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Author Archives: katieford

Story Bar, Truth Be Told team up to raise awareness, funds

 

Truth Be Told was honored to be the featured charity for the October edition of Story Bar’s Inward & Artward, a monthly workshop series that explores the intersection of the arts, mindfulness and community.

Truth Be Told Executive Director Katie Ford and TBT volunteer facilitator Jardine Libaire teamed up with Story Bar founders Adam Sultan and Erin Hallagan to create a two-hour experience, which attracted about 25 people and raised $220 for Truth Be Told.

Adam began the morning with a guided meditation, and then Jardine and Katie led the participants through an expressive writing exercise that is part of the Talk to Me program they co-facilitate at Lockhart Women’s Correctional Facility. Inward & Artward guests also had the chance to browse original artwork and writings created by past Talk to Me graduates and learn about Truth Be Told’s mission, vision and values.

A special thank-you to Truth Be Told co-founder Carol Waid for taking time out of her Sunday morning to participate in the workshop and to longtime volunteer Linda Valencia for documenting the morning in pictures. It was a lovely experience for all!

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Words from a Respectful Witness

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Author/activist Bobbie Becerra and Truth Be Told Executive Director Katie Ford (left to right in foreground) wait for other volunteer guests to arrive in the parking lot prior to entering MTC Lockhart Women’s Correctional Facility for the Story Gathering on Sept. 28.

Author/activist Bobbie Becerra recently traveled all the way from California to volunteer her time as a Respectful Witness at a Truth Be Told Story Gathering at Lockhart prison. The following is what she had to say about her experience:

“When I first heard of Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me program, I was… excited? I don’t really think that is the right word, but I had this urgency to tell anyone who would listen that there is a program specifically structured for women in prison to tell their stories. This is important. No – this is CRITICAL! I needed to find a way to know more about this.

So, when I saw an invitation posted for Respectful Witnesses to visit the women and listen to them share their voices, I decided it was time to plan my visit to Texas. I partnered with a friend to attend the Lockhart event.

As I was preparing to go that evening, my excitement changed to conscientiousness. I wanted to be completely aware of my own energy and to show up clearly present and respectful. These women deserved no less than my full participation.

All visitors walked into the prison facility and followed established register. Before starting the event, our host, Katie, asked each volunteer Respectful Witness to share a word to describe what he or she was feeling.

Overwhelmed was my word. That is what I felt. I was trying to manage so many emotions at once. There is hardly a series of words that could accurately capture what I was feeling. I knew I was going to see myself, hear my story in the voices of the women speaking.

I came from a life of abuse — sexual, emotional, and physical. I lived in a gang environment. I was surrounded by alcoholism and substance abuse. Today, I still carry the effects of coming from a life full of damaging behaviors.

Knowing where I came from, I am always working — working to be well, which I am not yet, but one day will be. I know that in my own healing, my work is to be honest with myself. Honest in my voice and my assessment of my life and how I’ve lived it. I know I have to dig deep and face my truth — which is exactly what I heard in the voices of the women who shared their truths at the Story Gathering inside Lockhart prison that evening. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of the event.”

Interested in volunteering as a Respectful Witness at a Truth Be Told Story Gathering or Graduation? Send an email to our program director Carol Waid at carol@truth-be-told.org to learn about our upcoming events.

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Talk to Me Story Gathering volunteer Respectful Witnesses Bobbie Becerra and Karen Joy Keith in the home of Truth Be Told Executive Director Katie Ford (in white) prior to carpooling to Lockhart prison. This day was extra joyous because it was Karen’s first time to return to Lockhart prison as a free woman. Truth Be Told was extremely honored to have three formerly incarcerated women and one formerly incarcerated man in the audience at the gathering.  (Also pictured: Jean-Michel Basquait.)

 

 

Truth Be Told welcomes new executive director

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photo credit: abigailenright.com

To many of you who support and follow Truth Be Told, I am likely a familiar face. But still, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself to you as I step into my new role as executive director of Truth Be Told.

Seven years ago, I attended a Talk to Me graduation at Lockhart prison. This is the Truth Be Told program that invites incarcerated women to share the story of what they believe put them on a path to prison. It’s a powerful journey that evokes self-awareness and accountability for one’s life and plants seeds for healing and transformation.

I should know, because I’ve now gone on this journey 12 times as a volunteer Talk to Me facilitator at Lockhart. The program is unlike anything I know offered in prison in that the facilitators work the program alongside the incarcerated women. We, too, examine our lives and attempt to discern what has led us to our current metaphorical prisons. Being a Talk to Me facilitator for Truth Be Told awakened in me gifts I didn’t know I had and liberated me from self-limiting beliefs that had continued to trip me up well into my adult life.

It became clear to me after a few years of volunteering for Truth Be Told that my heart is fully invested in this work and that I want to dedicate my professional career to restoring integrity to the lives of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women. So, it was with great delight when the opportunity arose this summer to become Truth Be Told’s executive director.

I have not traveled an obvious or conventional path to get here, but — then again — that’s indicative of the wondrous work we do at Truth Be Told. Our programs transform lives behind and beyond bars. I ask for your patience as I acclimate to my new role. In the coming months, I will be working closely with our program director, Carol Waid, and our volunteer board members to further define the organization’s short-term and long-term priorities. I feel deeply honored to collaborate with Truth Be Told in this new way and look forward to sharing our progress as developments unfold.

blue skies,

Katie Ford
katie@truth-be-told.org

April 16 workshop to benefit Truth Be Told

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April 16 workshop to benefit Truth Be Told
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Katie Ford

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.”

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Ginger McGilvray

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.”

You can read what others have to say about Body Stories here. To register, visit www.iamkatieford.com.

A Practice in Letting Go

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In our final class together yesterday, I shared this poem with my students at Lockhart prison. Having graduated from the Level 1 Talk to Me class last week, the women this week are moving on to Level 2 Discovery, which is taught by other facilitators at Truth Be Told. This transition requires taking a risk, to accept the invitation of joining a larger community of women in Truth Be Told classes who are also embarking on a journey of self-discovery. They are upping the stakes, learning who they are when the bull is stripped away, when they stop pointing fingers, when they own their stories — the horrifying, the regrettable, the beautiful, all of it.

3564681675_08fd97a73e_zThey are discovering that they have a voice.

They are seeing themselves and others with new eyes. They are continuing to practice the tools of community building, communication, caring for self and creativity.

Like many semesters before, I hold hope in my heart for each woman; their faces — young and old, of every race — will not soon be forgotten. They are the faces of mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, your neighbors.

I must remind myself, time and time again: This is where I let go.

Their future is theirs to live, theirs to save.

The Journey
By Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

A closer look inside

I recently came across an essay on Quora.com. It was written by Tommy Winfrey, an inmate in San Quentin State Prison. His words were in response to the question: “What should everyone know about prison?”

As someone who regularly goes behind bars as a Truth Be Told volunteer at Lockhart Prison, I found myself wondering what it would feel like to enter those same doors as a convicted and sentenced offender. It wasn’t the first time I had imagined it, but it was the first time I had imagined it as something that could actually happen. Why? It was in the way that Tommy Winfrey concluded his essay — with a reference to people who drink and drive, or text and drive. Says Winfrey: “A prison sentence can happen in the blink of an eye.”

My truth being told? I’ve been guilty of both offenses. But there, by the grace of God, go I.

I’m taking this as a wakeup call, a direct message from my Higher Power. Call a cab next time. It’s worth the expense and having to retrieve your car the following morning. Leave your phone in your purse — even while sitting at a traffic light. Email, phone calls, text messages — it can all wait until later.

Anyway, here’s what Winfrey had to say in response to the question: What should everyone know about prison?

“I believe that everyone should know that they can end up here. In my fifteen years plus of incarceration I have met people from every walk of life. I have met lawyers, teachers, bankers, coaches, and even highway patrolmen. Prison is full of what society would have deemed ordinary law-abiding citizens. These citizens just made a bad choice or two that cost them their freedom. Some of these decisions were horrendous; some were not. But they all broke the law. I would bet you that if you were to ask them if they would ever see themselves in prison before they committed the acts that landed them here, they would have all said no.

My point is that prison is not just full of misfits and desperados. Although, there are plenty of them here too. But, prison is full of people. People from every walk of life. Some are good people. Some I wouldn’t invite to my house. A great amount of people didn’t set out to commit a crime, circumstances just happened, and they made a bad choice. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be here. All I’m saying is that they are here. So, think about that the next time you decide to text or drink while driving. A prison sentence can happen in the blink of an eye.”

All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program with Quora is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter: @TLM

Healing an Invisible Population

IMG138-1I’ve been volunteering for Truth Be Told since 2009. It began with my attending a graduation at Lockhart prison, where I witnessed female inmates bravely sharing their stories (their truths) about what led them to prison — not the crime, per say, but the much bigger, deeper picture that this nonprofit program asks incarcerated females to explore, which is: “Looking back on your entire life, what are the decisions you have made (that you are accountable for) and the experiences you have had (that you are not responsible for) that slowly, but steadily, led you to where you are today, which is behind bars?”

Their stories were raw, disturbing, heartbreaking, honest, humble, accountable, eye-opening and a game-changer for me. I no longer saw these women as criminals and inmates, but as broken human beings. To someone out there, these women were grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends — and somewhere along the way, most all of them had suffered by the hands of others first and then chosen to make decisions that would cause suffering for themselves and for others.

MandalaI heard somewhere that “Hurt people hurt people, and healed people heal people.” I couldn’t agree more. Truth Be Told offers programming to women behind bars that evokes healing, self-understanding and self-acceptance, so that this invisible and broken population can love and forgive themselves first and then learn to love, forgive and have compassion for others. Every class we offer in prison promotes the 4 Cs: Community building, Creativity, Caring for self and Communication skills. Through a variety of methods that include creative writing, public speaking and movement, we offer opportunities for self-discovery, self-expression, truth-telling and trust-building. We are not a religious organization; we embrace all walks of faith and even those who have little or no faith.

One recurring theme that seems to come out of these classes every semester is the new awareness that “I am not alone.” It’s a simple thought, but it can feel like a tremendous burden has been lifted off one’s shoulders when she has been walking through life feeling like no one could possibly ever understand her or care about her anymore.

We operate on a shoestring budget like most nonprofits. All our classes are facilitated by volunteers. This work is not only transformational for the women behind bars, but for the women beyond bars who are dedicating their time and energy to shine light on a population of women forgotten by many. Personally, I find it difficult to point the finger anymore at where the “evil” begins. I just know that I want the healing to begin so that the cycle of crime, suffering, violence and desperation can be broken.