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My Prison Classmates

By Cis Dickson

Traveling through Gatesville, Texas, you see hectares of razor wire. My classmates are not traveling through. My ladies are locked-in, locked up, and a few are locked-and-loaded for parole.

In Truth Be Told, I am a Facilitator-in-Training. Think F-I-T. That’s me: trying to FIT in; wearing new outFITs each week to show my ladies; trying to FIT the eight-hour day (which includes four hours of round-trip driving from Austin to Gatesville) into my FIT lifestyle.

Oddly enough and truth be told, I FIT. My classmates have grown to love me as much as I love them. Which came first I cannot tell. I call them my mates because I am doing the class with them; same homework; same amount of speaking; same drills; same hokey-pokey. And then we shake it all about. Good way to end class and relieve ourselves of a busload of tension and heartache. We do this for 16 weeks. I do this for 16 weeks. After that I get to have Thanksgiving with my family, my kids, my grandkids. Then I have Christmas. I cannot bear to think of what they have after our classes end.

When I say to someone, “Well, I’m off to prison tomorrow,” they stare blankly at me.

They don’t ask questions. Could be I’ve seemed strange to my friends and family for years.

I may FIT in at the Lane Murray Unit more than I realize and FIT in less with my circle of non-criminals. Hmm!

My mates and I started off strangers in late July. Now we can’t wait to see each other; we laugh; we dance; we tell stories; we do impromptu speaking and some rehearsed speeches, and we think of hugging each other. At Lane Murray Unit, you must remember at least two things: don’t touch and don’t climb the fence. I have bruises on my arms each week from squeezing myself because I can’t squeeze my mates. We jump up and down when we see each other coming down the hall to the classroom. Since I’m much older, I have tears running down my legs with the joy of their smiling faces.

So it works like this….you hear a heartbreaking story; you have secret thoughts about the son-a-bitch who harmed this girl, but then you remember this is about healing, not revenge; you wipe your nose on your sleeve because no one in Lane Murray ever has Kleenex. EVAH!

One of my mates said to me last week when I was sporting a new outFIT, “Girl, where do you shop?” Another of my mates said when she was on “the outside” her life got so bad, even though the money she made from selling drugs was good, that she just stopped and prayed to God to get her out of hell. The next morning she was arrested. She laughed at how fast her prayers were answered. She’s too young to be there.

I hope we’ll all stay on the straight and narrow with the TBT tools we’ve learned.

Princess Warriors in Prison

Our recent Donor and Volunteer Campaign mailing included a card that has our Mission, Vision, and Values on one side. We recently learned that people want to hold on to the card because this Princess Warrior drawing by Donna, one of our program graduates, is on the other side.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 3.47.00 PM

Donna was released more than two years ago and continues to be part of the awesome community of graduates who participate in our Beyond Bars activities. Since we have shared her artwork recently, we wanted to hear about what she was experiencing when she created it in class, so Carol Waid interviewed her. Click to listen.

Listen to Donna describe how after being incarcerated for six years, she still felt lost and confused about the mistakes she made and why things turned out the way they did. Then she found a Truth Be Told class.

At first she was hesitant to face her pain rather than trying to block it out, but when the healing started she knew she was changed and finally ready to go home.

She did the drawing in response to Nathalie Sorrell’s speech about being a Princess Warrior no matter what your circumstances. The woman in the clock represents breaking free, a woman not defined by her past or being in prison.

Donna, thanks for sharing you gift and your story with us!

If you would like a Princess Warrior card, please contact us.

Transformational Donors

We love hearing graduates like Donna talk about their healing and transformation. Truth Be Told has been blessed with a small group of donors who have transformed our work and our organization by consistently contributing major financial support over the years.

Our Transformational Donors are:

Two of our Transformational Donors share why they donate.

I support Truth Be Told because I have witnessed the healing of women who were broken. I have seen for myself the transformational power of creating a community of respectful listeners as each one tells her story. I believe that a woman transformed can transform her family. I have seen TBT nurture and support this transformation. – Jim Walsh, Walsh, Anderson, Gallegos, Green and Trevino P.C. and “Law Dawg”

Why do I give? I give to see lives transformed. I heard Nathalie Sorrell’s story of why she felt compelled to work with women in prison. I thought, “Good for Nathalie!” A few months later Nathalie invited me to attend a graduation ceremony in the Lockhart prison. I was mildly curious about what she was doing. I received a firsthand experience of the powerful work she and Carol Waid created.  Although I did not feel compelled to actually work in the prison, I did feel moved to get involved. What moved me during that visit were the stories the women told. Each women told a story about how their life had been transformed by their work in the Truth Be Told curriculum. I wanted to be a part of something that transformed lives. My involvement is the giving of my financial resources. I want to see that as many women as possible will have access to Truth Be Told. – Bobby Miser, Rogers Benefit Group, Houston

Watch your mailbox or inbox for our Donor and Volunteer Drive letter or go online to help us reach our $25,000 goal for the campaign.

 

Listen to the Voice of Teri!

On our Donor Recognition page, we list donations in three categories called The Voices of Truth. The categories are named for women who were meaningful to the early development of Truth Be Told. The Voice of Teri category designates donors who have contributed $1,000–$4,999 in a year.

Why Teri? She was in the very first Talk To Me class and is still talking!

In February 2000, Nathalie Sorrell didn’t know what to expect when she created the posters announcing the new class in the GEO Lockhart prison. She certainly didn’t anticipate that 14 years later Truth Be Told would still be talking to Teri, a reluctant participant.

Carol Waid attended that class as a facilitator-in-training. In this audio recording, Carol asks Teri about that first class, and Teri credits divine intervention for getting her there. She didn’t like going to classes and was avoiding this one when something made her turn around in the hallway and walk towards it. She remembers an attraction to the name “Truth Be Told.” She didn’t like the first few classes, but something kept bringing her back. She didn’t want to tell her story or even remember her painful past, but hearing Carol’s story inspired her to take baby steps into the exercises.

Listen to Teri describe how the doors opened. 

Since being released, Teri has married. She is still clean and sober and feels more alive than ever. Teri has been at every fundraiser that featured graduates and never misses an opportunity to share the Truth Be Told story.

Keep on talking, Teri. We love to hear your voice!

For 2013, the Voice of Teri donors are:

  • Susan deGraffenried
  • Gathering Place Worship Center
  • Louise Morse
  • Red Bird Foundation
  • Charles and Betti Saunders Foundation (managed by Austin Community Foundation)
  • Donna Snyder
  • Diana Stangl

Below, a few of the Voice of Teri donors explain what prompted their support:

Paula D’Arcy is the president and founder of Red Bird Foundation as well as an author and speaker whose work seeks to further inner and worldwide peace.

Unless you’ve worked or volunteered in a prison, there aren’t words to capture the power and importance of the work done by Truth Be Told. Imagine women, most of whom have never had much of a chance in life, little education, separated from their children, low self-esteem, addictions, very low on hope…and then imagine a sincere transformation in their lives because of a program that delivers not only truth, but the means and encouragement to make different choices.

Imagine healing, education about what a woman can be (and how she can comport herself and care for her own body and for her children), the redemptive power of learning to tell your story — not as a victim, but as a radiant woman — beginning to believe that you have a meaningful place in this world because you’ve finally experienced someone believing in you — these are huge gifts anywhere, but inside a prison they are rare.

The work is raw, it is emotional, it is exhausting, and month after month the teachers show up and give everything they’ve got. It is the ultimate reaching a hand back into the dark to help someone else. Support for this work reaches far beyond the women fortunate enough to take these classes. Heart by heart, this is how we’ll all awaken.

Donna Snyder is retired from a career as an attorney, state government executive, and corporate officer. She serves on the Truth Be Told Board and as a certified Talk To Me facilitator in the GEO Lockhart prison.

It is a privilege and a gift to be with these women and witness the transformations which occur while they are in our classes. They are like new plants pushing through the dirt, opening to the sunlight and exploding with their unique gifts and different ways of being beautiful. Yes, they have often hurt others. However, in almost every case, their life stories are of sexual and/or physical abuse, usually at a very young age and usually by a trusted relative. In every story, they suffered their trauma in tortured silence, either because they were too afraid to speak or their voices were resolutely shut down. They deserve a chance to be heard. They deserve a chance to heal. Truth Be Told gives them a toolbox!

Louise Morse is a former member of the Truth Be Told Board.

After learning all I could about Truth Be Told, how it was started and grew into a highly successful program by changing the lives of women in prison and after prison, it became more important to me to be involved with the program than any other nonprofit project I had ever worked with. It was easy for me to redirect some of my funds to this program which had previously gone to other causes. Not only easy, but I was eager to do so as well as donate time to serving on their Board of Directors. I wholeheartedly and unequivocally support this program and feel grateful that I have finally found one that I absolutely must and will continue to care about in the future.

Watch your mailbox or inbox for our Donor and Volunteer Drive letter or go online to help us reach our $25,000 goal for the campaign.

“Recognizing Our Wonderful Donors”

Posted on

Since 2000, the faithful support of individuals and a few churches has allowed Truth Be Told to bring programs to thousands of incarcerated women. We have always been a primarily volunteer organization; so, we are fortunate that it hasn’t taken much prodding to convince our network of friends that helping women heal their lives, strengthen their families, and build safer communities is a worthy cause. Recently, we added grants from local foundations to that mix of support. Please check out our new webpage that recognizes many (but sadly not every one) of these wonderful contributors.

This is an extraordinary time in the evolution of our humble and fiercely passionate nonprofit. Increasing numbers of prison administrators are recognizing the importance of our work as unique and powerful. We are a little overwhelmed by the current interest of federal and state correctional facilities. If we had the organizational capacity, we could be serving twice as many women next year!

Our Need: In order to grow efficiently and effectively, we need to improve our facilitator training materials to reach volunteers outside Austin; format our curriculum so it can be shared with a wider audience; enhance our database to keep better track of participants, volunteers, and donors; and retain sufficient staff to manage all of these tasks.

Watch Your Inbox: For the first time ever, we are having a pledge and volunteer campaign. We mailed Donation and Volunteer Forms this week. We don’t have mailing addresses for some contacts, so they will receive an email instead. If we missed you altogether, you can go to our webpage to donate or volunteer.

 

Thank You, Thank You Tom Bentley

Recently, Tom Bentley advised us on how to become a more sustainable nonprofit and then, he made a generous donation! Tom has been a hi-tech entrepreneur and was design manager for the teams that built the first generations of laptops for Apple and Dell. This is how Tom explained his interest in Truth Be Told:

“I look for the same things in a nonprofit that I look for when designing or investing in hi-tech:

  1. An enthusiasm for the mission.
  2. Transformational to their customers.
  3. Effective with very few people.
  4. Scalable to very large numbers.

Truth Be Told has the first three handled with aplomb. I believe with increased funding, they can build the organization to scale effectively. I am grateful to support them in their fantastic work.”

 

Creative Ways to Contribute

Amazon Smiles AmazonSmile

Amazon just started a new charitable giving program. If you buy an eligible product at AmazonSmile, 0.5% of the cost is donated to an organization of your choice. Truth Be Told is a registered organization, so please choose us when you make a purchase. There is no additional cost to you. To shop at AmazonSmile simply start your regular Amazon shopping at smile.amazon.com.

 

Gone For Good   gone for good

We just got our first check from a donation made to Gone For Good by Sarah Sibert who says, “I highly recommend Gone for Good. I wish I had known about them before I took five car loads to another place. I sold my house and downsized. It was so nice that Gone for Good came and looked at what I was donating and carted it away. I didn’t have to deliver anything. I was very excited that my donation turned into dollars for Truth Be Told.”

 Gone For Good is a nonprofit with a simple but clever model to help other nonprofits. Individuals donate items of value that they no longer want. Gone for Good sells the items and donates the proceeds, less a handling fee, to the charity chosen by the individual, who in turn gets a tax deduction. Gone For Good has a booth at the Antique Marketplace, and they sell items online. They also organize and manage estate sales.

 

Thanks For All You Do

Thank you to our many wonderful donors, in-kind contributors, and volunteers, named and unnamed. Thank you for sharing this link and spreading the word about our mission whenever you can. You are both the foundation of Truth Be Told and the scaffolding for our future work. We can’t wait to meet the new folks who Donate and Get Involved.

 

Journeying Back Inside

Two years ago, Dara, one of our graduates, began participating in Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars by telling her story to a Truth Be Told class of women incarcerated in the GEO Lockhart Unit. Since then, she has given generously of her time in this way and inspired many women. This month, Dara graduates from Austin Community College with an Associates Degree in General Human Services and a GPA of 3.8. She is already registered for classes to earn her bachelors degree.

The story of her journey was one of our most popular blog entries, so we are bringing it back this week.

Dara today

Since I was a little girl I have been involved in some type of abusive situation. I grew up in a very dysfunctional home. I was sexually and physically abused by my step-dad and step-brother until the age of 11. My first intimate relationship was at the age of 14 — he was 28, I now know him to be a predator. I thought because he hurt me ( beat me up, raped me, held me hostage) he must love me and couldn’t live without me. Every relationship I have been in has been abusive. Growing up in the home I grew up in taught me that pain equals love. If you hit me or abused me you must love me.

I was a little girl that felt ugly, unloved, unwanted and abandoned. A little girl who knew nothing that was safe, or stable, or about love. When I was 14 years old I ran from yet another children’s’ home and into the streets of Houston, where there were no rules, no schools, and where I had found what I thought was freedom. I was introduced to methamphetamines and this started my 25-year dance with death.

It was fun for me, at first, living in that drug-induced life. I started doing things I thought I would never forgive myself for. Methamphetamine, sometimes referred to as speed, became my everything. I was a slave to that drug, at its total mercy.

Dara’s mug shots from one of her numerous arrests

I became what I hated: I stole from people, I lied to everyone, and I started selling my body to support my habit. My obsession with methamphetamines overrode everything moral in my life. My ability to make good and healthy decisions was shattered: my need for dope stole that.

I have been in and out of juvenile detention and have been in prison 5 times, all because of the choices made in my drug addiction. At the age of 37 I sat and soaked up my surroundings for the first time, really seeing where I was: sitting in an aluminum barn with no air conditioning. I witnessed old women dying in prison and I realized, “This is not what I want.”

At that moment I felt a shift, literally, a shift in my heart. From that moment on my life has been different and it is because I realized that I wanted something different.

In November of 2010, I was released from prison to Austin, Texas. I chose to go into a transitional home for women. A month after release I was diagnosed with uterine cancer and was told I was going to have a radical hysterectomy and that I would have to endure aggressive treatment. The treatment would include two rounds of internal radiation, five weeks for five days a week of external radiation, and four rounds of chemo. During the treatments I felt a deeper level of that shift of wanting to live. I looked back on my life and realized that I had wasted so much time. Through the addiction, breaking the law, the cancer, and living life like I had a million lives to live, I was determined to speak out and seek out others that wanted the same thing in life.

I enrolled in school, though I was intimidated and frightened of doing something I had never done. I was confused because I did not understand the college talk. I am approaching the end of my second semester, anxiously awaiting my third. I have a 3.5 overall GPA.

Today, I am in remission from cancer; I have 19 months of sobriety from all mind altering chemicals; I volunteer and I have shared my experience, strength, and hope at the juvenile detention center, at several events for  Truth Be Told that works with women behind and beyond bars, and at the Center for Success in Houston. Today I LOVE MY LIFE and where it’s going.

You can further share Dara’s story through this video:

TEDx Goes to Prison

By Kathleen Littlepage, Executive Director, Truth Be Told

Kathleen Littlepage

Kathleen Littlepage

By now, most of us have been inspired, educated, or just amazed by a TED talk. The short, powerful videos can start public conversations and even change lives. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment, and Design converged, and today talks cover almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.

Truth Be Told facilitators were fans of Brene Brown and her work on vulnerability and shame before her TED talks, The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame, went viral and catapulted her to the national stage.

At Truth Be Told, we know the transformational power of giving the women in our classes an opportunity to tell their story to an audience of respectful listeners. That is what happens at our prison graduations. When one of our graduates who participates in our Beyond Bars activities shared the link to a TEDx event in California’s Ironwood State Prison, my first reaction was a little flash of envy.When I watched the videos, I couldn’t imagine how they created this high quality production in a prison.

This Mother Jones magazine article, TEDx Goes to Prison, explains that the event was the brainchild of movie producer Scott Budnick, who has been volunteering in California prisons long before he became a celebrity. The article has some of the videos embedded and you can find more of them here.

As we find in our Truth Be Told programs, the voices of prisoners in these videos are inspiring, humbling, and surprising to the uninitiated.

If you would like to attend a Truth Be Told graduation and respectfully listen to participants in our Behind Bars programs telling their stories, the dates for fall graduations appear on the Truth Be Told website’s Events page. Three public graduations are scheduled: two at the Lockhart GEO unit and one at the Murray Unit in Gatesville.

Stay tuned to this blog for reminders!

How Tears can Water your Soul

Like the rivers of our earth that flow from the highest mountains and forge their way through the deepest valleys, our tears cut a path through the highs and lows of our emotional life.” ~Paula Becker

 

Today’s guest post is by Jane Smith

Jane Smith

Jane Smith

Carol Waid, one of the founders of Truth Be Told, who has been teaching classes at Hilltop and Lockhart women’s prisons for many years, uses tears as a subject for her students in her Talk To Me writing class. She shares Paula Becker’s article, “The Healing Power of Tears” that talks about how important it is to physically release tears and emotions. Carol’s experience has been that most women apologize for tears or try to laugh them off. She feels successful when everyone can hold a space for a woman’s tears to flow and then experience how their own empathy and compassion become engaged.

After the discussion of tears, the homework assignment is for the women to write about their own experience with tears. Below are writings done by two of Carol’s students.

HAVE A GOOD CRY – by Robin

Photo copyright by Milad Gheisari

Photo copyright by Milad Gheisari

When I was growing up, I was told not to cry, “to be strong.” I guess you could say that I was taught that ignoring your feelings was best. Don’t get me wrong, did I cry? Yes I did, but it was somewhere by myself, alone. I mostly cried when my weight was talked about. As a child, I was told, “you’re too fat” or “girls your size shouldn’t wear that.”

As I got older, my tears became anger, and this led to many enraged decisions. For so long I’ve struggled to swallow the humiliation of crying in front of other people, the feeling of being embarrassed, or made fun of. As of today, I absolutely feel that if you don’t allow yourself to cry, you will become emotionally furious, and this can become very serious behavior whether you know it or not. So what do I say to having a good cry? Get to the best place where you feel safe, and cry until you can’t cry no more.

HAVE A GOOD CRY – by Natasha

Photo copyright by flickr.com/volver-avanzar

Photo copyright by flickr.com/volver-avanzar

Before I read this, in my mind, crying was a sign of weakness and grieving. I never really went into deep thought about crying, and how it makes you feel better. Growing up, I only cried when I hurt myself, got a spanking and at my great-grandparents’ funerals. Other than that I didn’t cry too much. Now I cry in church when I have been touched by the Holy Spirit. Sitting here in jail, I cry thinking about how I messed up my life or became a disappointment to my family. I cry when I’m sad, but never just because.

After reading the handout, it makes me cry more just to feel the relief, but sometimes I still see it as a sign of weakness. But that’s just from growing up. I met people who told me a little about their past, and they would bust out into tears, and it makes me think about mine, and I feel like I’m gonna cry, but I stop myself until I’m by myself. I feel better, but every time I feel that, I have to be by myself to truly let it all out.

Hopefully with this class, I can learn to let go and get more in touch with my emotional side. Since learning that crying is healthy for you and helps relieve stress, I try and cry more.


These emotionally honest writings demonstrate how very important the Truth Be Told Classes are to these women. For what may be the first time, they are given permission to feel and permission to express those feelings in a healthy way.

Brene Brown says:

I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”

 

 

 

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