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Why Your Worst Deeds Don’t Define You

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In 1991, Shaka Senghor shot and killed a man. In this 12 minute TED Talk he says he was “a drug dealer with a quick temper and a semi-automatic pistol.” Jailed for second degree murder, that could very well have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t. Instead, it was the beginning of a years-long journey to redemption, one with humbling and sobering lessons.

He describes the four things that aided his personal transformation: mentors, literature, family and writing. This journey led him to understand the three things he needed to do, the things he now shares with other former offenders: acknowledging the hurt he had caused and that which he suffered, apologizing to the people he harmed with no expectation of acceptance, and atoning through service work. The beauty of this brief talk is surely an act of atonement.

Watch the full TED Talk video here

The Invisible Population and Their Children

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Women prisoners are called the “invisible population” because they aren’t what comes to mind when most people think of prison. But they aren’t invisible to their families. The Sentencing Project reports that 64% of women under correctional supervision are the mothers of minor children. About 12,000 women are in Texas state prisons and jails. This doesn’t count the Texas women who are in county jails and federal prisons. The trend is disturbing; the female prison population is growing at twice the rate of the male population. We are grateful for other sources that bring attention to the stories Truth Be Told hears in every class.

In A Nation of Women Behind Bars, ABC News Anchor Diane Sawyer takes you on a journey into the world of women living in America’s prison system today. She visits four maximum security prisons, including an interview with the two youngest women on death row. She reports, “The U.S. is incarcerating more people than any other country in the world, people serving long sentences. And women are coming into prison at a faster rate than men.”

photo credit: Thomas Hawk

In Sesame Street’s Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration, Alex talks with Abby Cadabby, Rosita, and Sofia about his dad’s incarceration, real families with young children share their own experiences with parental incarceration, and an animation shows a family’s trip to visit a parent in prison.

Margaret Mead so wisely stated,  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  Thank YOU all for being in our community, helping to change the world.

 

Living Deeper and Freer: New class at Lane Murray Unit, Gatesville

by Carol Waid

We are grateful and humbled by the 225 people who contributed to Truth Be Told during Amplify Austin. You contributed more than $24,000 to delivering programs to incarcerated women who are hungry for change. Your participation supports our belief about community helping to change the world.

Community. Connection. Empathy. Compassion. Respect.

These nouns bring a community of women together, seeking a safe place to bring forth the TRUTH of who we really are. We meet in a sacred space each Thursday night, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., for a class called “Living Deeper & Freer.” Most of the women in this community have been in prison for over 10 years.

I have been going into prison for 15 years. I have never been incarcerated, but I have lived much of my life being incarcerated by my fears, stuck in stories of loss and tragedy, searching for a place that I felt like I fit.   I have met hundreds of women, who like me, were seeking a different way of living their lives, seeking a way to fit in, seeking a way to belong.

We find each other in our sacred space. How can a prison classroom become sacred, you may ask? You begin slowly with the idea. You set the intention, and the silence is held as we are serenaded by Karen Drucker’s song “Gentle With Myself.”   Closing your eyes and letting your walls soften is palpable. I often hear sniffles, because the gentleness of the music releases the tension of everyday life in prison.

We slowly, ever so gently, open our eyes, and the connectedness sets in, deeper each week. Each week we begin our community together in this way. This is much like the community that I belong to on Tuesdays in the “free world.” I consider the Tuesday space sacred too.

 

I feel the earth move in my weekly classes. Two weeks ago a woman shared about how in the last 16 years she had become desensitized. She shared an experience of seeing herself being unable to feel empathy. She knew what was missing, and she is readying herself to come back into the world this June. In three months she will walk out of the barbed wire world, she will step back into the “free world,” and she wants to not be desensitized.

This was exciting to me, because in the moment of her being aware of this, she was reconnecting with the true self.

Her discovery also was the story of the other 18 women, who said, “Girl, you are telling it.” They were so grateful that she was able to so beautifully articulate their own knowing from the years of their own incarceration. This caused a beautiful ripple of connection and a stronger community. That day was no different than the weeks that I have gone behind bars to be real with women.

Today I called a young woman who has been out of prison for 126 days. This is not her first time to be released to the free world, but it’s this time that is important. This time she really wants to be an active parent, and in the short time of her reentering she has had the same job. She has her daughter living with her and the son that she hadn’t seen in six years is spending weekends with her.

When we checked in she got real very quickly, because this is our practice in our classroom. We moved the small talk aside, and she shared what was really going on.

I talked to her for 10 minutes, and in that time I heard important truths. We ended connected, even though when we got off the phone she was weeping, because she was reminded of who she is.

Within three minutes, she texted this message,

“Thank u Ms. Carol. It’s almost spooky how right on time u were calling me. LOL. I luv u lots.”

What I believe is that in that 10 minutes she was reminded of the community that she built for herself behind bars, but it’s hard out here to stay connected. She works 12-hour shifts at her job, is raising a daughter, paying bills, and continuing to live her life in integrity.

As I said, I feel the earth move, and my heart responds in gratitude as I say thank you to Truth Be Told and how my life has changed because of it. I have found important work that I belong to – it is a purpose and it is a passion.

imagineTBT

 

 

The Oxygen of Inspiration

by Kathleen Littlepage

Kathleen Littlepage

Kathleen Littlepage

We are at the end of a month of fundraising efforts for Truth Be Told and some of us get worn down by the energy it takes. I could try to hide this truth about myself, but that would belie our belief that the truth is always important and there are no “perfect people” only people who are traveling the path of personal growth. When Carol and I get tired, we seek out what Carol calls the “oxygen of inspiration” and we don’t have to look far for that. Here are some stories that remind us what a difference our programs make. I invite you to share our inspiration and remember that Amplify Austin ends at 6:00 p.m. Friday, March 6, but our work to support incarcerated women continues.

Inspired Quilts

11004817_672572826205046_1759662122_nCarol’s parents, Doyle and Peggy Chandler, lovingly make and donate a quilt for each program graduate who stays involved with our Beyond Bars activities for three years after being released. Some of Peggy’s beautiful designs come to her in dreams and recipients often express how the quilt she received is perfect for her. Sending or delivering those quilts is Carol’s most joyous job responsibility. Carol mailed quilt number 42 to Donna (learn more about her story) and got this response: “When I got home last night, I had the best surprise on my door step….MY 3 YEAR QUILT! I’ve waited for this day since I first walked into my Truth Be Told class. It means so much to me because it is a symbol of how far I have come and all the accomplishments I have made in the three years since I’ve been home. But most of all it is a symbol of the love and dedication and support of Truth Be Told. Since the first day I walked into class, they have wrapped me up in their love and support and have stood by my side helping me find myself and guiding me every step of the way. So receiving this quilt is perfect because as I wrap it around myself, I feel them wrapping me in one of their famous hugs. I can feel their love and support as if they are right here with me.” Right before Willa received quilt number 41, she said, “Ms. Carol it’s 5 days until my 3 year mark. I have held on to the memory of that quilt. I think about your momma and your daddy making those quilts and I say ‘girl, I am gonna get me one of those quilts’. Ms. Carol it’s real hard out here, but I don’t even turn my head wrong.” Willa always finds a way to stay connected even though she regularly has a different phone number and has been living without electricity for three months.

Each Other’s Miracle

Katie, a longtime facilitator at Lockhart prison, wrote in her blog, La Querencia, about a woman who helped out a classmate and how it affected them and everyone else.

“All of us in the room could feel it. We felt proud of Stephanie, compassion for Jessica and honored to have witnessed it all. We were a circle of women who had, inside a prison, successfully built a community of trust, of love, of compassion, of authenticity, of truth, of integrity, of hope, of healing, of new beginning.”

Read her story.

In Their Words

Karen Cantrell Jan 2014Karen was released October 30th, 2014 and contacted Truth Be Told three days later. She shared why Truth Be Told classes are important: “The principles, the ideas, the creativity, the events, the listening, and most of all the being seen, heard and loved. These things spread throughout generations. The people that y’all touch on the inside, we take it home with us and we take it to our church, to our family and friends, to AA meetings, and everyone we meet benefits. I look at people differently now. I am better able to listen and have compassion for others. It changes lives more than you can even dream.” After 15 years in prison, Monica was released July 2, 2013. She regularly checks in to share:

“I am doing good and I am staying out of trouble.” She says, “I found Truth Be Told so that I could find the real me.”

Kasey has been free for less than three months. “Prison is not a place to rehabilitate, it teaches you to be a better criminal. When I joined Talk To Me Circle, that was my first step into recovering.” Kasey was incarcerated at 22 and released at 27. “I grew up in prison.” Upon her release, Kasey chose to live in a home where she knows no one, “changing people, places and things.” The hardest things for her have been not seeing her twins at first and watching her father’s funeral on a video because she was in prison when he passed away. Because Kasey learned the importance of sharing your story in her Truth Be Told class, she already has spoken at a local jail and to a 4H group. You can donate to a graduate’s Amplify fundraising page Cara, Dara, Kimberly, Kay.

Karen CantrellMay2013

We Are Changed by the Change

By Kathleen Littlepage, Executive Director

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I always understood that quote to mean that if you want the world to be more peaceful, start by cultivating your inner peace. I have come to understand that saying in another way. I suspect that Gandhi knew something that I have discovered through my work with Truth Be Told — that when you work towards change, that work changes you. You will be the change.

For fifteen years, volunteers have facilitated all of our programs. Recently, a wise woman who started several nonprofits told me that she believes having all volunteer facilitators ensures a level of passion in our programs. For a lot of us, that passion or commitment is engendered by how much we learn from being with incarcerated women, how much we are changed.

A few years ago, Katie Ford, one of our long-time dedicated facilitators, spoke at a fundraiser about how working with the women in prison altered the course of her life. A guest at the event became involved with Truth Be Told and a donor because he looks for organizations that promote personal growth for the people doing the work while they also serve a cause.

Even after years of facilitating, the insights of women in my classes surprise me and stretch my perspective on topics I thought I had exhausted. Training new facilitators also makes me see through “fresh eyes”. Once when I was leaving the jail with a new volunteer, she asked, “Do you ever tell people how much fun it is to do these classes?” I laughed because I’ve thought it often but never expressed it that way — probably anticipating the looks I would get.

Two of our facilitators-in-training created personal fundraising pages for Amplify Austin that express how this work has affected them. Please consider supporting this work that serves all of us by donating to one of them.

Lauren King is co-facilitating Talk To Me – Circle at the GEO Lockhart Unit. Lauren wrote:

laurenkingThe Truth Hurts. I always took this sentence to mean that the truth can sting on a very superficial level. After months of volunteering at Truth Be Told it means the headache I get after two hours of difficult, emotionally draining activities. It’s the full body ache I get the next day that I call my ‘emotional hangover’. It’s the pain I see in women’s eyes from years of living with truths they could never say because it wasn’t acceptable. It’s the silence of abuse and the shame of living in hiding. The truth can hurt to hear, sure. But truth does the most damage to lives when it is never spoken.

Every week I go to prison knowing it will be intensely emotional and powerful to hear women tell their story, yet I leave staggered by how extremely powerful it is. I’m grateful for every headache and body ache, because I get to witness and be a part of the very human experience of connection. I get to watch as that connection transforms women’s lives. It’s an experience that changes my life just as much as the women in prison. Best of all, I leave with hope and a better understanding of forgiveness and a full picture of what compassion truly is.

Rebecca Deering co-facilitates a weekly class at the Travis County Jail in Del Valle. She writes:

rebeccadeeringA year and a half ago, I was desperate to change my life, the way I felt about myself and where I fit in the world. I set out on a journey that required me to see the hard truth about my life, and pushed me to take the steps to regain my mental freedom. Eventually, I was ready to share the idea that I am the one that can bring a positive change in my life by seeking the truth and using simple tools to live a better life.

When we sit down with the women at the Del Valle correctional facility, we present a topic and then we discuss: How can this particular tool, be it love, compassion, or forgiveness, help you today? How will it help you when you go home? How will this tool make your life a bit easier, a bit more peaceful, a bit more joyful?

Please help me help “my ladies” by supporting my work facilitating on behalf of Truth Be Told. I so look forward to seeing them every week. They encourage me to continue my journey while they begin theirs. This program is one of love, of hope, of truth, of beauty, and the possibility of a better life. Please donate today so that I may continue to empower myself and help these women empower themselves.

Amplifying the Voices of Truth Be Told

When the women in our programs find their voices, they are so powerful that they spread throughout the community. All Saints Church wanted to learn more about Truth Be Told, so we showed up there in force on Sunday and had a wonderful reception. An All Saints women’s group has been supporting Brenda, one of our program graduates, since she was released from prison last year. We showed our video and described our programs, but the highlight was when our two graduates, Brenda and Kimberly, spoke.

Brenda talked about how finding Truth Be Told classes changed her life, and how those blessings multiplied when the All Saints women began helping with her reentry. Brenda was determined not to return to the area where she had been at her lowest before going to prison and starting over with no resources in a new city would have been an enormous challenge on her own.

Sue Ellen Crossfield, Kimberly and Donna Snyder

Sue Ellen, Kimberly and Donna

Kimberly walked out of prison just three months ago and she is already focused on how she can give back and help other women. When Kimberly took the Talk To Me – Speaking class, her classmates chose her to be one of the graduation speakers. On Sunday, she once again courageously shared her life story with the empathetic audience.

The facilitators who worked with Kimberly and Brenda behind bars already knew they were stars. Donna, Sue Ellen, Katie, Joanne, and Carol came to reconnect with the women they were anxious to see outside of prison dressed in something other prison garb.

If you are a member of an organization that would like to learn more about Truth Be Told and the women we serve, contact us about making a presentation at office@truth-be-told.org.

Kimberly, Katie Ford and Brenda

Kimberly, Katie and Brenda

Graduates’ Amplify Austin Fundraising Pages

The work the women in our classes do is inspiring. We get to witness the power of their journeys even more when they are released. Some of our graduates have created personal fundraising pages for our Amplify Austin effort. Consider donating to one of their pages to support their desire for Truth Be Told to reach more women behind bars.

Cara is a leader in our Beyond Bars activities. Visit Cara’s Amplify Austin page.

cara“I am one of those Women! I went into prison a girl, lost, afraid and without my voice. I didn’t have any idea who I was or how I got to into the mess I was in. One day I chose to get out of my prison cell and go to a class. Having no clue that I was walking into a classroom that would forever change ME! I don’t think I even knew how to tell the truth, let alone MY TRUTH. The facilitator gave me a journal, a tool to let it all out. A tool that I could use to tell my truth. I quickly found that I HAD A LOT TO LET OUT! I started writing and hardly stopped! I learned to use my body to express feelings I could not name. Through the tools of journaling, moving, trusting my community, vulnerability (yes that’s a tool) and truth telling I learned all about me.”

Dara graduated from ACC in December. She had a 3.8 GPA, received the ACC Presidential Student Achievement Award, and spoke at graduation at the Erwin Center. Visit Dara’s Amplify Austin page.

dara2014graduation“HATE, CHAOS and ANGER that was my truth for 32 years. TRUTH BE TOLD created a place for me to admit that truth…admitting that part of me that wasn’t so pretty helped me to get underneath all that and realize I really didn’t hate, I HURT. Being vulnerable, exposing ALL those secrets, telling MY TRUTH about everything…started the process of RENOVATING my life…TRUTH BE TOLD helped start that process.”

PRISON doesn’t teach telling the truth; in fact PRISON enforces “silence”.

PRISON doesn’t renovate lives; in fact PRISON tears down lives.

PRISON doesn’t give tools on how to stay out; in fact PRISON wants you to come back.

TRUTH BE TOLD helps break the silence by telling your truth.

TRUTH BE TOLD says you never have to come back…here’s how…

TRUTH BE TOLD gives you tools and teaches you how to really use them.

TRUTH BE TOLD says you are worth it.

TRUTH BE TOLD says we believe in you.

HURTING PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE…HEALING PEOPLE HEAL PEOPLE

Celebrate Our Community and Radical Transformations

Celebrate our Amplify Austin success! Okay, it hasn’t happened yet, but we are already planning a party. Thursday, March 5, 5:30-8:30, All Saints Church, 209 W. 27th St., Austin. Our Truth Be Told community will share in the fun of watching our hard work pay off when donations start to roll in as Amplify starts. We’ll have food and most importantly, a chance to build community with the people who make our work possible. Come meet our board, founders, facilitators, donors, and graduates. If you are on social media, you can help spread updates and reminders since the 24-hours of fundraising will just be getting underway.

Personal Fundraising Campaigns. We have 28 fundraising pages! Some are still “under construction” but check them out.  More than half way to our goal of 50 and we still have 24 days before the event. Creating a fundraising page can be challenging, but we are here to help. Just contact Carol (carol@truth-be-told.org) or Kathleen (kathleen@truth-be-told.org). Once you have a page, you just spread the word to your network: email, Facebook, twitter, whatever. Or you can just talk to your friends.

Radical Transformations

Who I Want to Be. The Mask Exercise guides the women to a deeper understanding about themselves and the way they hide their vulnerabilities. They discover masks that cover up who they want to be and masks that conceal who they are. These two fabulous drawings were created during the exercise by Michelle M., a graduate of the Talk to Me and Discovery classes at the Lane Murray Unit in Gatesville, TX.

 

Who I’m Afraid To Reveal. In Michelle’s writing she expressed feeling like a “broken vessel” and “screaming to be free”.Mask 300 dpi_1

Empowering Voices

Kathryn S. found her voice in three classes at the GEO Lockhart Unit, Talk To Me, Discovery, and Let’s Get Real. She was released on December 10, 2014 and got in touch right away to connect with our Beyond Bars activities. Kathryn already has a job, has reunited with her family, and is falling in love with her grandchild. Her poem, My Wall of Masks, is her creative expression from the Mask Exercise and is printed in the Discovery class Book of Wisdom.

My Wall of Mask

I have discovered that hidden beneath my mask,

I am still me.

I am every mask that I put on.

I am every mask that you might see.

Each mask has a different face,

every moment, every time at each and every place.

They are all unique, but they are the same.

I don’t remember them all,

but they do have their own name.

My mask of laughter, my mask of tears.

My mask of courage, and, yes,

my mask of fears.

My mask of failure, my mask of shame,

my mask of accomplishment,

My mask of fame.

My mask of success. But,

what does that really show?

My mask of right now

is the only one I truly know.

My mask that I hide behind,

my mask that I embrace.

My masks are all a part of me.

I wear them upon my face.

I could go on and on about

the many masks I wear.

But right now at this moment,

this is the woman I want to share.

So when I put my mask on

for you and the world to see,

it doesn’t really matter what it looks like.

They are all and each

A part of me.

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