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Thank you for visiting the Truth Be Told blog. Click here for our website with videos and information on programs. Find out how to volunteer, donate, and attend a graduation.

2016 goals plus great job opportunity!

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.

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From left, Joanne, Ginger, Linda, Carol, Donna, Peggy, and Nathalie

Our 2016 Goals

  1. Hire an Executive Director
  2. Hire a Volunteer Coordinator/Administrative Assistant
  3. Strengthen and Improve the Mentoring Program
  4. Prepare and Implement a Facilitator Manual and Training Program
  5. Have a fall event recognizing Nathalie Sorrell for her 15 years of dedication
  6. 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.

Amplify Austin

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 carol@truth-be-told.org.

Board Members and More

If you know anyone who may be interested in joining the Board we would love to hear from you.  Please email your interest to office@truth-be-told.org and include “Board Member Inquiry” in the subject line.

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.

Best regards,

Autumn Schwartz
Chairman of the Board
Truth Be Told

New Year’s Reflections: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

 

by Carol Waid, Co-Founder and Director of Programs

What a whirlwind 2015 has been! We’ve been gifted with many precious, wonderful moments.

My, how we’ve grown!

Truth Be Told’s first class was led by Co-Founder Nathalie Sorrell in February of 2000. Nathalie’s original class had fifteen students. This year, we’ve held eight graduations with approximately 100 graduates from three different facilities: Bryan Federal Prison, Lane Murray Facility, and MTC Lockhart Facility. We are thrilled to have grown so significantly in such a short time!

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Teri, a graduate of Nathalie’s first class in 2000 who has stayed in touch, and Nathalie.

(Read more about our graduations in these past blog posts from Christina Wisdom, a facilitator in training, and Jardine Libaire, a respectful witness.)

And — we’ve gone nationwide!

On Oct. 13, Truth Be Told program graduate Dara Musick and volunteer facilitator Katie Ford gave a presentation at the 16th Biannual Adult and Juvenile Female Offenders Conference in Hartford, Conn. In their presentation, Dara and Katie spoke about Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me Series and the tools we call the 4 Cs: Community Building, Communication Skills, Creativity, and Caring for Self.

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Dara Musick and Katie Ford.

Being present at that conference — the only conference in the nation that focuses exclusively on programs and policies tailored for women and girls involved in the criminal justice system — was a huge honor for us. And we were so proud that one of our program graduates had the opportunity to share her story on such a grand scale.

Three quilts were awarded to women beyond bars.

Co-Founder Carol Waid’s parents Doyle and Peggy Chandler lovingly make quilts for our graduates who stay involved in our Beyond Bars program for three years after their release.

This year, we had the privilege of awarding three brave graduates with quilts: Donna, Brandi, and Niqua. Sending or delivering those quilts is Carol’s most joyous job responsibility. Our graduates work hard to earn those quilts. They fight against the odds and make tough decisions to stay on track.

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Donna receiving her quilt. 

After receiving her quilt, Donna said, “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.”

(Read more about Donna’s story.)

We held our last class of the year — plans for next year are in full swing!

We closed out the year with an Exploring Creativity Workshop at the Lane Murray Facility in Gatesville. Peggy Lamb led a group of women behind bars in a class called Writing Through Movement. Together we explored how to use creative movements and writing as a way to connect to earth, air, water, and fire. We laughed, we wiggled, and we strengthened our community. It was a precious night.

We’ll be back to prison on January 7 and January 14 to offer our Miracles in Human Program, and in late January we’ll bring our classes into six facilities. We have so much to be amazed by and grateful for. Thank you for your continued support of our efforts.

A very happy New Year to you all! May it be filled with laughter, love, good health, and wonderful times with family and friends.

Celebrate #GivingTuesday — Donate Today

We all know Thanksgiving — a day of thanks. And we all know Black Friday — a day of getting deals. So what’s Giving Tuesday?

A day of giving back.

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Truth Be Told is participating in #GivingTuesday for the second year, and we’re so excited to join thousands of nonprofit organizations in a global movement that promotes donating to causes that speak to us — and that make the communities we live in a better place.

Our goal is to raise $10,000. The money we raise will support the work we are currently doing, and help support our growth in 2016.

In the last two years, we have grown from providing services in three facilities to five, with a sixth facility planned for the New Year. Growing in such an impactful way has only been possible thanks to the support of donors like you, and the incredible dedication of our vigilant volunteers.

As an organization, expansion stretches our comfort zone. But that’s also something we ask of the brave women we serve. We ask them to step into a place of vulnerability and courage, and to dig deep, uncovering the story that has brought them to the place that they now sit. The women who sign up for our classes step over the threshold of the unknown, and into a new way of life.

We, too, want to step over the threshold of “what’s next,” and discover the beauty that waits on the other side. But we need your help to get there.

Donate today to support our Giving Tuesday campaign. Thank you in advance for your support. Without you, none of this would be possible.

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Hands make the world each day

writinghandsby Katie Ford

The image of his slender, ebony fingers writing words of support to Brenda brought the hot sting of tears to my eyes.

How different these hands are from the ones that used to touch Brenda.

I first met Brenda in prison in the fall of 2013 when she enrolled in the Talk to Me Writing class I was volunteer facilitating for Truth Be Told. She spoke very little and mostly kept to herself. I remember finding small joy in the moments she would make eye contact with me or offer a quick smile. Over eight weeks in Talk to Me, she and the other women in her class learned how to write and share the story of what they believe led them to prison.

In those same eight weeks, I was also learning.

I learned how hands can break bones and the human spirit.

I learned how hands can violate and reduce.

I learned how hands can leave scars undetectable to the eye.

I learned how hands can erect walls around the heart.

I learned how hands can pave roads to very dark places.

I learned how hands can self-inflict pain, because pain is most familiar.

I also learned — with certainty during that semester — that my hands are capable of holding space for sharing difficult truths. My hands can build a foundation for safe community. My hands can plant seeds of hope in soil long left unattended.

I witnessed Brenda and her fellow classmates using their hands to remove the masks that no longer felt true in their hearts and to unearth the wisdom in their stories. I witnessed Brenda letting go of what haunted her and gathering the courage to write new chapters in her life story.

At graduation, she took my breath away. In an unscripted moment, Brenda stepped up to the microphone and read a thank-you letter she had written to her classmates and me. I remember my heart knocking against my ribcage as she spoke. Here stood a woman who, only eight weeks before, admitted to me that she was learning to read and write and wasn’t sure she could participate in the class. Here stood a woman who, only eight weeks before, did not speak unless spoken to.

Here stood a woman who, only eight weeks before, was invisible to me but now stood before me as one of my greatest teachers.

Brenda helped me to see what I am capable of evoking in others. She ignited in me a fire that continues to burn. Through witnessing her journey, I gained clarity about the path I am to walk in my life.

So, last week, when I saw the image of those slender, ebony fingers writing words of support to Brenda, I broke down and cried.

Those hands belong to Edwin Medearis, a Truth Be Told board member. Edwin is one of many in Truth Be Told’s “beyond bars” community who signed a quilt made especially for Brenda, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in October and started chemotherapy in November.

Because of the choices she has made since being released from prison in 2014, Brenda has a very different kind of community surrounding her now. She is not alone as she fights the cancer that has spread to her lymph nodes. She has her Truth Be Told community, her church community, and her school community. She has people who uplift her, who remind her of how far she has come, who support her sobriety, and encourage the changes she wants to see in her life. She has people who will hold her hand, pray with her, laugh with her, and listen.

Yes, these are very different hands that touch Brenda’s life today, and she is the one who made it happen. She used the tools that were offered to her to create a life worth living … and now worth fighting for.

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Celebrating Strong Women, and the People Who Believe in Their Stories

On October 17, 2015 the board members, volunteers, and graduates of Truth Be Told came together in celebration of our community. Because no one can properly celebrate on an empty stomach, a light brunch was served — including coffee, juice, pastries, and breakfast tacos (in true Texan style).

The Journey Imperfect Faith Community graciously let us use their space for the event. It was just the perfect size for our little soiree, cozy but not crowded. As people milled in, the room filled with a positive energy that was palpable, and just as invigorating as the coffee.

Board Member and Facilitator Donna Snyder took on the additional role of MC for the affair. She kicked off the event with a warm introduction for the first speaker, the “heart and soul of our Beyond Bars program,” Director of Programs Carol Waid.

Carol told us about Karen, a Truth Be Told graduate that has written Carol enough letters from prison to fill a book. Literally. Karen plans for the letters to form the bulk of a book she’ll write called Against All Odds. The letters are especially beautiful, not only because of their written content but also because each is also a piece of original artwork. Karen drew incredible pictures on the backs of each page.

Karen was released from prison October 2014, and is still in touch with Carol. She jokes that she now has “high class problems,” like having to get up late at night to change her grandson’s diaper. Those are the kinds of problems we love for our graduates to have!

After Carol told Karen’s success story, Elizabeth, whom Donna called a “star graduate,” took to the podium to tell hers. Elizabeth signed up for the Truth Be Told public speaking class when a judge mandated she deliver speeches as part of the terms of her release.

Elizabeth said the class, “changed me, or it reminded me of who I’d always been. By the time I was done with their class, prison wasn’t a prison anymore. I was freer in my life than I’d ever been.”

Autumn Schwartz

Autumn Schwartz

Chair of the Board Autumn Schwartz then spoke about her introduction to Truth Be Told as an internal auditor. Autumn ended up falling in love with the organization, becoming a full time volunteer, and picking up the reins as passionate Chair of the Board in 2013. She expressed her excitement for the future of Truth Be Told and for those involved in the mission.

Following Autumn was graduate Sandra. Sandra’s been out of prison a little less than six months. She shared the story of how another graduate at the event, Rutanya, recently helped her find employment. How wonderful that our community could support Sandra in such a tangible way during her transition to life outside of prison!

Sandra

Sandra speaks to the audience

Next facilitators Sue Ellen Crossfield and Becky Deering spoke about how much they’ve gained from their experience teaching classes in prison. Becky told us teaching her classes each week gives her strength; the women inspire her. Sue said, “The women who have been inside tell us how much we give them, but it’s really them who give so much to us.”

Sue Ellen

Sue Ellen

Donor and Mentor Margaret Kahn was the last official speaker — though her mentee, Dara, jumped in with heartwarming words of love from the audience. Margaret talked about how she met Dara, and how their relationship has strengthened and changed them both over the years.

In summation Margaret said, “This is the most powerful thing I have ever done in my life.”

The event closed with a community circle honoring Co-Founder Nathalie Sorrell, who retires from facilitating this year. Nathalie will remain a strong advocate for the cause — and will always remain in the thoughts and our hearts of the people she’s touched within our community. Everyone held hands around Nathalie and shared impressions the days’ stories had left with them. There were smiles, some tears, and lots of laughter.

We said our goodbyes, and though we left in separate cars, we left as a strengthened community, excited to look down the road ahead.

Truth Be Told’s message goes nationwide

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IMG_1976On Oct. 13, Truth Be Told program graduate Dara Musick and volunteer facilitator Katie Ford gave a presentation at the 16th Biannual Adult and Juvenile Female Offenders Conference in Hartford, Conn. It is the only conference in the nation that focuses exclusively on programs and policies tailored for women and girls involved in the criminal justice system. The conference addresses mothers and child care, financial stability and income, prostitution and human trafficking, domestic violence or intimate partner violence, trauma, and different pathways to criminal behavior.

In their presentation, Dara and Katie spoke about Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me Series and the tools we call the 4 Cs: Community building, Communication skills, Creativity and Caring for Self.

We invite you to visit Katie’s website to read a summary of their experience in Connecticut and what it was like to share their stories with a national audience.

We should never doubt the power of our stories!

Learning What You Can Take Into Prison and What You Can Take Out

by Jardine Libaire

jardine libaire_gold shirtLast week, I was so lucky and happy to be a witness at the Truth Be Told Talk to Me graduation at the MTC Lockhart Correctional Center. This was my introduction to Truth Be Told (TBT)—looking at Katie Ford’s website one day, I read about the TBT program and wanted to know more. The potential of a writing workshop in prison has always seemed massive to me—incarcerated people (and subsequently society) are better served if they’re offered tools for reformation and introspection even while they experience the punishment of being imprisoned. Living in prison might also be a person’s first chance to slow down and take stock, especially if they’re coming from a chaotic and rough life.

The writing process (which of course begins as a thinking and considering and remembering process) has been the backbone to any spiritual, moral, and emotional growth I’ve made in my own life. I’d be lost without a pen and paper. Stranded. A phenomenal teacher taught me when I was ten to write—not to echo ideas I’d heard, or create tales I thought people would like to read—but to start with the building blocks of my own visions and memories and my sensory life and my dreams and my observations of my immediate world, and to think, and to make something out of all that, to treat it like valuable material. To head into the process without guarantees, to explore, and to see what I could discover. I’m forever grateful to him, and to the teachers who followed.

I’d never been inside a prison, and TBT co-founder Carol Waid kindly sent me guidelines for volunteers coming into the facility. We could not bring cell phones, or tobacco products, or handguns (of course). We couldn’t wear all white, or revealing clothes, or short skirts, or sweat suits. No facial jewelry. Our shoes had to be closed toe, with a back. We shouldn’t mail letters for an inmate, or hug them, or ask when they’re getting out. We couldn’t have more than $25 on us, or a bottle of prescribed pills. I kept rereading this list, worried I would mess something up.

Our group of guests, volunteers, and workshop facilitators signed in that afternoon and met the women who were graduating in a big room with fluorescent lights, plastic chairs, and a scuffed floor. The women sat with us, fidgeting with the sleeves of their jumpsuits, grinning nervously, and we all introduced ourselves to each other.

The graduation wasn’t just a ceremony of passage, but a reading. The women had worked all session to discover their own stories, to write them out, and then to deliver them to an audience, which is what they did that day.

And I was just floored, jaw hanging, eyes wide, eyes wet, heart beating. I know this could sound melodramatic, but these ladies crushed it. Their stories were radioactive with honesty, dark humor, bravado, tenderness, bloody pain, maternal pride, rage, old-fashioned gratitude, and that very delicate and intricate thing—hope.

They hadn’t pasteurized their memories; they used raw material to create real portrayals. Their details were vicious, vivid, unexpected—and hard-won, because all good writing is hard-won. The women had ventured past safe and comfortable tropes and clichés and bush-wacked their own paths to their own true story. No one is ever the same after doing that kind of expedition. You better understand yourself, the way you function, the world you came from, how it affects you; knowing this personal territory, you have leverage in future situations. At least that’s been my experience, and I heard the premonition of it in these women’s stories, too.

But these stories weren’t just illuminating to their own authors. They filled in abstract reports we all hear on poverty, crime rates, domestic violence, disability. These women used details like a ferris wheel seen in a dream, smelling faint perfume on a sister’s letter, stolen makeup, and basketball courts to make their lives real to everyone listening.

Statistics often seem simple, but it’s harder to reconcile (and impossible to forget) the personal account of someone who as an 11-year-old sold crack to her mother; or a girl who knows love mainly from being sexually abused by her father; or a mother dealing drugs to give her kids a childhood free of the violence and hunger she lived through, but getting busted and losing her family entirely.

I looked at the facilitators with great respect since writing like that just doesn’t come out of typical workshops!

There was a dearth of self-pity or blame. Ambition and self-knowledge took up more space. I only fear that the outside world, when a woman is released, will threaten her sense of self and her goals, but, as Katie said in a closing moment, the best thing anyone can do is believe in these women. Fear isn’t useful.

And so we left the prison, exiting into the parking lot, past the razor-wire fencing. We didn’t take anything concrete with us, but I definitely left richer, laden with new knowledge and insight, carrying stories into the world beyond. It made me think for the first time in a firsthand way about oral storytelling traditions and how they’ve saved and protected cultures and individual souls from extinction in the collective consciousness. Stories don’t trigger metal detectors either, and they can go wherever there is life.

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