Supporting Chelsea Manning Through Her First Steps of Freedom


Throughout Chelsea’s final three years of confinement, fight to transition and work to appeal her unprecedented 35-year prison sentence for whistleblowing, Christina DiPasquale--Balestra Media’s founder and CEO--helped Chelsea communicate with the public on social media, through opinion pieces, and in the media.  During this time, Chelsea continued to take responsibility for her actions, spoke out in support of trans service members, publicly shared her emotions as she navigated her transition in prison, and fought against the threat of additional solitary confinement.

After President Obama announced the commutation of Chelsea’s sentence to time served for her seven years in prison and nearly nine months in solitary confinement, Christina began to set Chelsea’s post-release media plan in motion. Working directly with Chelsea, her legal teams, her documentary team, her supporters, and the media anxious to learn more about her experience and perspective, Christina designed and executed a long-term strategic communications plan that would give Chelsea an opportunity to more fully express herself in her first year as a free woman.

Christina worked with Chelsea and the rest of her team to plan a social media release of the first photos she took upon leaving prison. Andy Stepanian, Balestra's creative director, helped Chelsea and her volunteers to prepare her Instagram account and securely add photos of her first moments outside of the prison walls. In keeping the details of her release private, Chelsea’s first self-released self-portrait was the enduring photo used by outlets around the world. After seven years of using a grainy black and white Army photo and an illustration, Chelsea was finally able to have control over her own image.


Christina set up the process by which Chelsea’s team evaluated exclusive offers for her first post-release interviews and met with dozens of prime-time television anchors, network executives, production teams and photographers to discuss their proposals. Upon her release, Christina spent weeks with Chelsea, introducing her to journalists and preparing her for long interviews and photo shoots. Christina staffed Chelsea and her attorneys for three weeks in New York City, throughout each interview session and worked directly with all of the journalists, producers, stylists, photographers and researchers involved.

The morning of Chelsea’s release, ABC’s coverage began with an online story with an exclusive quote from Chelsea that the past ‘is only [her] starting point, not [her] final destination.’ They used images from Chelsea’s Instagram page and continued to publish online articles and tease Chelsea’s full Nightline interview with anchor Juju Chang. Preview clips aired on ABC radio affiliates, the jumbotron in Times Square, World News Tonight and Good Morning America. Through their online platforms, ABC shared important clips from the sit-down interview--including more from her attorneys on the significance of the case and from Chelsea on the letters from trans youth that she received in prison.


After the initial exclusives to re-introduce Chelsea to the world and talk about her future path, Christina prepared and staffed Chelsea for her interviews with Foreign Policy and OUT Magazine, which focused on her new direction and big ideas.


Following his written correspondence with Chelsea while she was still in prison, writer Matt Shaer interviewed Chelsea in person for several hours over the course of multiple days after her release. Shaer's deep research and thoughtful questions about her experience resulted in the multi-dimensional cover piece published by New York Times Magazine. For the first time, Chelsea’s personal journey--with her voice present throughout--was chronicled across the 12-page feature. Christina staffed the interviews and responded to the lengthy fact-checking requests made of Chelsea and her team.  Christina and the NYTM team staffed the photo shoot with the famed duo Inez and Vinoodh, who released three portraits they took of Chelsea in the magazine and an additional fourth released online. 

In Vogue’s  September issue profile of Chelsea for their 125th anniversary edition, writer Nathan Heller focused on Chelsea’s next chapter. In the piece, Chelsea was able to articulate her present as well as her hopes and dreams for her future. The writing was complemented by a portrait taken by noted photographer Annie Leibovitz in a shoot staffed by Christina and Vogue's team in Coney Island. 

Through her thought leadership, writing and activism, Chelsea Manning has addressed some of the most prominent issues of our time--whistleblowing, the prosecution of individuals and media under the Espionage Act, the rights of transgender individuals to health care and the use of prolonged solitary confinement. She is using her platform to continue to shine a light on the treatment of prisoners, the ability of transgender soldiers to serve in the U.S. military, the importance of net neutrality, the dangers of artificial intelligence and cyberbullying.