December 6 – Garlands Instead of Ashes

By: Rev. Erica M. Poellot, Minister of Harm Reduction and Overdose Prevention Ministries, UCC National

The spirit of the Sovereign God is upon me because God has anointed me; the Holy One has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted…to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Sovereign, to display God’s glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations (from Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11).


“Modern abolitionists see it as our mission
to provide the models of community safety, security, mutual aid, and harm reduction that are needed,
and to do the political education, relationship-building, and movement work
to bring others into demanding transformative economic and social change for abolition…
Liberation means so many things…
from everyone having what they need to live well,
to restoring our relationship with the Earth.”
– Mon M, #8ToAbolition

Last year, over 107,600 beloved people died from accidental drug overdose. These tragic and preventable losses are but one facet of the 50+ year war on people who use drugs (PWUD).  To wage this war, we have employed strategies of deportation, incarceration, family separation, militarization of policing, executions, denial of voting rights, and barriers to employment, housing, higher education, and healthcare.  And all these devastating tactics disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and Latine people.

In the midst of the ashes of this war, the Spirit still anoints good news bearers who bring healing, comfort and provision.  PWUD carry naloxone, regardless of the personal risk of exposing themselves to law enforcement, reversing over 90 percent of community overdoses. Syringe access, first a community and activist-led response to HIV/AIDS, is supported by peer networks of PWUD in many places where it remains unlegislated. Safer consumption sites have long been covertly run by PWUD, giving birth to modern-day Overdose Prevention Centers. Their abolition vision and abolition practices of harm reduction teach us that we will end this war by rehumanizing and eliminating stigma against PWUD and resourcing harm reduction efforts led by people with lived and living experience (PLE) of substance use and overdose.

PWUD have worked to abolish the war on people who use drugs at the risk of their own freedom, at their own expense, using their own resurrected lives that others might live.  Abolitionist practice calls us to learn from, follow and collaborate with these oaks of righteousness, these repairers of cities.  The prophetic and pastoral leadership of PWUD shows us all the way to freedom.


This prayer finds its way to the hiding places,
it congregates corners where pain meets despair,
and seeps into the wells of fear,
all the while proclaiming: freedom.
To the ones who are alone, let this prayer come as comfort.
To the ashamed, the traumatized, let this prayer sing with gladness.
To the ones who feel disposable, let this prayer be a garland of honor and dignity.
To the ones who are waiting, let this prayer become our abolition practice.  Amen.


Artwork: “Plunge” by Yohana Junker (discover more at:


In every instance in which the State has consigned the vulnerable to the status of Nobody, the People have asserted that they are, in fact, Somebody. In doing so, they offer hope that another world is indeed possible, that empires eventually fall, and that freedom is closer than we think. - Marc Lamont Hill

Take Action

Abolition is Harm Reduction

Learn about Naxolone access in your state

Stay Connected. Nourish Movements.

Sign up to receive alerts about new stories and resources. You’ll also enjoy our Join the Movement newsletter, featuring changemaker profiles, reflections on current events in the movement toward racial justice, and more. Get sneak previews and information about upcoming events, workshops and webinars.