Fausto Guzman, a vineyard worker in Healdsburg, California, shares his story in Voice of Witness’s most recent release, Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy. In this passage, Guzman describes waking up in the hospital after collapsing at work.
“I remember the ambulance arriving and being inside it. The ambulance took me to the hospital in Healdsburg. I was there for one night, I think. After examining me, the doctor told me I had 45 percent saturation of carbon monoxide in my blood. My heart had stopped. I’d had a heart attack. The doctor told me that the fumes from the forklift were responsible. The forklift was damaged and giving off carbon monoxide fumes, and ventilation in the warehouse was poor. Some of my co-workers were also sent to the hospital but they were fine. That day, I was the only one who’d worked the entire time inside.
At the hospital, the doctor ran a number of tests on me and finally told me that my heart wasn’t working normally anymore, that the carbon monoxide had damaged it. He told me, “You need a pacemaker.””
To read more of Fausto Guzman’s narrative or other voices, click here.
Report from Amplifying Unheard Voices 2014
by Natalie Catasús
On the first day of Amplifying Unheard Voices, Education Program Director Cliff Mayotte posed a big question: why does telling stories matter? It was a question our group would return to over and over again during the four day oral history training run by the Voice of Witness Education Program.
Cliff and Claire, the Education Program…
In our work, we get to meet with many people affected by human rights crises and who are willing to share their stories with us and with the world. Their resilience and bravery are a constant inspiration to us and to our work. Here is Ashley Jacob’s story:
Ashley Jacobs (pictured here) told her story at her apartment, where she was eventually evacuated to by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after Hurricane Katrina. As a young girl, Ashley’s mother sent her to live with her grandmother. The abandonment was difficult for Ashley. Even though she got good grades in high school and went to college, she got into trouble in her youth from time to time. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Ashley and her boyfriend escaped and drove to Georgia to stay with a friend of her brother’s.
“…which was a hectic situation every day,” says Ashley. “During that time I wrote a lot of bad checks as it was hard for me to get a job. I didn’t have money for food…and it was the only way really at the time we could get anything. Eventually I got a job at McDonald’s.”
“By the end of 2007, my now husband and I had two kids, and I was four months pregnant…and was working two jobs, at Kmart and Pep Boys.” Even with two jobs, Ashley was behind on bills. She and a friend began finding ways to not pay for things at work. She was caught and sentenced to six months for embezzlement.
In prison and pregnant, Ashley was only able to see a doctor once. The doctor told her she was not getting enough nutrients and needed to be taking pre-natal vitamins, none of which were available to her during her incarceration. Given no special treatment for her growing pregnancy, Ashley was often hungry and humiliated.
A day before her due date she was suddenly transferred to the infirmary, which was filthy and had excrement on the walls. She was shackled and given Pitocin, a powerful drug to induce labor, against her will.
Labor had not started by that evening, so the doctor returned and, “He came in and started poking inside me with an instrument – I’m not exactly sure what it was, it looked like a little stick. It was a lot of pain and I said, ‘You’re hurting me.’ He stopped, but by then he had swollen up my insides.” Ashley was then told they would perform a c-section on her the next day.
Still shackled and against her will, the doctor came in the next day and she was forced to undergo a c-section.
“I think my medical treatment in prison was cruel, degrading and shameful,” says Ashley. “Being shackled, being forced to have a c-section – it was the worst feeling, mentally and emotionally that I have ever been through. And I feel like it would be so unfair for me to have been through this and not say anything about it to somebody.”
The trauma and shame lodged within Ashley for a year until Claire Kiefer from the Voice of Witness team showed up at her door with a smoothie and a box of pastries. Claire, a poet who’d taught creative writing to men and women in prison, had no rules, no set agenda. She played with the baby for a while on the floor of the bare-bones apartment and slowly asked Ashley to talk about her childhood, to tell her life story,“from birth to now.”
“It felt like being in the room with a counselor,” says Ashley. “I was able to cry. I was able to take breaks. I was able to get everything out that I’d been holding in. She never rushed me. She cried with me sometimes. Before she left, I knew I’d gained a friend.”
Ashley’s story became the lead narrative in the Voice of Witness book Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons, published under the pseudonym Olivia Hamilton. From the interview to the point of publication, Ashley controlled the process. She told her story in her own words and signed off on the final edited version for publication—a process she called “a cleansing.”
Today, Ashley is a registered nurse and the mother of four boys. With training from the Voice of Witness Education Program, she is also starting an oral history project focusing on women impacted by domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Voice of Witness provides a space for amplifying unheard voices. In our book series, these voices belong to men and women most closely affected by ongoing human rights crises. In our education program, we connect students with these stories and issues, and provide oral history training that helps them discover their capacity for authentic, compassionate listening.
It is our hope that you too are inspired by our work. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to empower more survivors of human rights crises like Ashley, and to foster a more empathetic, nuanced understanding about human rights issues.
Now Available from VOICE OF WITNESS
INVISIBLE HANDS: Voices from the Global Economy
Edited by Corinne Goria with a Foreword by Kalpona Akter
The men and women in this oral history collection reveal the human rights abuses occurring behind the scenes…