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nashville 01Sr. Grace Miriam PleimanTwo of Tamar’s Place (Cincinnati) newest volunteers from Kentucky and myself attended Thistle Farms First National Conference in Nashville, Tennessee on October 13-15, 2013. Thistle Farms was named by its founder, Episcopal Priest Becca Stevens, who discovered one lonely thistle flower growing out of a mud field ruined by the flood of 1989 in Nashville. Is there any wonder where she got the name?

One year earlier, Becca established Magdalene Community Center to bring about restoration and healing for adult survivors of prostitution, human trafficking and addiction. Magdalene Center consists of four buildings which house 22 women in recovery at any given time. During the program’s two year duration, the women work at the Thistle Farms factory or the Thistle Stop Café. While Magdalene is the treatment program, Thistle Farms is the social enterprise that employs the women in the factory where candles and lotions are made from the thistle flowers picked along the roadside. These products are manufactured and packaged for sales in Whole Food stores and on line.

During our tour, the women themselves proudly explained their individual jobs. Thistle Farms is self- sustaining and helps support Magdalene Center. For women who are not yet ready to live on their own after Magdalene, there are two additional transitional houses where they can be employed to work in the factory. Magdalene Center affiliates with the Sexual Assault Center in Nashville where the women are offered in-depth therapy to work through sexual and emotional abuse. The staff, who are all survivors of abuse and/or addiction, are convinced that unless deep childhood wounds are healed, the women are likely to relapse. Peer mentoring is a strong aspect in these houses, and staff live separately from the residents.

dotnashville 02The thistle flowersnashville 03The factory of the Thistle Frams

A substantial source of revenue for Magdalene Center comes from the John School. This was established in conjunction with the Justice and Court Systems for men with a first arrest charge for violence toward women. These men have the option to pay $300 to attend one eight hour education day or go to jail. The classes are conducted by a former District Attorney and a Certified Therapist every other month. The School has made an impact on interrupting the cycle of supply and demand.
In the past two and a half years, over 1000 people from 100 cities have visited Magdalene Center and Thistle Farms to attend Becca’s monthly education workshops. The inspiration to host this conference was birthed in response to the growing demand to learn about her model. Both St. Louis and New Orleans have begun to duplicate the model.

nashville 04A supporter of Becca's educational programs

In an article in The New York Times, Sunday, October 13, 2013 is a quote by Shelia Simpkins who said, “I would be dead by now if it weren’t for a remarkable initiative by the Reverend Becca Stevens to help women escape trafficking and prostitution in Nashville.”

For more information, visit:

Sister Grace M. Pleiman, SFP

Published: November 25, 2013

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