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Written by Leigh Camp
I attended Truth Be Told’s most recent graduation as a respectful witness. It was my second time to be a respectful witness with Truth Be Told, and my second time in a prison, ever.
Both events took place at Lockhart Correctional Facility. When I went to the first graduation, the prison had just undergone a management change and was in the process of receiving a major facelift.
At this second graduation, the improvements were markedly visible — inspirational quotes cover the freshly painted walls, creating a warmer, more cared-for environment than the prison I’d entered on my first visit.
Lockdown lifted just in time.
The prison had been in lockdown the past few days. Lockdown is a “surprise” routine procedure that happens a couple times a year. During lockdown, the inmates have to remain in their cells (except to shower) while the officers search the entire facility for contraband.
We’d been in limbo about whether or not the event would take place for a couple of days. As co-founder Carol Waid pointed out via email, it was a great exercise in experiencing some of the uncertainty and lack of agency the women who attend TBT classes face every day.
We received word from the warden around 1 p.m. — Lockdown was over and graduation was a go!
Settling in and making introductions.
About twenty-five witnesses attended the graduation with me. We waited for the graduating classes in a room usually used during visitation hours.
Katie Ford, a longtime TBT volunteer who taught one of the graduating classes, instructed us to leave empty chairs between us so that the women could sit with us in the audience. That way we’d all be in it together, experiencing the moment as one group.
The woman who sat next to me told me that she was nervous. Because of lockdown, she and her reading partner hadn’t had as much chance to practice. Her partner walked in about then and sat down in the chair in front of me.
“Can you copy this out?” she asked my neighbor.
“Yes, now, I want us to both have a copy to read from! Please.”
It was clear they were close friends. The woman sitting next to me just rolled her eyes, grabbed the sheet of paper, and started writing. When she was done, I asked her if she’d known her friend long.
“Oh, yes. We’re both diabetics, so we go to a lot of stuff together.”
Katie announced it was time to start and the sound of conversation was replaced by a silence filled with a combination of anticipation and nervous energy that was palpable.
The pair in front of me were fifth on the list, but the time passed quickly and before they knew it they were up! I patted my neighbor on the back as she walked by. “You’ll do great!”
And they did. Theirs was a side-by-side titled “Letting Go.” In it they alluded to the painful experiences they had endured that eventually led them to prison, and described the freedom they had found by accepting those realities and moving past them, into the present.
Other stories had titles like “Live Day by Day,” “Shy No More,” “Fear,” “End of the Road,” and “Phoenix Rising.” Each described the women’s personal journeys of reflection and growth through creative expression and connecting with their fellow inmates in a way that was vulnerable, and inherently not how relationships in prison typically work.
I was in turn moved, saddened, and strengthened. One woman chose to sing her story, taking the mic and belting it out with true feeling that I’m certain reverberated in each of our beings.
The audience punctuated the end of every reading with resounding applause and the women returned to their seats with sounds of “good job!” “well done!” “way to go!” echoing in their ears.
At the conclusion of the stories, the women lined up to receive their certificates. Every one of the women had completed all sixteen-weeks worth of classes, along with extensive coursework after hours.
That coursework included the very difficult task of self reflection, digging up painful past experiences, examining them, and acknowledging them while not letting them define the course of what happens next.
To graduate was truly an achievement, and the pride showed in their eyes as they returned to their seats with their certificates in hand.
At the end of the graduation, the respectful witnesses are invited to share how the women’s stories have affected them. We circle up, and one volunteer stands in the middle of the circle at a time and talks into the mic.
We took turns talking about how touched and humbled we felt by the women’s stories and commended them on the bravery required to share such deeply personal emotions and experiences.
Once it was our turn to be on the mic, we experienced some of the same jitters and butterflies the women had had to overcome as part of their graduation ceremony.
It takes guts to speak to a crowd of strangers. If, as volunteers, we didn’t fully realize it while the women were performing, we were made aware of it while we ourselves were the focus of so many eyes.
What they gave to me.
The graduation ceremony is for women who have made a commitment to complete a course that’s not only difficult, but darn near impossible. They’re asked to be open fully with one another, to expose their deepest fears, lowest moments, greatest hopes…all in an environment that’s constantly telling them to let no one in, to keep their heads down and their guard up.
As a respectful witness, my job was just to listen to the product of their journeys and demonstrate my support of their efforts to become the greatest version of themselves. But in doing only that, I gained so much that I feel guilty it may not have been a fully even trade.
Meeting these women and hearing their stories gave me a deep appreciation for everything I take for granted. We’ve all made mistakes. We are imperfect people. The difference between their mistakes and my mistakes is that mine have not yet taken away my freedom.
On the drive back, I thought about how nice it was that I could drive from Lockhart to Austin, listening to whatever I chose, and arrive at my apartment, and take a bath or read a book or do laundry or do all three without asking anyone’s permission. And all of those ordinary things became extraordinary to me.
I was both humbled and inspired by the women who graduated. Humbled by their bravery, and inspired to dig deep into my own story and come out more whole on the other side.
Interested in being a respectful witness?
If you would like to attend a Truth Be Told graduation as a respectful witness, please contact Carol Waid at email@example.com.
Please stop for a moment to ask the following 3 questions: Who has or is currently impacting you? What has or currently is impacting you? Who have you impacted or are currently impacting?
The concept of impact seems to be at the forefront of our nation. Thus, I thought it was fitting to write my first blog on it. Impact as a verb, is defined, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary as “having a strong effect on someone or something” or “to hit (something) with great force.” How true the definition is; at least for me. The synergy I experienced during my first 3 weeks with Truth-Be-Told (TBT) was meaningful and eye-opening!
I was deeply honored and humbled to listen to the stories of both incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women. I was touched by their willingness to share openly with a complete stranger. They are acutely aware of the stigma, negativity, and judgment associated with incarceration. I witnessed their courage, strength, resilience, creativity, and talents in addition to their pain and sorrow. They owned the decisions they made that led to their sentences and began making amends with their pasts while sharing hopes for their futures. I also witnessed their gratitude and respect for the program facilitators who played a pivotal role in guiding them to speak their truths and reclaim who they are as women and human beings. Support both behind and beyond bars is pivotal for the women. They learn to trust and rely on each other. Successes are celebrated and challenges especially with re-entry are shared. The women possess a determination to succeed even when they experience frustration, disappointment, and struggles. I learned some will experience re-incarceration while others persevere like the graduate of the TBT program whose college graduation I attended. This is the impact TBT has on them and the impact they have on us.
On October 27th, TBT will hold its fundraiser. During this event we will be honoring co-founder Nathalie Sorrell for her instrumental, profound, and continual impact on the organization. Her desire to actively minister to women created the momentum that established TBT with her co-founders Carol Waid and Suzanne Armistead. The impact created, I believe, will resonate in the responses given if you ask individuals who served as respectful witnesses at graduations, the staff at the facilities in which the programs are held, and the program participants, themselves.
A friend posted to Facebook a photo that had a male wearing a graduation gown and cap holding a sign that read “California spends $9,100 per year to educate me.” Standing beside him is a female wearing an orange jumpsuit holding her sign that reads “California spends $62,300 per year to lock me up.” I wonder how much Texas spends on education and incarceration. According to TDCJ, as of March 2016, TX facilities are comprised of 11,631 (8.1%) female inmates. I wonder what the overall impact would be if the focus centered on education, empowerment, and successful re-entry for the incarcerated population. TBT has begun this work and seeks allies and supporters in continuing the impact.
In closing, please consider how you would like to be involved with TBT. Do you enjoy writing and want to be a blog member? Do you enjoy interacting with others in group formats and want to be a program facilitator? Do you enjoy serving on boards and want to be a board member? Do you enjoy sharing information and want to help bring awareness to TBT in our communities? Do you enjoy fundraising, marketing, and/or social media and want to help in these areas? Do you want to give? Do you know others who have the talents, desires, and passion to be involved? Your involvement, in whatever form, will be impactful. Thus, I invite you in joining TBT in creating a long-lasting and meaningful impact on the women we serve and the communities in which we are members.
I may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow us on both Facebook and twitter @TruthBeToldnews.
“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we will ever do.” ~ Brené Brown
Thank you for being a part of our Truth Be Told family! Your commitment to our work enables us to change the lives of incarcerated women, their families and their communities. We thank you for your generous contribution and encourage you to read the powerful statement of one of our graduates, so you can feel first-hand how your support impacts these women.
by Donna Norman
Almost five years ago, I was lost and broken. I was facing my freedom, and it was coming fast. I was so hurt and so angry with everyone and everything, but most of all myself. The choices I made cost me my freedom and the loss of everything that meant anything to me – including and most importantly, my children. I wasn’t ready for my freedom or to face the memories I had to go home to, memories I ran from for seven years. What if I made the same mistakes? What was my purpose going to be now? What did I really have to live for anymore?
Then I saw the posters for the Truth Be Told class. I even knew some of the people who had taken the previous class. Everyone loved it and talked about how it made them feel. I didn’t want to open up to strangers, but I was still facing going home with no answers and a broken heart. I thought that this might be my last chance, so I signed up.
I was touched by how loving the women of Truth Be Told were; I just wasn’t ready to let them in. I was in Ms. Nathalie’s class, so I had to give a speech on my story. I was dreading it and even thought about dropping out, but that would leave me with my broken heart.
I asked myself, “What did I really have to lose by telling my story?” So I started working on it, piece by piece. Surprisingly, I started understanding myself by looking in from a third party perspective.
Then the day came for my speech. Ms Nathalie brought some Toastmasters in to critique our speeches, and one of them happened to be her husband [Jim Walsh]. I wasn’t comfortable with a man being there while I was so vulnerable, but I had already come this far. I stood up and started telling my story, although it took every piece of strength I had.
Ms. Nathalie’s husband then had the honor of judging my speech, but I feared he was really judging me. I could feel the defiance boiling up inside me, not wanting to hear a man tell me I’m not good enough after hearing me talk about all the other men who have hurt me in every way possible.
But to my utter disbelief, he stood up in front of me, looked me dead in my eyes, and apologized for everything those other men had done.
Hearing that touched me deep down in my soul. The wall I built so strong to keep everyone else out shattered and the tears wouldn’t stop. I wasn’t being judged… I was being heard.
That was when the healing began. Truth Be Told gave me my life back. They helped me understand why I made the decisions I made, not blaming others but understanding them. They helped me change my thinking and be a better, stronger person.
I have been home for four years now. I use the tools I learned from Truth Be Told in my everyday life. Although things are hard at times, I haven’t failed or given up, because of what the women of Truth Be Told have given me…my truth. We are a true community of women. In my times of weakness I reach out to them, and they never let me down. I keep my three-year quilt close. Anytime that I need to feel supported I wrap it around me and I see all their smiling faces.
The world needs more selfless people like the facilitators with Truth Be Told. They are my angels.
Thank you so much, Donna, for sharing your beautiful story, and thank you, Jim Walsh, for being the kind and loving man that you are.
Readers, we thought you might want to see a poster that Truth Be Told used to invite women in prison to learn about and sign up for Talk To Me classes.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to experience a Truth Be Told class? In April, Truth Be Told volunteer facilitators Katie Ford and Ginger McGilvray will host a day-long workshop inspired by the Talk to Me classes they lead in prison on behalf of Truth Be Told.
Body Stories, a workshop in authentic movement and expressive writing, is slated for Saturday, April 16, from 10 am to 3 pm, at the Still Waters Retreat Center. A portion of the workshop’s proceeds will be donated to Truth Be Told.
“We hosted the first Body Stories workshop in August last year, and the experience was downright magical for me,” says Katie. “It’s my dream to bring the restorative work we experience behind bars through Truth Be Told out here in the free world. Body Stories is part of that dream. One thing I’ve come to understand is that you don’t have to be incarcerated to benefit from doing this kind of work. Being human is the only prerequisite.”
Body Stories offers four hours of guided practice in authentic movement and expressive writing. Each participant will receive a plantation paper journal and a pen. A healthy lunch will be served midday.
“We’re limiting this workshop to 20 participants to ensure quality instruction and depth of practice,” Katie says. “I encourage anyone who desires time for reflection and creativity in a beautiful, rural setting to join us. It’s an opportunity to invest in yourself while supporting a great organization.”
By Leigh Camp, Truth Be Told Volunteer
First, a huge thank you to each and every person who contributed to our Amplify Austin fundraising efforts this year. We’re still receiving checks in the mail, but it looks like the grand total will be around $23K — just shy of our goal of $25K.
We’re thrilled to have earned that level of support from our community. Your efforts are making a difference in the lives of women both behind and beyond bars.
If you missed the chance to donate during Amplify, don’t worry — we accept donations all year long! Donate now to help us make a positive impact on our community.
Here are some words from a few Truth Be Told graduates to give you a fuller illustration of the powerful, positive changes your donations make possible.
“I never knew that people you never knew could feel like family until [Truth Be Told]. My own relations didn’t ever feel like family. There is an amazing power with these women. We have been through some of the worst and made some really bad choices, but we also rose up from that, and continue to every day. It’s all thanks to the love, dedication, faith, and the skills given to me in this program that I am alive and moving forward.”
Karen, released Oct. 16, 2015
“[Truth Be Told] helped me remember I was still a Human Being not just a Felon… The Love and Spiritual aspect of all of it gave me a Love of Service to all Women trying to better there lives and not return to Prison […] Truth Be Told saved my life in so many ways!!!”
Ann, released in 2003
“TBT changed my life for the better. I am a more open and upfront lady now. I am able to express my self like never before […] Because of TBT I am stronger more stable and more confident in me. A special thank you to Miss Carol and all the women who came to Lane Murray. You are our Angels.”
Tory, released June 22, 2015
“It has been my greatest pleasure exploring the talents and abilities of women truth tellers who have impacted my life in such a beautiful way behind, and now beyond, bars. I have learned through the process and connection with powerful influential people that it’s not about how much I have, but about how much I give.”
Karen, released Oct. 30, 2014
Thank you again for all of your valuable support. Your donations give us the means to help these women change their lives. We’re so very grateful for that precious opportunity.
Save the date or — better yet — schedule your gift in advance.
Amplify Austin is an annual community-wide day of online giving. Truth Be Told is participating for the third year in a row and we’re asking for your help to make it our biggest fundraising success yet.
The event starts 6 p.m. March 8 and ends 6 p.m. March 9. We invite you to join us in our thrilling mission to raise $25,000 to support programs for women behind and beyond bars in just 24 short hours.
Here’s How Else You Can Help
In addition to making a donation, you can also support our efforts by telling your family and friends about the event.
For your convenience, we’re providing a short explanation of Truth Be Told’s mission and how to donate that we hope you’ll consider copying and pasting into an email or social media post:
I’m supporting Truth Be Told’s fundraising efforts during Amplify Austin. TBT has been providing transformational programs to incarcerated women for 16 years. Donate now to help women behind and beyond bars find healing through speaking their truth.
Please personalize your message in any way you wish! If you prefer to send a longer form message to your contacts, email Co-Founder and Program Director Carol Waid at email@example.com. Thank you in advance for helping us spread our reach.
Where 2015’s Do-Good Dollars Went
The generosity of last year’s donors empowered Truth Be Told to expand its impact in ways that make a significant difference in the lives of incarcerated women in our community:
- Volunteers spent 381 days in various correctional facilities, where they motivated 105 women to graduate from long form classes and inspired 692 additional incarcerated women in shorter programs.
- Our organization obtained a scientific evaluation of its two long form programs which confirms the impact of these programs.
- We’ve completed the lion’s share of work toward creating a written master curriculum for our core programming.
- We launched an exciting new initiative to create a formal mentoring program. It will begin when an offender is still incarcerated and continue after release, giving graduates a solid support system upon leaving prison and a more concrete chance to remain beyond bars.
Where 2016’s Do-Good Dollars Are Going
Charitable donations raised in 2016 will be invested in projects which will help us grow and expand in ways that deliver an even greater positive impact for our community.
Our main goals are below — but this is by no means an exhaustive list. We’ve got a lot on the docket for this year and look forward to getting the resources we need to start rolling!
- Hire a new part-time Executive Director.
- Hire a part-time Volunteer Coordinator/Administrative Assistant.
- Upgrade operational support for our volunteer facilitators.
- Finalize work on a formal Mentoring Program.
Thank You for Making a Difference
We can’t ever say “thank you” enough. Your generosity contributes to the success of graduates like Rutanya and Dara, pictured below. In the photo, they were at an event sharing about how important their three-year-quilts are to them.
Graduates who stay involved in our Beyond Bars program three years after release are presented with a quilt lovingly handmade by Carol Waid’s parents. The quilt symbolizes our continued support in their journey beyond bars and celebrates their success.
Thank you for being a part of the work that makes moments like this possible.
Rutanya and Dara are spreading the word to their own family and friends to raise money for Truth Be Told during Amplify Austin. Donate to their individual pages to help them reach their fundraising goals!
Photo Credit: Linda Valencia
Dear Friends of Truth Be Told,
Happy 2016!!! Did you know that Truth Be Told is now 12 years old as a non-profit and that we have been offering programs for over 15 years? Over these years we have grown from one class that graduated 15 women, to now serving in 5 facilities, serving hundreds of women per year in our various programs. We could not step into our 16th year without your support.
2015 was a growing year for Truth Be Told and our organizational structure. We have grown through and with the challenges of turnover in leadership. Through these challenges, we have worked on our overall structure including how to improve our communication and interaction with our volunteers and facilitators. We have identified internal structural needs for the organization and the board. As a community, we spent time to set our immediate goals for 2016 and to strengthen our overall vision.
I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Carol Waid (Program Director), and our supporters, volunteers, facilitators, and board members, and let you know how much I appreciate the generous donations, contributions of time, and overall moral support you have provided to Truth Be Told. I also want to share with all of you the hard work the Board and Carol have put in toward identifying goals we want to work on for 2016. We need your help to successfully obtain these goals.
Our 2016 Goals
- Hire an Executive Director
- Hire a Volunteer Coordinator/Administrative Assistant
- Strengthen and Improve the Mentoring Program
- Prepare and Implement a Facilitator Manual and Training Program
- Have a fall event recognizing Nathalie Sorrell for her 15 years of dedication
- Host volunteer appreciation events and gatherings
Of course each and every one of these goals has its challenges, and we appreciate any input and assistance from our friends.
In addition to these goals we are going to be working on our fundraising efforts including our third annual participation in the Amplify Austin event on March 8th. We look forward to having a record number of Truth Be Told individual fundraising pages this year. If you had a page last year, please consider participating again this year and spreading the word to friends and family. If the Amplify Austin event is new to you, we hope you will consider setting up a page to help support our work with incarcerated women.
To learn more please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Board Members and More
If you haven’t logged on and viewed our website www.truth-be-told.org, please check it out. We have updated it and are continuously including events, blog posts, and inspirational stories from some of our graduates.
We look forward to hitting the ground running and look forward to all of you running with us. Thank you again for everything you do for Truth Be Told. I look forward to a very productive 2016! Please feel free to reach out to me at any time if you have any questions or concerns.
Chairman of the Board
Truth Be Told