Truth Be Told invites people from the “free” world to be respectful witnesses at our graduations. A gathering of graduates and witnesses is a perfect recipe for what Dr. Brené Brown says about healing shame in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead:
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
Our experience has also shown us how important it is for healthy, kind men who are willing to be courageous with their vulnerability to attend our graduations. David attended the November 2013 graduation at the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville, Texas.
During the Circle of Response (the third part of the graduation, where respectful witnesses are invited to stand up and share how the graduation affected them), he walked humbly to the microphone. He stood tall and soft, wiped away his tears, and told the women that there were good men in the world and he was there to represent them. He fully and lovingly saw these women, who openly sobbed at his compassionate and empathetic response.
People Behind and Beyond Bars heal shame through experiences of connection like these. Please read what David wrote to the graduates of the 2013 Fall Talk to Me series at Hilltop.
I have nothing to offer but this: I believe there are gentle men in the world, and we are available to do good works. We can show women who have been tortured physically, mentally, and emotionally by men that there are also men who are willing to show up and be good.
My name is David. My biological birthday is April 23, 1957. But my real birthday, my sober day, is December 16, 2010. Being three years old next week in a 56-year-old body offers me a lot of advantages. I look at life, like Joni Mitchell, from both sides now. I have looked at love, relationships, friends, and life from both angles, and I know I am a much better person on this side of my new birthday.
You might ask why I am saying that. It is my journey, and I have to be honest. So many times in my life, I let my family make decisions for me, and I did what I thought was expected of me. Now I am living the way I want to live. I am feeling the pain of not being numb, I am wrestling with the fact that my Catholic upbringing might not be exactly right for me, and I am in a relationship because I want to be.
Why is that important for you to hear from me? It’s important because I am just like you. Let me explain.
I didn’t know I was an alcoholic until I spent time helping a wonderful friend detox this year. I knew deep down that alcohol got me in trouble more than it helped me, so one day three years ago, after losing a $400 million construction project, I decided to stop drinking. But it wasn’t until I was helping my friend that I learned why I drank. I learned why psychologists put these labels on people, and I started reflecting and becoming honest with myself.
I had been hiding from my alcoholism. Yes, men hide things too. I did, and I am learning to stop.
My love’s name is Carol. No, you probably don’t know her, but she teaches me things I never thought I could understand. Carol has been sober longer than I have. I am drawn to her honesty. I love her deeply, and our relationship has taught me to seek out people who are similarly honest and open. Now, I am drawn to these kinds of people. You are learning about honesty, and so am I. I always heard the truth would set you free, but I didn’t know I was hiding until I started putting words to this process of ours — this seeking the truth, seeking goodness.
I visited a group of graduating TBT women last month. I sat next to my Carol, crying, boiling inside that there are not better ways to help people who have committed crimes. I cried for you, I asked God why for you, I reached deep into my soul to let me come up with a way to help you.
The best I could come up with is that I was there at that moment, you saw my tears, and you saw my struggle to talk to the group and to somehow connect. And you saw that instead of running and hiding, I looked at you and you looked at me and that was as honest and truth-filled as it could get at that moment, in that chapel, in that setting. And I am good for it. I am bettered for it, and I hope you were bettered for it too.
So that brings me to this moment.
It is cold outside. I just rode my bike to the gym. I like to ride but not in the cold. I am contemplating dinner (I am a self-proclaimed chef). My Carol gets to try my experiments from the kitchen. Today, I think I am going to make homemade ravioli with a meatloaf filling. Yes, I love to cook and someday, I hope, you can try my world-famous homemade crackers. I would love to share them with you.
I want you to know this: I know men may have been a battleground for you. They may have hurt you and hated you. They may have brutalized your lives. Like you, we men do the best we can. I believe that about everyone.
Now the best in some cases is not good, but it is the best. You are taking steps forward to make your best even better. I am doing that too. When you talk about the men who did terrible things, I hope you can know that there are other men, men that are like you, and maybe in the future, men will help round out your life. I would like to think that there are many men like me.
So for now, near the holidays, be honest with yourself, be honest with others, and enjoy your newest birthday. I know I will.
I hope to see you soon.