By Be Scofield
“It is not the talking about people who abuse power that fractures communities. It is the abuse of power that fractures communities and the people in them.” — Eva Blake
Ashevillage was my dream. It’s an all women run eco-urban permaculture community near downtown Asheville, NC. I spent two months there in the spring of 2016, first as an AirBnB guest and then as a staff member. I couldn’t believe it was real. As a trans person it was incredible to be in community with other women in such a powerful way.
The founder, Janell Kapoor, had what people wanted — meaningful work, community, housing, land, connections and a vision. She attracted smart, talented people from all over the country. Natural builders, environmentalists, gardeners, digital strategists and healers showed up eager and idealistic, ready to create the change this world needs so badly.
A former staff member describes Janell as “a master organizer and master visionary. She really is amazing at what she does. She organizes and motivates people into a vision as a common vision to get on board and put their energy into things.” For many years she’s been working tirelessly as a natural builder, environmentalist and change maker for the betterment of the planet.
She had built a name for herself in the natural building community after her work in Thailand teaching cob and adobe building techniques to displaced villagers. Janell continued doing natural building work in service with her non-profit Kleiwerks, teaching and building on the west coast and Asheville. She formed Ashevillage around 2007 and began hosting workshops, trainings and programs there.
Living and working together at Ashevillage was beautiful. In one room someone might be teaching about soil and worms. In another room folks would be planning a social change based online telesummit. We shared meals, taught each other skills, went for hikes in the 60 acre forest behind the property, went dancing, had deep conversations and sat by the fire late into the night.
The description on the website is nothing short of magical:
“Ashevillage Sanctuary is a women-led, community-oriented, 1.3 acre residential permaculture oasis a few blocks from downtown Asheville, NC & bordering 60 acres of woodland trails. Our purpose is to help anchor the wild & divine feminine on the planet in this time. Our values center around creating the world we want to live in by putting our beliefs into practice in our own backyard, working with regenerative systems & living skills, exploring the feminine/masculine spectrum & all manners of authentic & sensual living. Interests revolve around social, ecological & restorative justice; healing & ceremonial arts; human evolution in relationship with Gaia; authentic relating, intimacy, eros; permaculture, resilient living, food as medicine & more. Our site includes 4 connected properties + an integrated living systems landscape + beautiful edible, medicinal & pollinator gardens.”
In theory, Ashevillage was the perfect environment for our dreams to be nurtured. In reality, it was the nightmare of a deeply wounded healer that left countless people traumatized, broken and lost. It was a place where our dreams went to die.
At this time of great accountability, transparency and transformation on our planet we must address what has happened at Ashevillage and imagine a new way forward.
By all accounts Ashevillage was a very unhealthy and toxic work environment run by a controlling, manipulative and abusive leader. Over the last ten years dozens of people — mostly young women and queer men — have been burnt, betrayed and exploited by Janell. People showed up excited and hopeful and left dissatisfied, broken or traumatized. Ashevillage was pretty much the exact opposite of what it claimed to be.
One former staff member told me at first she had an “amazing vision of being there — cultivating myself as a farmer, speaker for earth, connecting other people to plants and place.” Things went south quickly after arriving. She told me she “was taken advantage of. My gifts were seen but exploited and not valued.” She described Janell as “a manipulative, cunning and deceitful person.” I asked her to list her main problems with working there:
- Working outrageously hard, not getting paid or credited for work.
- Being critiqued all the time.
- Nothing is ever good enough. Very manipulative air about her. Working for her was a very imbalanced dynamic.
- Never felt worthy as a human being. She never treated me as a human being. Treated others as sub human. She knocks people down. Very discouraging leader. Very painful to live under her rule.
- Wanted power, control and money. She was greedy about money and people’s resources. Wanted it all to benefit her organization at the lowest denominator.
I witnessed and heard about people breaking down in tears from the way Janell treated them. “It felt abusive,” one former staff member told me. People were often pushed to their max, overloaded with tasks and jobs, not appreciated, critiqued frequently and exploited beyond measure.
“She had a way of breaking people down and making them second guess themselves.”
There are numerous, highly skilled and talented people that have come to Ashevillage only to leave upset in explosive, tear-filled or traumatic exits. One former staffer told me, “two separate people, separate times, similar capacity — enlisted to be able to really help the organization grow — both left disillusioned, having a very traumatic crying fit. They were just dumbfounded, asking ‘how did this happen?’”
“Janell was only friends with people at Ashevillage in so much as she could take advantage of them,” one former staff member told me. It was “I like you because of what you can do for me” they said. If someone was too strong willed she would say “that person is gonna have to go.” She had a history of “hiring really empathetic people who would support her. She was very manipulative. She knew it was a skill she had.”
Crafting an idealistic vision that young, talented people would dedicate themselves to was one of her strengths. One person who knows her well told me that she’s a “master manipulator. She is great about drawing people to a good cause and then using a lot of idealism and ultimately a lot of good intentions and naivety — she’s predatory in that way.” And then the same pattern emerges over and over again. She will exploit, take advantage of and use them for whatever she can. She “would always sell people on these benefits — you’re gonna get experience doing this and doing that…etc. Things would get sidelined though or shifted or demoted….That’s how you get people’s buy in and support, by promising certain things.”
“She is truly one of the most narcissistic, sociopathic people I’ve ever encountered, all dressed up in a new age loving kindness facade. She’s VERY appealing upon first impression; gorgeous, sensual, impressive, visionary… but upon closer inspection, she is terrifying and incomprehensible.”
Janell would often degrade staff members while they were in important situations. I remember hearing about how a staff member was once sitting in an important meeting and Janell came in and told her to go pick up garbage in the garden in front of them. Another time she asked someone to go weed flowers in the driveway during an important conversation.
One former staff member told me Janell would intentionally push people’s boundaries and create awkward situations merely to watch people “squirm.” She apparently liked watching people become uncomfortable and used that weakness and vulnerability as way to break them down and get in their heads.
“Perfectly normal things that I did there I cannot do. Sitting in circle and sharing gives me PTSD. It was such a ritual there that now I can’t shake this.”
Numerous people described her behavior as narcissistic to me. And she exhibits all of the characteristics of textbook Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
“She has bad blood with everyone”
From not honoring larger financial agreements, breaking promises or manipulating them to not paying for handiwork and just being insensitive and uncaring there are numerous examples of how Janell has burned people.
A former staff member told me about how she screwed over a contractor and then was very difficult with him even during mediation. She only trashed the person behind their back they said. “She completely burnt him. He did all this work. Main project manager, land development coordinator and she wasn’t even gonna pay him.” Other times she’d change contracts and then just not fulfill them. Betrayal around money was a huge complaint that repeatedly came up.
It was common for paying interns in the programs to leave early, “On several different occasions, interns have come spent money to do a program — then they’d not get the fulfillment, quit before the program was over and leave saying ‘I just got taken advantage of’ ‘I didn’t learn what I was supposed to.” One staff member told me that an entire batch of interns even all bailed in the middle of night.
“At some point all the interns turned against her and one night they all packed up and left and never came back.”
One person broke off their friendship with Janell in part because of the way she was treating another member who was old and dying of HIV. He remembers how one person told her “Janell back the fuck up. Wake up. This is supposed to be one of your best friends and you are hounding him when you should be helping him.” He said she wanted him to “be her legal consultant, business consultant, negotiator…Anywhere she’d find a willing participant or free labor she just ran with it.”
Lots of smaller insensitive and careless behaviors added up over the years. Disrespectfully over extending the use of someone’s tools, damaging a friends car and not acknowledging it and building a gray water catch basin that stepped into a neighbors yard when they explicitly agreed that wouldn’t happen. I remember hearing a story about how Janell told a staff member that she was deeply insulted and offended at her grammatical mistakes in what they both knew was a draft. Janell even hit her 70-year old neighbors vehicle and wasn’t going to say anything. The elderly woman who was on limited income had to chase her down so Janell would pay her.
“My God I heard so many stories when I was there about ways that she had disrespected people’s labor and investment of creativity, sometimes destroying projects in front of the students who had just created it as a demonstration of her whimsical misapplied power.”
Janell’s inability to run the organization in a healthy, mature way led to numerous staff members being frustrated and upset. One former staff member explained:
“She was a poor leader. She didn’t show up for work most days until 12 and then would spend half the day complaining about she was tired and didn’t sleep. She was victimizing herself to get sympathy.
She was involved in every detail micromanaging every thing. She never trusted us. She’d tell you that you did everything wrong. She always meddled. I could never just do my thing even when I had my own plan.”
“I always found it interesting that she’d sleep till noon, wake up and make personal calls for a few hours, lounging in bed, then get up and passive-aggressively point out her disappointment that others hadn’t done everything she wanted, exactly the way she wanted.”
Another former resident shares their account from around January-April of 2017:
“The interns have to pay a $500 deposit and she won’t give it back to them if they don’t fulfill their time contract. But they can’t take it and have to leave because she is crazy and she keeps their money. There is no permaculture is happening what soever. Mostly just women’s yoni massage and airbnb guests. It’s such a farce and illusion…
He was doing natural building work for her. She was telling him to complete an insane amount of work by a timeframe that was not available and wouldn’t listen to him when he’d explain how he needed to do things differently for the sake of quality.
She’d also use toxic paint over naturally designed buildings and call it organic and eco.
And every time she came into the guest house she had a complaint and was critical to everyone. They call her a dictator.
Her interns weren’t allowed to have anyone over either. And when guests came to the guesthouse the interns and the ones who were paying 750 were not allowed to use the house to shower!!! Everyone would have to sleep outside and still work 40 + hours a week in the winter time.”
Another person that has known her for over 10 years:
“She is truly one of the most narcissistic, sociopathic people I’ve ever encountered, all dressed up in a new age loving kindness facade. She’s VERY appealing upon first impression; gorgeous, sensual, impressive, visionary… but upon closer inspection, she is terrifying and incomprehensible…She has fucked over everyone I know who has been involved with her. There are some very specific examples of abuse of power, as well as law breaking that might have shut her down — I just don’t have the energy to put toward anything to do with her. Ashevillage being shut down would be a blessing — because it’s so impressive and appealing for young change makers, who she attacks and manipulates for her own benefit. It’s tragic really.”
One of the natural builders who used to travel to Ashevillage to teach there, Mark Lakeman:
“She’s not changed. What I saw last time was worse than ever and truly monstrous.
Several nights when I was at Ashevillage people asked me to come with them to meet others and hear their stories, up past 3am at times. They told me so many horror stories. It was really like a group of survivors needing to compare notes, everyone said that they felt like they were going crazy and they needed to verify with each other because they felt like they almost had to question their sanity. What everyone was going through was unbelievable to them, and the people who were either on staff at the time or who were previous staff all talked about how frightened they were of even speaking with each other. Janelle had done an amazing job of scaring them all into submission
I can also say how disrespected ALL the leaders and teachers feel, whom I know, that have worked with her. How she interrupts us during our lessons, even mid sentence, going utterly tangential, off topic, hijacking the focus while time us running out.
She has me come to teach, then doesn’t even tell me I have a building project until I get there. Treated my assist person like total lesser being, didn’t care how un prepared I was, hogged the time I needed to get ready or work with people. Everyone around me was clearly upset and I could see they were terribly disrespected.”
And she never would apologize for anything I’m told. She would never say anything like “I’m sorry and didn’t mean to treat you that way” a former staff member told me. They continued, “I never saw the humanness in her. How can you be so devoid of basic humanness?”
“I would say I was just heart broken in a sense. I had hopes that I would be safely rooted in a community of sacred sisterhood. I ultimately felt exploited in the last place on earth that I thought I could be.”
Despite never apologizing, she would, when forced to, admit that she had stuff to work on but then never did.
“Happens over and over again — have these morning meetings and it will fall apart. Had a handful of interns all really upset with what they were getting from it. One or two dropped out — she’ll come to this place when cornered and she’ll admit ‘yes, this is my blindspot.’ ‘I’m really working on this on myself,’ but then it doesn’t change anything. Super strong and entrenched pattern of utter narcissism. She is incapable of fully seeing and changing.”
Janell’s inability to accept other expert opinions also led to frustrated relationships, conflicts and poor results on projects. She thought she was good at everything and would often discount the life experience of wise people who were there to help.
One story captures how unsafe it was for some people to work at Ashevillage:
There was a young man who volunteered before it was officially Ashevillage who was struggling with demons that had haunted him his whole life. One of his tasks was to clean up the basement in one of the houses. There, he encountered an overwhelming infestation of black mold. He informed Janell who told him she’d reimburse him for a particulate mask (about $20), but he had to bike out to Tunnel Rd. to get one. The mask was really inadequate for the amount of mold in that basement, and he really should have just quit, but he sallied forth.
Needless to say, he ended up sick and had to cease work. He then requested the money he was owed (they’d actually negotiated for him to receive actual pay), which including the mask, was about $90. He left voice messages, sent texts, emailed… and was mostly ignored or put off. Eventually, after he had a breakdown and ended up at Copestone, someone in the community had to confront Janell and demand payment. Her response was to ask who he was talking about — she literally didn’t remember — though she ultimately did pay up.
Ashevillage also hosted numerous workshops with leaders in the natural wellness, healing and building communities. I’ve heard that several of them, some rather well known, have decided to no longer teach at Ashevillage. It’s another unfortunate loss to our community.
“Everything about Ashevillage is illegal”
Several people have raised issues of the legality of Ashevillage:
“Ashevillage operates illegally. It is a business operating in residential zone and bending the homestay laws for AirBnBs in Asheville. She now skirts around that by not paying people. None of the buildings in the back are permitted, none are built to code, and when the city came to inspect, she had an army of people (men being paid $10/hour and women being paid about $2/hour, who were under nourished) filling in a stream in the back with garbage, which was created by siphoning city water.
Several of the buildings are not to code, were put up without permits, and there are mountains of garbage buried in the backyard. That place in not an oasis. It’s a hell hole.”
“Everything about Ashevillage is illegal and, as a result, a disrespect to the neighbors. The business is run on private property that is not zoned for the work that’s happening there and as a result, it’s noisy from constant construction and groups of people passing through (not to mention taking up a good portions of the neighborhood parking spaces). The tiny home dwellings went up without permits, and were labelled ‘storage sheds.’ The electric wiring and plumbing that extends the four properties were installed by uncertified work traders: dangerous. Rain catchment and pond systems were (illegally) installed, and over the years, they were not maintained and now breed mosquitoes and pose serious storm water run-off risks for the neighboring homes. Property lines are ignored, there are structures and systems on the neighbor’s property. To shut it down…that’s all that really needs to be said.”
Janell was renting out rooms nightly at Ashevillage on Airbnb which was against code as you need a permit and have to live in the dwelling. Since the rooms being rented were in the guest house where no one lives permanently it is in violation of code. Rooms are still being rented as of today, but I’m not sure about which ones or for how long exactly.
Ashevillage has also morphed beyond it’s original eco-urban permaculture origins greatly:
“What started as a visionary center for permaculture and natural building is now a place where rooms are rented by the hour for sex work. Not saying there is anything wrong with sex work — my intention in mentioning it is merely to call a spade a spade.”
Janell was also known for throwing sex parties at Ashevillage. One former member describes the situation:
“We all shared one house, and only after moving there learned that sex parties took place in that house. There were times we were requested to not be at the house…I definitely felt shamed for not wanting to converse openly about my sexual preferences and experiences etc with anyone who asked.”
Physical Violence & Abuse
Former lover Terry Wayne Kirkland describes physical abuse from Janell:
“I had to defend myself from her. I tore my left shoulder trying to get her out of my bedroom at 51 Linden Ave. She had destroyed my altar and was throwing my Jade plants at me…I threatened calling police….but settled for pushing her into the hallway and locking the door. Waited her out..she finally left my house. On the way home from the third session (from passenger seat) she came undone and clawed the side of my face like she was running her nails down a chalk board…almost taking my left eye out…still have the scars….I had pulled into mission hospital parking lot so I could be visible by the public.”
People would over extend themselves for Janell’s vision. Many people worked their hearts out for the greater good. Yet, all of these efforts were going into a privately owned set of properties that were having their value increased. And Janell did everything for herself. One person who used to be close to her shared their thoughts on the nature of her organization:
“Disappointing to see the manipulations — using the guise of new age service in the name of capitalistic narcissism — old service to self, money, demeaning people. It’s a known pattern of abuse for those of us that have been around for awhile in communities like this. It’s unfortunate when you have these visionary leaders that are thriving on an old control system rather than introducing what Ashevillage could be. It’d be wonderful if it were a true non-profit, a true collective so people could come in and take that out into the world. I don’t see that happening.”
Another person speaks to the reality about the financial situation:
“It’s like she’s building an empire — not sure how that corresponds with cooperation, just economics, equitability, social justice. She uses this facade of being kind of destitute. In a lot of ways she does use people’s good intentions and pulls strings to her advantage. She will nickel and dime the poorest, most desperate of people. To know her background and the worth of her family — her parents own millions and millions of dollars of property. They bought the houses. All the property is in their name. It’s like poor old Janell barely getting by with this little old non-profit but her back is covered and then some — this destitute poverty level stuff, barely getting by is all theatre.”
Another echoes the sentiment:
“It’s a non-profit, I don’t have money, it’s for the community, see all the good things I do.’ That’s how she sells it. If everyone knew there that this is all owned by her family, she has no intention of giving back. Offer some free workshops, do some community service. In order to participate in an Ashevillage workshop you’re gonna pay $300 or more. I never saw a spirit of giving back or generosity. It’s only what can you give me to honor me and my vision? A few people that would collaborate with her said she would always want the credit. She was very clear that this was her program and that she wanted the glory and recognition for it. Everyone would always feel burned. She didn’t recognize or acknowledge them.”
“I learned that things aren’t always as they seem, that capitalism weaves its divisive and hierarchical ways into even the most beautiful visions for a new earth.”
“I think the real story is about fraud, and I would like to add that Ashevillage was promoted as a non-profit, which in my opinion, it was not. That was money laundering for her and her family which owned everything. Anytime the board of directors questioned her, they were forced out. She even had a city supervisor friend on her board that help skate around zoning laws for the illegal pond and campsites she had. It was laughable that her website had pics of my backyard and gardens as part of Ashevillage Institute. I consulted and helped her acquire the land parcel behind my house, that I had first right of refusal to by the previous owner. She bullied and stalked the buyer into finally capitulating and it falling out of escrow and she acquired it. It is endless.”
In referring to the natural building she teaches one person said “She learned it free and then charged an exorbitant amount and they are just indigenous methods of building.”
Janell would often tell people she’d pay them and never would:
“One of my own interns here in Portland tells me stories of how he was commissioned to build the amphitheater, that teaching space behind one of the buildings and told that he would be paid for his work. Yet once he was done with that back-breaking project, she maintained that he had said he had volunteered to do the project. This is a beautiful man who gives lots of time and energy to support other people, but he had been clear with her that this was a job. She totally took advantage of him and days and days of his life energy and ended up with a free Amphitheater and didn’t pay him.”
And one woman was invited into Janell’s “gifting circle” which was a harmful scheme that left many women devastated:
“What I do know is that Janell started a few of the scams in town a few years back (women circles… women would need to give $1500-$5000 for a space in these circles in hopes to walk out with $20,000-$40,000 or more. ) This is an unsustainable pyramid scheme….this is just another form of her abuse of this community. I watched many women/ friends “gift” her money never to see it again. Many borrowed or took out credit Card loans to pay for this scam. I almost got wrapped up in it myself but once hearing her involvement I jumped ship. The community was torn apart… completely devastating for a woman to do this to others in such a small community.”
There was even an article in the Asheville Mountain Express about them.
And someone else posted on Facebook at the time: “I’ve watched SO MANY women in Asheville get burned by gifting circles… Relationships ruined, money lost, respect destroyed.”
And for someone running a non-profit who claims to have no money she certainly doesn’t act like it:
“She loves to eat the most expensive food, she treats herself lavishly, she goes out for expensive restaurant food and drinks all the time…”
One former staff member told me “She conned Greenlife into giving her food — people are paying to be interns, part of that is the meals are included. She used the free food and recapitulated into food for lunches. Interns are paying for local, organic, healthy lunches and they’re getting sushi rolls that we’ve taken apart and mixed in with other stuff.”
Long Term Damage
Some of the former staff members sought out therapy to deal with the trauma of working under Janell. A while ago I remember that one person told me she was in therapy for 6 months while there and that almost all of her time spent in sessions was used talking about Janell and Ashevillage. She spent thousands of dollars. Another spent a year in therapy in which a significant portion was dedicated to Janell.
“Several nights when I was at Ashevillage people asked me to come with them to meet others and hear their stories, up past 3am at times. She’s not changed. What I saw last time was worse than ever and truly monstrous.”
When I was there many of our evenings out were spent venting, processing and decompressing from the toxic environment. Others were surprised they still had friends given how much they complained about Janell and Ashevillage to them.
I asked one former staff member if their time at Ashevillage had any longer term impact on them. She said she had PTSD. “Perfectly normal things that I did there that I cannot do. Sitting in circle and sharing gives me PTSD. It was such a ritual there that now I can’t shake this.”
Another person told me she used things shared in vulnerable space against them and that it took a long time to recover:
“You share something in an intimate, vulnerable space and then use that as a weapon against me. It was scary that someone could have the lack of conscience or integrity to do that. Things I shared about my family she used to beat me up. Took me a couple years just to get through the emotional brutality of it.”
What’s perhaps most concerning is that Janell seems to be unaware of how harmful her actions have been. As one former staff member said, “she doesn’t know she’s so manipulative, there’s no culpability if you can’t see or admit it.”
It’s impossible to know the full extent of the loss, trauma and heartbreak caused by Janell’s abuse at Ashevillage. How can you measure the lost potential of dreams?
A Wounded Healer
When those of us who are deeply wounded are in positions of power it is extremely important to do our work and to be held accountable when we abuse that power. I say we because I am well aware of how prevalent the shadow is in our lives, including my own. Janell is no different. She has a shadow. She is a wounded healer doing what she can to enact a vision of change. It’s messy because she has power, influence and sway over many young, idealistic and impressionable people wanting to make change. When deep shadow wounds are not addressed by those of us in power it can lead to more trauma and more pain.
I firmly believe that we cannot move forward as a culture unless we can identify and name the harmful, abusive patterns that are detrimental to our transformative efforts. Furthermore, we must seek accountability and prevent others from being harmed if possible.
“This is about undermining the systems that cause deep trauma and harm to our bodies, our relationships, our survival, our communities.”
Power and authority must justify itself, particularly when there is a documented history of abuse. When you create a situation where someone no longer can sit in a circle and share because of severe PTSD from being in your organization you don’t deserve to hold that power any longer. When you have a 10-year track record of abusing, exploiting and mistreating passionate change makers you lose your status as a respected authority figure in that field. Until you do the work of transformation and are willingly involved in a process of accountability, that power should and will be challenged.
I know speaking truth to power in this manner is seen by some as “negative,” or “not spiritual,” but are we supposed to sit by the sidelines as new interns show up? Are we supposed to just ignore serious abuse and dysfunction in the name of light and love? If we can’t deal with the systemic dysfunction in our own communities how can we expect to deal with it in the world?
This quote from Eva Blake is extremely poignant.
“I don’t think critiquing the behavior or words of prominent leaders of a local, global, or online community is a form of infighting unless that critique is peppered with shaming, exile, or personal attacks.
Seeking justice, restoring justice, is a path that is uncomfortable.
Comfort is not a community value of mine when it comes to evolving and addressing abuse of power. Comfort doesn’t address abuse of power. Comfort entrenches power. Comfort obfuscates the lines of power.
When leaders of an organization strive to make their community comfortable in the face of this kind of content, that leadership is myopic and self-serving, especially when the community has named boundaries, consent, and sexual intimacy and exploration as foci of the group.
Hiding the content of these kinds of revelations serves only the people with institutional or social power.
We can’t alleviate our discomfort with conflict by hiding the facts and facets of abuse of power.
This is about undermining the systems that cause deep trauma and harm to our bodies, our relationships, our survival, our communities.
Critiquing how people abuse power, busting open the myths that keep certain folks in a cycle of violence by the state or individuals, and making specific requests of bystanders is NOT infighting or “stirring shit” or silencing you or calling someone out.
It is about evolving our community standards for living in a complex society where everyone deserves dignity and respect while acknowledging the gross disparities in our social order.
It is not the talking about people who abuse power that fractures communities. It is the abuse of power that fractures communities and the people in them.
We must talk about this in order to HEAL.”
The silver lining of this situation is that several former staff members all said they had grown tremendously from having to work with such a manipulative and controlling leader. One said “The experience was a great teacher for me. I realized I was lacking in confidence. I wasn’t able to ask for what I needed.” Several folks are now acutely aware when they are being manipulated. After Ashevillage they would know how to identify this behavior immediately now. One person wrote her thoughts in depth.
“I would say I was just heart broken in a sense. I had hopes that I would be safely rooted in a community of sacred sisterhood. I though I could focus on making the world a greener, more viable place. I feel like my naivete was taken advantage of and it really changed me and made me feel more guarded in the future. Looking back, it feels like an important step for any young environmentalist in today’s world to take. I ultimately felt exploited in the last place on earth that I thought I could be, an ecovillage supposedly rooted in principles of reciprocity, permaculture, care for the earth, and care for people. I learned that things aren’t always as they seem, that capitalism weaves its divisive and hierarchical ways into even the most beautiful visions for a new earth. That is part of the paradox of being alive right now, with the desire to make the world a better place and a need to do it at whatever cost, or even for free, because you wish to see healing in the world even if it’s at your own expense. I learned how to declare my value a lot more after all that, which I consider a great gift. My deepest hurt was not having my passion nurtured while I was there. I knew that my love and care for the earth was precious, and, after my time at Ashevillage, I made a commitment to myself that I would only get involved with projects/organizations/businesses that sincerely respected that and valued my skills enough to compensate me fairly.”
One former staff member said, “we need to do a community intervention, it keeps going on and on. It’s got to stop. She keeps taking advantage of people.” This article is perhaps the first step in that process. It’s what I’m willing to contribute — a clear and concise description of the abusive behavior so there is a foundation from which to work upon.
What does accountability look like at this point? How can this situation be dealt with in a transformative manner? Janell has burned so many people that it’s hard to imagine a group that will help seek accountability in any meaningful way. Even those amongst us who have the spirit to do such a thing have just moved on and have no interest in redeeming that space. One person I spoke with believes Ashevillage should just be shut down. That’s a reasonable argument. Again, why does someone who has a ten year history of abusing power and manipulating vulnerable young change makers for her own gain deserve to remain in that position of power? Whatever happens it should be victim focused and avoid the pattern of rescuing an abuser.
We live at a powerful time where old systems and structures of domination are collapsing, being exposed and undergoing the painful process of transformation. We must not overlook how those damaging systems are being reproduced in our own beloved communities. In order to create the world we want we must be willing and able to speak up against abuse and seek accountability for even those whom we love or whom are leaders in our beloved communities.
UPDATE: Janell likes to claim that this was all in the past and that she’s changed. In response to my article she stated: “I no longer run programs. Life is very different now. I think those who know me now know a very different Janell. Things seem to be more balanced, loving, present, gracious.” Not true says one person with knowledge of the current situation who just messaged me,
“Several people have bailed in the last four months because of the same things your article describes. I too have wondered how this should be handled moving forward. I too fear for other idealistic young people coming to this place only to be crushed. There’s a lot I could say about my time and experience there, but it was all more or less covered by others whom you have interviewed.”
Current situation: “This person was put into a compromised situation situation because she felt unsafe/uncomfortable at Ashevillage.”
And this person was there as early as 6 months ago:
“She exploited the hell out of every single person there, and attempted to do the same to me. Seeing the shit that Janell put those people through really made this article resonate with me in so many ways. Thank you for speaking out about this. I had no clue so many people had had similar experiences there and it’s nice to know that I wasn’t just being unreasonable in my judgements.”