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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.”

Ginger

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.

8th Annual Fundraiser: RSVP now for a night of inspiring storytelling and community

8th Annual Truth Be Told Fundraiser
Monday, December 3, 2012
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Frank Fickett Center in Austin, TX

We invite you to an evening of storytelling and community building at our 8th annual fundraiser. At this event you will hear stories from our Truth Be Told graduates who will share how their lives Beyond Bars have been changed and affected by the tools they experienced and learned Behind Bars in the Truth Be Told programs. Katie Ford, our Behind Bars program coordinator and a class facilitator at Lockhart Prison, will share what it is like to work with incarcerated women and what she has witnessed and learned in the classroom. We’ll also show a powerful 8-minute video that was primarily filmed inside the Lockhart Prison so you can see Truth Be Told programs in action.

Please RSVP to carol@truth-be-told.org and let us know how many people are in your party. This event includes a free fajita dinner! Meanwhile, check out what transpired during last year’s fundraiser.

Awakening Through Truth Be Told

Truth Be Told facilitator Katie was invited to speak at the Annual Fundraiser Luncheon in October, 2011. Here is what she had to say about her phenomenal experience as a volunteer facilitator with the non-profit organization:

Our executive director, Shannon Holtzendorf, asked me to stand up here today and talk about how my experience as a Truth Be Told class facilitator has changed me. As I thought about what I wanted to say, I realized that the word change didn’t really fit. My journey with Truth Be Told has been more like an awakening. This organization – the women who volunteer alongside me and the women who enter my classes each semester — have helped bring out the potential that has always been within me, but had remained dormant until now.

My journey with Truth Be Told has been a series of turning points in which others have recognized something in me that I couldn’t see and created opportunities for me to step forward, find my voice and shine. All I ever brought to the table from the very beginning was a genuine desire to work toward a greater good. I also felt strongly that I wanted to interact directly with those in need.

In the fall of 2008, I attended my first Truth Be Told graduation as a volunteer audience member. I was so impressed with the work this organization was doing that I told Shannon I’d like to volunteer my services as a writer and editor – did they need help with their website or a brochure? Well, they didn’t need help with those things, but Shannon called me a few weeks later and asked if I’d like to teach a creative writing workshop – just one afternoon for two hours, whatever I wanted to teach.

Never in a million years did I see myself leading a writing workshop in a prison (I’d never even taught before), but Shannon seemed so certain that I had something to offer – and I trusted that and I said yes. I cobbled together a lesson plan and I went into that prison and I taught that workshop.  And let me tell you – the women were so responsive. The energy in that classroom was palpable – there was a hunger to do differently, to do better, to self-discover. I was hooked. I wanted to find a way to teach again. I thought perhaps it would be another workshop some day.

Nathalie Sorrell, left, and Katie at the TBT Luncheon

But Nathalie Sorrell – a co-founder of Truth Be Told – had bigger ideas. She heard about my experience leading the workshop and said, “I don’t know if you have the interest level or the time, but what if you trained to be a class facilitator with Truth Be Told?”

Never in a million years did I see myself as capable or qualified to lead a semester of classes behind bars, but here was this opportunity and Nathalie believed in me. And I trusted that and I said yes.

Two semesters into my facilitating, Nathalie and Carol Waid (Truth Be Told’s other co-founder) were invited by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to expand the program to the Hilltop unit in Gatesville. They needed someone to step up and run the program at Lockhart. They turned to me.

Never in million years did I see myself capable or qualified to oversee a program for incarcerated women, but here was this opportunity and they believed in me. And I trusted that and I said yes.

So now I stand before you, a Talk to Me class facilitator and a behind bars program coordinator. My experience with Truth Be Told has awakened in me a teacher, a leader, a diplomat, a moderator, a respectful listener — a wiser woman.

But this is par for the course for Truth Be Told. That’s what this program does.

It awakens the good stuff in people. It breaks down the walls, casts aside the doubts, looks directly in the face of denial and awakens the best in us.