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Healing an Invisible Population

IMG138-1I’ve been volunteering for Truth Be Told since 2009. It began with my attending a graduation at Lockhart prison, where I witnessed female inmates bravely sharing their stories (their truths) about what led them to prison — not the crime, per say, but the much bigger, deeper picture that this nonprofit program asks incarcerated females to explore, which is: “Looking back on your entire life, what are the decisions you have made (that you are accountable for) and the experiences you have had (that you are not responsible for) that slowly, but steadily, led you to where you are today, which is behind bars?”

Their stories were raw, disturbing, heartbreaking, honest, humble, accountable, eye-opening and a game-changer for me. I no longer saw these women as criminals and inmates, but as broken human beings. To someone out there, these women were grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends — and somewhere along the way, most all of them had suffered by the hands of others first and then chosen to make decisions that would cause suffering for themselves and for others.

MandalaI heard somewhere that “Hurt people hurt people, and healed people heal people.” I couldn’t agree more. Truth Be Told offers programming to women behind bars that evokes healing, self-understanding and self-acceptance, so that this invisible and broken population can love and forgive themselves first and then learn to love, forgive and have compassion for others. Every class we offer in prison promotes the 4 Cs: Community building, Creativity, Caring for self and Communication skills. Through a variety of methods that include creative writing, public speaking and movement, we offer opportunities for self-discovery, self-expression, truth-telling and trust-building. We are not a religious organization; we embrace all walks of faith and even those who have little or no faith.

One recurring theme that seems to come out of these classes every semester is the new awareness that “I am not alone.” It’s a simple thought, but it can feel like a tremendous burden has been lifted off one’s shoulders when she has been walking through life feeling like no one could possibly ever understand her or care about her anymore.

We operate on a shoestring budget like most nonprofits. All our classes are facilitated by volunteers. This work is not only transformational for the women behind bars, but for the women beyond bars who are dedicating their time and energy to shine light on a population of women forgotten by many. Personally, I find it difficult to point the finger anymore at where the “evil” begins. I just know that I want the healing to begin so that the cycle of crime, suffering, violence and desperation can be broken.

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3 responses »

  1. Excellent piece Katie. Everyone in life does not start out with the same environment or opportunities. Our lives take many turns along the way; some we can control, others not. We have choices; sometimes make the right ones, sometimes not. But too often some people fall along the wayside for whatever the reason & have to find ways to raise theirselves up again. Some are lucky enough to manage; others not. But for the grace of God go I. It is so imperative that programs are available to help them find their way. I feel honored & blessed to know you; you are a beautiful person to be a part of this & give visibility to this part of the population giving them hope.

    Reply
  2. Natalie Weinstein

    The phrase “hurt people hurt people and healed people heal people” is just so true. A woman in class this semester who was trying to understand her own life story asked us all: Why would someone who was abused turn around and abuse someone else?
    The question brought up a variety of responses and a worthwhile discussion — but no single “answer” that felt exactly right.
    Somehow the simplicity of the “hurt/healed” phrase in your piece sums it up for me. I am not exactly sure that it would feel like the right response to give in class. I tend to avoid simple answers in class. Sometimes they feel too pat. But honestly, I sincerely believe that you are right.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: End of Year News from Truth Be Told « Truth Be Told

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