Today we have a guest blog by Christina Wisdom:
In my life, I have graduated four times. In 1993, I graduated from high school in a packed coliseum where my parents and family could hardly pick me out of a crowd, much less really see me as I walked across the stage to get my diploma. In 1997, I graduated from a prestigious, small liberal arts college in a more intimate setting, surrounded by my family and some of the best friends I had ever made. In 2003, I graduated from law school and in 2004, was sworn in to practice law with my fellow graduates who had also passed the bar exam. Once again, I was in a packed auditorium, but this ceremony had special meaning as I raised my right hand and pledged to uphold the laws and ethics of the State of Texas. My father had passed away while I was in law school and my siblings were scattered around the country, so my mom witnessed my accomplishment and we had a wonderful lunch afterwards, followed by a big party thrown by some close friends.
In 2015, I graduated from the Truth Be Told (TBT) Speaking Class as a Facilitator in Training. This time, my fellow classmates were female inmates serving time in a state penitentiary. They were dressed in all white, and our ceremony was in a large prison gymnasium where we sat in plastic chairs, surrounded by warehouse equipment, with a spotty (at best) sound system that kept going in and out. My family wasn’t there. Most of the witnesses for my graduation were women I had never met who, like me, were interested in working with women in prison. It was an emotional day, and I struggled to keep it together as our class-elected speakers told the stories of their lives. We had been practicing for this; it had all been rehearsed and planned. What I did not plan for was the feeling that this was the most important, meaningful graduation day of my life.
I became a TBT volunteer only a few short months ago. I found TBT through a series of acquaintances that led me to meet the founders of the program, Carol and Nathalie. After a few conversations, they invited me to join Nathalie’s TBT Speaking Class at the Lockhart facility as a Facilitator in Training. It was explained to me that my role would be to help Nathalie in the classroom, but that above all else, I was a student. I was there to learn along with the inmates who signed up for the class. Nathalie was going to teach us how to write and tell our stories in just a few short minutes. Having done a lot of professional speaking, in addition to sharing my story multiple times in my recovery program, I entered this experience thinking it would be a piece of cake. I couldn’t imagine that I would learn much more about myself than I already knew.
Boy, was I wrong! I can honestly say that the work I have done in the last nine weeks has been some of the most transformative in my recovery and in my life. Doing the work was hard – going back in time and reliving things I did not want to face was tough enough – but to do it with complete strangers who had a much harder time in life than I had was extremely intimidating. I often thought, “What do I have to complain about? My life wasn’t hard compared to the lives these women had. And, I get to do this work from the comfort of my cozy couch with a cup of hot tea in my hand.” But what I learned in the process of doing this work astounded me.
I realized that we are all in prison, some of us literally, but all of us emotionally and spiritually to some degree. Through the work, I was able to see patterns of behavior in my own life that have kept me locked up inside, and my classmates surrounded and supported me through my journey. When it was my turn to tell my story, I saw nods of encouragement and big smiles, and when I was done, I received enthusiastic applause. We were all in this work together, and I felt a sense of community and solidarity that I have rarely found in the free world.
The eight women that I graduated with on October 2, 2015 in Lockhart prison will always hold a very special place in my heart. They are some of the bravest, strongest, kindest women I have ever, and will ever meet. They are not different from me. We have all made bad choices; their choices have just had different consequences than mine. I think of them often and pray for them constantly, as I believe they are doing for me. Because of this work we did together, we will always be united. And, hopefully, at some point, we will all be free.