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“Recognizing Our Wonderful Donors”

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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.”

 

 

 

Restorative Justice Workshop and Amazon Smiles

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Amazon Smiles
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.

 

Restorative Justice
Please join the Truth Be Told community for a one-day Restorative Justice Workshop we organized. By connecting with experts in the field, we have learned that many components of our programs promote restorative justice even though that isn’t the stated objective. Restorative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders, as well as the community involved. Victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility and to repair the harm they’ve done. This approach views crime and other conflicts as violations of people and interpersonal relationships that create obligations and liabilities and have a lasting impact on entire communities.

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Restorative justice practices heal relationships and build communities through restorative dialogues and the creation of mutually beneficial solutions. Nationally and internationally, restorative justice initiatives are addressing issues in a variety of settings such as student misconduct in schools and conflicts in communities.
The workshop will be led by Eric Butler from Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY) and is co-sponsored by Sherwynn Patton of Life Anew.

The RJOY website describes the questions restorative justice asks:
     1. Who was harmed?
     2. What are the needs and responsibilities of all affected?
     3. How do all affected parties together address needs and repair harm?

An emerging approach to justice rooted in indigenous cultures, restorative justice is reparative, inclusive, and balanced. It emphasizes:
     1. Repairing harm
     2. Inviting all affected to dialogue together to figure out how to do so
     3. Giving equal attention to community safety, victim’s needs, and offender accountability and growth

For more background on this fast-growing approach to wrongdoing that is proving effective visit the UT Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue.

Truth Be Told facilitators asked for a workshop to learn how to be more intentional about promoting restorative justice principles. Please join us for this unique experience.

WHAT: Restorative Justice Workshop

WHEN: Saturday, July 26th, 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.

WHERE: Booker T. Washington Terraces, Community Meeting Hall, at 905 Bedford Street, Austin, TX 78702. Map

REGISTRATION: To register contact Ginger McGilvray at ginger.mcgilvray@gmail.com or 512-740-1307and confirm there is still room.

FEE: $75 for the day. Please make checks payable to “Life Anew” and mail before July 20th to: Ginger McGilvray, 117 El Paso Street, Austin, TX 78704. If needed, you may pay at the door, but we would like to get most payments in ahead of time.

LUNCH: A community lunch is included with registration. If you have dietary restrictions or special needs, please let Ginger know.

WHAT TO WEAR: Please dress very casually. This day is meant to be a comfortable experience for us all.

Why I Serve on The Truth Be Told Board

Amber Vazquez Bode, a Truth Be Told Board member, is featured in Moms I’d Like to Know, sharing her experience of being a criminal defense attorney and a mother.

AmberBode

By Amber Vazquez Bode

As a criminal defense attorney, I have been a party to hundreds and hundreds of people entering the prison system in Texas. Almost all of them have broken my heart, because I got to know them as a person, and I am acutely aware of what the prison system does to chip away at a person’s humanity.

When I was asked to serve on the Board of Truth Be Told and began to understand what TBT did, it felt like the other half of the equation to my professional life. It was like a light breaking through the darkness to see healing, strength, and growth emerge out of an otherwise depressing and soul-crushing situation.

It also confirmed what I have always believed: redemption is available to every human until we take our last breath. It is never too late to start over and begin a new life. No one is too bad, too broken, or too “systemized” to heal their heart.

One of the things that resonates the most with me is that TBT does not disqualify people based on their crime or how many times they have been in prison, like everything else in the system does.

I am a part of Truth Be Told not only because I want to make the world a safer place for me and my family, but because the work that we do helps heal entire families for generations and that is a value that cannot be measured.

I am humbled by each story of pain and triumph and inspired to face another day in the harsh and frequently unfair justice system within which I work. Our graduates are the embodiment of everything I strive to be, and I believe that my involvement has not only made me a better advocate, it has made ne a better person.

What I Learned in Prison

One September day, I spent the afternoon in prison.

Photo by Global Panorama

Photo by Global Panorama

That Friday, I made the hour drive out to Lockhart State Prison in Texas with a dozen other women and a couple of men to attend a  Truth Be Told graduation ceremony for the women who had just completed the program. Most of these women have never really faced their pasts and traumas, much less talked about them.

We had come as respectful listeners – these women were going to stand up in front of the room full of other prisoners, and us – and tell their stories, out loud, for the first time. It’s an incredibly brave and vulnerable act for anyone. And for most of these women, it was the first time they’d ever had anyone listen to them respectfully.

I could hardly comprehend that – the idea that no one had ever really listened to these women with respect before pierced me. I was listened to respectfully as a child, when I went running up to my mother on little toddler legs with some crazy childish idea. I was listened to respectfully in school by my teachers. I have had many bosses who listened to and respected me; many wonderful friends who wanted to know my thoughts. I can sit down at the end of the day and share something minor that happened with my boyfriend – and he listens to me. Respectfully.

The concept that these women were sharing such painful, personal things – for the first time, and with complete strangers – made me sad for them.

But pity is not what I felt that day in the prison. I felt my insides ripped out by their words, their pain, their anger and their loss. Woman after woman stood up in front of the room and told her story, which invariably started with horrific abuses at a very early age. Yet they were not asking for sympathy, nor excusing their own bad choices that had landed them in prison. They cried, they raged, they hung their heads, they looked bewildered as they recounted their histories, the abuses against them, and their own mistakes for which they could never make up for.

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For most of these women, childhood abuse was a huge factor – and it seemed to always result in a pathological yearning for love – any type of love – that led to their troubles.  Almost all of them came across, to me, as lost and bewildered children themselves. And most of them had children of their own, who seemed doomed to repeating the same path if something was not done to end the cycles of abuse that had plagued these families.

photo 3[1]When I entered the prison, as I went through security and my pat-down search, as I was led along the ugly concrete hallways, past the stares of the male prisoners, into the “graduation” room and nervously watched the Truth Be Told graduates walk into the room in their blue prison-issued tops and pants,  I thought I had nothing in common with these women. I was there to listen respectfully, but I didn’t really think I could relate to them.

I was so wrong. At almost every moment, every turn in a new story, I found myself thinking, there but for a bad choice, a bit of luck, could I have gone. They were not so different from me, in so many ways, after all. I had simply been lucky enough to have a loving family and a good, abuse-free childhood. They were not so lucky. For these women, such things as love and abuse-free childhood were the great gaping holes in their lives – holes that they filled them with drugs, money and things gotten at any cost; holes which they filled with abusive relationships and children simply so they could have someone to love them.

But underneath it all, we were the same. By the end of the afternoon, I found myself not only relating to them, but admiring them. These women were the bravest people I had ever met in my life. Their honesty and their courage honed into my heart like an arrow and lodged there. I will never forget their words, or the haunted looks in their eyes as they spoke them.

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