more than $2 per hour, something that puts competing small businesses that have to pay at least minimum wage at a major disadvantage.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Defy Ventures--Breaking the Cycle of Generational Incarceration

Ex-cons make the best entrepreneurs. Many of the talents and skills learned by running drug networks on streets are the same skills needed to run a successful start-up.

That's the sentiment of Catherine Hoke (Rohr), founder of Defy Ventures, a non-profit that takes ex-cons from prison, provides an MBA-type education, and teaches them how to create and run a successful entrepreneurial start-ups, how to be their own boss.

Catherine became motivated to start her nonprofit after visiting the Texas prison system. Most of the prisoners she saw were incarcerated for hustling, gang activity, and misdemeanor. She saw what others might not see--talented men and women who ran and managed successful businesses via illegal methods.

The nonprofit sprang from the notion, "If these men and women had "access to the fundamentals of legal business and a support network to coach them," these former ex-cons could become highly successful entrepreneurs.

For the ex-cons entering her program, become a boss was very appealing. Being an ex-con isn't simply a negative stigma, it's an entire mindset that needs a serious overhauling. And it's a burden that weighs heavily on the psyches of those released from prison.

It also makes reintegration into society extremely difficult, so difficult that a year after release from prison, "up to 60% of formerly incarcerated people don't have jobs" according to Business Insider. Without a job and a change in mindset, of the 650,000 people who are released annually from prison, over two-thirds will be rearrested within three years.

In addition, these men and women who only know life in the prison system will set up a legacy for their children. According to Hoke, "70% of children of prisoners follow in their fathers’ footsteps." She felt the best way to break the generational pattern of incarceration was to teach ex-cons how to become legal providers, active parents, and community leaders.

If you know of someone who might benefit from Catherine Hoke's vision, drop her note.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


A great interview which a good freind Tony Papa about the current need to bleed money from taxpayers by generating fear.....