Healing After Harm

a.j.k. o'donnell
11 min readFeb 15, 2022


Navigating the fallout after abuse in a radical nonprofit

It has been over two years since I resigned from my post at a nonprofit I fervently believed in — and continue to believe in. In these last two years, I have struggled through silence, shame, emotional distress, and eventual acceptance. That acceptance has empowered me to share this with the world.

Black & Pink National is a prison abolitionist nonprofit run by and for incarcerated trans and queer people. From its beginnings as a network of local grassroots penpal programs, Black & Pink has grown into a national 501c3 under the guidance of its Executive Director of 4 years, Dominique Morgan. Black & Pink is a vital organization, and Dominique has helped so many of the most marginalized in our communities.

This is true, and so is this: I was harmed by Dominique Morgan. As a Black & Pink staff member, as a young and vulnerable trans person, I was harmed by Dominique. I believe that similar harm continues at Black & Pink, disproportionately affecting trans staff, young staff, and staff of color. After struggling in silence for two years, I share my story in solidarity with Black & Pink staff in hopes of transforming the organization we love.

Before I begin, I want to have an honest conversation about power, privilege, transformative justice, and healing.

I am a white, trans femme person. For a long time, I remained silent because I did not want the discussion I brought forth to be witnessed by the world as a white woman attacking a person who is not white, nor a man, nor a cis person. But the truth is that all of us are capable of harm, no matter our identities, and we must be willing to have these difficult, careful conversations about accountability and harm to heal. I am deeply attempting to do this in a way that feels true to my morals, is aware of power structures, and can be a resource and Light to those who may be struggling alone. I hope that my story can amplify those of trans people and people of color currently being harmed at Black & Pink by Dominique’s leadership.

I expect there will be responses that see me as a white woman on the attack. That is not what I am attempting to do. I am attempting to heal in the Light, honor all those involved, prevent other vulnerable people from being harmed, and have an honest discussion about healing in transformative ways.


I met Dominique Morgan at around age 16 and developed a community relationship that would deepen as time went on. She became my mentor. In the absence of my parents — I had been kicked out of one’s house for being queer, and survived neglect from the other — Dominique was a part my queer community family. Dominique wrote one of my recommendation letters for college. Dominique even paid for my second book launch party, all of which were gifts I felt loved and supported by — but had no access to repay — which I have come to learn is called love bombing.

At a local diner in December 2018, I was offered a job doing work for Black & Pink, which Dominique had recently taken over as Executive Director. Despite being mature and well-spoken, I was 21 at the time and was not back at university yet. I was naive andI never expected the experience to unfold as it did.


In early January 2019, I was onboarded . I was taken on a tour of the rented offices, a look at boxes of thousands of backlogged letters, shown where the printer and supplies were, and that was it. I was officially the National Communications Manager for Black & Pink.

Black & Pink’s flagship program is its letter-writing program. Incarcerated trans and queer people write in to request the Black & Pink newsletter, to be matched with an outside penpal, or to ask us for advocacy support.I was hired to read through the mail to update our organizational procedure and process requests. I spent the first day reading a letter about every minute — organizing the need: advocacy request, newsletter request, etc. — and moving to the next. Then I came to the first sexual abuse letter. Then the second. Then the third. Then I came to a letter from a trans woman who was in a med ward in prison because she had attempted to cut off her genitalia with scissors. By the end of the week, I was only reading a letter every ten minutes. Then every twenty minutes.

When I started the job, Dominique had instructed me to take the ACE Assessment ( Adverse Childhood Experience), a clinical metric of childhood trauma with a maximum score of 10, and report to her my results. My score was an 8 or 9. Though I did not know this at the time, this required disclosure of childhood trauma is an unusual and unethical practice for an employer, and it meant Dominique knowingly hired a person with an extensive childhood trauma background, at 21, to do highly trauma intensive work.

These letters tore open wounds I had long forgotten or had attempted to leave in the past. Apart from the traumatic nature of the letters, there was also no real recourse for their contents. All I could do was add them to lists for newsletters or scan requests into an Advocacy database, which I never witnessed being fulfilled. Though I received a raise from $15 to $20/hr, I had no access to health insurance or therapy. There was no safety net to help me process what I was reading in a healthy way.

On top of this trauma-intensive work, I was soon required to take on the work of multiple employees Dominique fired and did not replace. Dominique fired the creators of the newsletter — a staff of two — and added the entire process of creating, designing, organizing, and managing the printing of the bimonthly 30–50 page newsletter solely to me. I taught myself how to use InDesign and took on that job.

Next, I was tasked to plan community mail processing events, where I would write directions and literature about how to process mail and oversee the entire event. We began to host these events monthly.

My duties continued to overwhelmly grow, and I effectively took on fundraising and development for the organization. In Omaha, Nebraska there was a yearly event called Omaha Gives!, where members of the community can donate to local nonprofits. That same year I created all the social media content, I stayed up for 24 hours straight, and we raised $10,000. Over 13 times what Dominique had brought in alone the year before.

I designed and branded our table supplies, including pens, lanyards, table spreads, stickers, and buttons.

After that, Dominique fired the volunteer who ran social media, and that too became my responsibility.

None of this added work came with a pay increase, discussion of how I could handle this load, or any intentional safety structures. I wrote my own job description and was constantly given more and more duties, with no apparent limit. It consistently felt like I was the only one in the office — I was always the only one there — doing the work of multiple people.

By June, Dominique was publicly acknowledging the impact of what she was asking me to do, while simultaneously doing nothing to make sure I had healthcare, access to therapy, or any form of aid in what was the beginning of my mental break from the weight of the job.

In my relationship with Dominique, I wasn’t only a kid — I was her kid. In August of 2019, I was gifted a car from Dominique at a birthday party she threw for me. She performed songs and we raised money for me to have laser hair removal procedures done. In the above post, she publicly calls me her baby, which she had done many times — blurring the lines between boss and parent-figure.

I had people come to me with concerns about Dominique harming and targeting people during my time at Black & Pink — and before. I always said, “I have a different experience of her, but I will hold space for yours too.” I regret this. I wish I had listened sooner.

In October of 2019 a text was sent out to my coworkers that accidentally included me. It took me a moment to realize what was being said, and why. Earlier that morning I had spoken with a mutual friend of mine and Dominique about putting in for an accessibility plan at my university. About six hours later, this text was sent out.

For the record, I was not flunking school — I merely requested disability accommodations and was met with shaming and lies. This concurrently created a situation where my university accessibility office was no longer a safe place, and I did not continue to fill out the paperwork for an accessibility plan. Both Dominique and the university accessibility office had violated HIPAA.

Black & Pink subsequently put me on “probation” (the carceral terminology used by this prison abolitionist organization). There were times when my coworkers, specifically one — who was quietly employed to act as our “HR” department, while being the Executive Director’s best friend — pretended to reach out to me and establish some notion of incompetence for a paper trail built on lies.

The “HR” person would text me late at night after the workday, and demand that I begin posting on our social media live updates of town halls during the primary election. When I would be up late working in this manner, it was expected of me to also be available right away in the morning, regardless of having worked late into the night. I was being set up to fail.

At this point, I was approached by a community member about harm done to a person by Dominique outside Black & Pink. It was because of this information that I decided to leave the organization. That is not my story to tell, though it shattered me. I officially gave a month’s notice and emailed my resignation letter to the board and my coworkers. I sent Dominique a personal letter thanking her for the opportunity to work for the organization.

I stayed on for one more month because I knew our incarcerated members needed our support. The day I resigned, Dominique and her best friend (“HR”) both blocked me on all social media and directed me to speak only with the Deputy Director. Even though I still worked for Black & Pink, I was locked out of HR access, communications between the rest of my coworkers, and even was intentionally left out of the opening of the Lydon House. This was a momentous deal at the time, and I was shunned completely from it.The entire last month after I gave notice, I struggled alone — with information about harm from someone I trusted and the harm that had been done to me specifically, ripping open old wounds of abandonment and neglect.

I was erased, like the last six years of a familial relationship didn’t matter. There was no decency and no respect. In the end, I was burning out because I was being set up to fail in an environment that was harmful to my mental health. I stretched myself to breaking because I cared about the organization, but the organization — and Dominique Morgan — didn’t care about me.

Now, 2022.

One may ask why I have taken so long to speak out, and the answer is both complex and simple. The simple answer is I have been afraid. When I left Black & Pink, I tried to warn a handful of people — two of which went on to be given jobs after I left. I lost my ability to trust people, feel safe in my community, and know where or who was safe. At a 2019 singing performance, Dominique jokingly admitted to the audience about calling in a warrant on her partner after she caught him cheating — which is problematic for someone who claims to be a prison abolitionist. This made it clear to me that she is willing to weaponize harm in a brutal way when she is provoked. I have also seen her tear down others countless times, and do so vindictively and harmfully . While this bullying behavior may stem from her trauma , that does not make it ok.

The complex answer is that I love Black & Pink. I never wanted my story to be weaponized against Dominique or our community. I am coming forward now only because I believe that she is continuing to harm vulnerable staff within Black & Pink. Black & Pink seeks to employ trans staff and staff of color — people who are uniquely vulnerable to familial trauma. Instead of giving her staff the care we deserve, I believe Dominique creates at Black & Pink a family that is all too close to our harmful and abusive families of origin, in which she doles out her love in order to control us.

While my story is specific to the 6-year relationship Dominique and I shared, I see in other Black & Pink staff stories frighteningly similar echoes of the emotional and economic exploitation I suffered. By creating a workplace where staff are overworked, unsupported, and terminated without cause or replacement, Dominique leaves the members who depend on staff services in confusion and pain. In the last conversation I ever had with Dominique, she screamed “I am in charge!” and hung up on me. I believe that she continues to prioritize her sense of control over the needs of the staff and community Black & Pink serves. For the sake of Black & Pink — and for the sake of Dominique herself — I believe that our community must begin a process of accountability and healing for those Dominique has harmed.

The word “abuser” is one I deeply despise. I believe that to truly uphold transformative ideals, we must see people as people — who make choices. Some good, some bad — but people are all worthy of dignity, respect, and care — BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER the harm. Including the person who harms. This is my fervent belief. I believe the truth must be known, but told in Love and not Hate. I do not see my former Executive Director and mentor as an abuser, rather a person who has made bad choices. These choices need to be mitigated and healed.

This does not absolve us from accountability or communal discussion on how to heal the harm that has been inflicted. Asking for accountability is not harming — it is asking for the beginning of healing. I have spent the last few years attempting to heal on my own, and I am now ready to heal in the Light, in the hopes that it might help another heal, recognize harmful behavior, or feel empowered to stand up for themselves.

I hope, perhaps, this letter will spark a community dialogue about harm and healing — because all I want for each of us, including Dominique, is healing from the harm that has been done to us, accountability for how we have harmed, and a healing process for all of us to occur so that no further harm is done to anyone.

This is based upon my own recollection.

It has taken a great deal of emotional labor and energy to write this piece, and I ask that while it is discussed in the community, your reactions or comments, be written in public forums and not as direct messages to me. I cannot respond in that way at this time.



a.j.k. o'donnell

wordsmith, activist, and artist. She is the author of the collection "This Void Beckons". www.ajkodonnell.com