RSS Feed

Author Archives: MaryAnn Reynolds

Journey to Self

by Peggy Lamb, Exploring Creativity Coordinator for Truth Be Told

Rca, Krystal, Brandi, Kathy, Linda, and Nancy: six women in the white garb of inmates and I sit in a circle in the spacious chapel at the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville, TX. They are in the Female Sex Offender Treatment Program. We are here to do a deep dive into creativity – to collaboratively create Journey to Self, a dance/theater piece they will perform in Truth Be Told’s Miracles in Human Form show for their fellow inmates.

I look at their nervous and expectant faces. These six women have been chosen to participate in this project by their therapists because they have demonstrated a commitment to their recovery.

I reassure them that my intention is to create a divinely inspired, perfectly-imperfect piece. I see their breathing deepen and faces relax a bit but still they are nervous and insecure. They are not professional dancers and have never performed. Who wouldn’t be nervous?

It’s time to move, to quiet the monkey-mind, and to feel our feet! We start with saying our name and doing a movement, then Whoosh-Bang-Pow (a movement game that gets even the most uptight person laughing.) After Whoosh-Bang-Pow I lead them in Flocking, an exercise that culminates in the group walking together at the same tempo (which is harder than it sounds.). We’ll use this in the final section of our performance when the women-in-white form a procession and walk slowly downstage to Alison Krause’s Down to the River to Pray.

together-235128_1920

We gather again in a circle — now we are a much more relaxed and embodied group of women. We read a couple of poems I’ve selected: Wild Geese by Mary Oliver (tell me about despair, yours and I will tell you mine), The Healing Time by Pesha Gertler (the old wounds, the old misdirections, and I lift them one by one close to my heart and I say holy holy), and that powerful quote by Maya Angelou, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”

I ask the group if they are familiar with Maya Angelou. Most of them are through her Phenomenal Woman poem. Brandi, a white thirty-something mother of six says, “I named my daughter after her.”

Through writing prompts such as “Write a ten-word memoir,” we create the written material that serves as a springboard for dance material. I ask the women to create three movements that symbolize the parts of their lives they chose to write about. This is the hardest part for most of them. They want to do pantomime. Eventually their robotic, pantomimic movements slowly become imbued with the core of their being, as much as these deeply scarred and wounded women can deliver at this time.

chalkboard-620316_1920

I call this section of the piece “I could tell you a story” and it is the heart of Journey to Self. The body, in its cellular wisdom, can express that which we do not have words for.

One woman’s movement is simply opening her mouth and arms wide. She has been in prison for over 20 years for molesting her children. Another woman’s movement is simple side-to-side sways — a beautiful movement. For her it meant how she was influenced by other people and did not have her own sense of self.

woman-558378_1920

The warden has allowed us two three-hour slots of rehearsal time — a miracle in the world of TDCJ. By the end of our second rehearsal, these women and I have created a beautiful heart-felt dance. I am stunned and awed by their courage, their willingness to step outside their comfort zones, their vulnerability and discipline.

As one woman said during our debrief, “In the free world I dressed in wigs, make-up, heels and sexy clothes. I didn’t know how to be just me. In this piece I was more naked and vulnerable than I’ve ever been. And yet, I feel more peaceful than I’ve ever felt.”

As for me, this deep dive into the holy water of dancing with incarcerated women leaves my body heart and spirit vibrating with gratitude. I shake my head in wonder and awe at how I stumbled into this divinely choreographed and divinely designed volunteer work.

Advertisements

Beauty Behind the Fence

 

by Lindsey Lane

In January 2016, I travelled to the Gatesville Prison with Carol Waid to be a facilitator in training for Truth Be Told’s Talk To Me Writing Class. I was familiar with the prison system as I had gone behind the fence as a journalist and novelist, but this time, with TBT, I would be in service to the women of the Lane Murray Unit by helping them tell their stories. (In the classroom next to ours, Christina Wisdom and Julie Wylie were facilitating the Talk To Me Speaking class.)

Because I was completely new to TBT, Carol asked me to experience the class as a newcomer, like the women did: Doing the homework, telling my story, sharing my life. At first, I felt like I didn’t belong. I’m outside the fence. I have freedom. But I am also a woman an a mother and, just as I was hungry to hear their stories, they were eager for mine. We wanted to connect. We wanted to understand one another. We wanted to share. We wanted to heal through telling the truth about our lives, however different they are.

One of the most beautiful parts of the Talk To Me Writing and Speaking classes comes near the end of the eight weeks. Our homework is to write one or two sentences about each member of our class and how we see them. It is an opportunity to reflect on how each person has revealed their hearts over the last eight weeks.

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-11-23-19-pmThis is what I said about one class member named LaVerne:

I can imagine coming to Miss LaVerne’s home (that’s what I would call her: Miss LaVerne) and drinking slightly sweet tea with a hint of lavender, I think. I try to get her to tell me what the secret ingredient is but Miss LaVerne only smiles. We talk about the weather and other sweet things, “The Blessings,” she calls them. Miss LaVerne knows there is plenty of meanness in the world but she likes to talk about “the blessings that bind us.”

After the Speaking and Writing classes were complete, we joined the two communities together. In the first eight weeks we were looking into our pasts and focusing on how we got to our levels of incarceration. The next six weeks is called Discovery – discovering the women we want to become. Near the end of Discovery we began planning our graduation. Each of us would share something we created as a result of being in the classes. LaVerne was stumped about what to contribute. Someone in the class suggested she write a poem. LaVerne said, “Can it be about lavender? I like what you said about lavender.”

Here is what she wrote and shared with us at graduation on May 26, 2016.

Lavender

by LaVerne F.

True happiness only comes from fearing God and keeping His commandments. Our happiness depends upon the habit of mind that we cultivate. I say let’s practice happy thinking. Every Day. Again I say let’s practice happy thinking every day. Let’s cultivate the merry heart. Let’s develop the happiness habit, and I believe life will become a continual feast for us. Lavender, to most people, is a color. To me, Lavender is beautiful and fragrant, and it is widely known as an essential oil that brings about calming and restful energy as well as evoking a feeling of happiness…Lavender, again I say Lavender.

As a result of experiencing this work, I signed up to return to the Lane Murray Unit with Carol Waid to co-facilitate Living Deeper and Freer, which is a continuation of TTM Writing and Speaking classes. Twelve women from the original twenty-eight (some were released, some were transferred to other prisons, and others went to the faith-based dorm) continued on with us. We are a tightly woven community committed to exploring how to live deeper and freer on both sides of the fence.

There is so much beauty behind the fence. Truth Be Told allows the women to become more than the crime that put them there.

And the next time you smell Lavender, think of LaVerne and cultivate the happiness habit.

 

Are you ready to join The Power of Our Story?

Please join us Thursday, October 27th, as we Celebrate and Witness stories of women who, through vulnerability and self-awareness, have transformed their lives.

The evening will be emceed by Shayla Rivera, and Austin’s own Sara Hickman will give a special performance as we honor Nathalie Sorrell, Co-Founder of TBT,  and the many women who transformed their lives by participating in the behind and beyond bars programs.

Come and join us as we honor the impact of Truth Be Told’s Work!

When: October 27, 2016, 6pm – 9pm
Where: Asian American Center – 8401 Cameron Rd., Austin, Texas 78754 (open in Google Maps)

Purchase your ticket today! 

Donna learns to tell her story

“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we will ever do.” ~ Brené Brown

Thank you for being a part of our Truth Be Told family! Your commitment to our work enables us to change the lives of incarcerated women, their families and their communities. We thank you for your generous contribution and encourage you to read the powerful statement of one of our graduates, so you can feel first-hand how your support impacts these women.

by Donna Norman

Almost five years ago, I was lost and broken. I was facing my freedom, and it was coming fast. I was so hurt and so angry with everyone and everything, but most of all myself. The choices I made cost me my freedom and the loss of everything that meant anything to me – including and most importantly, my children. I wasn’t ready for my freedom or to face the memories I had to go home to, memories I ran from for seven years. What if I made the same mistakes? What was my purpose going to be now? What did I really have to live for anymore?

donnanorman

Then I saw the posters for the Truth Be Told class. I even knew some of the people who had taken the previous class. Everyone loved it and talked about how it made them feel. I didn’t want to open up to strangers, but I was still facing going home with no answers and a broken heart. I thought that this might be my last chance, so I signed up.

I was touched by how loving the women of Truth Be Told were; I just wasn’t ready to let them in. I was in Ms. Nathalie’s class, so I had to give a speech on my story. I was dreading it and even thought about dropping out, but that would leave me with my broken heart.

I asked myself, “What did I really have to lose by telling my story?” So I started working on it, piece by piece. Surprisingly, I started understanding myself by looking in from a third party perspective.

Then the day came for my speech. Ms Nathalie brought some Toastmasters in to critique our speeches, and one of them happened to be her husband [Jim Walsh]. I wasn’t comfortable with a man being there while I was so vulnerable, but I had already come this far. I stood up and started telling my story, although it took every piece of strength I had.

Ms. Nathalie’s husband then had the honor of judging my speech, but I feared he was really judging me. I could feel the defiance boiling up inside me, not wanting to hear a man tell me I’m not good enough after hearing me talk about all the other men who have hurt me in every way possible.

But to my utter disbelief, he stood up in front of me, looked me dead in my eyes, and apologized for everything those other men had done.

Hearing that touched me deep down in my soul. The wall I built so strong to keep everyone else out shattered and the tears wouldn’t stop. I wasn’t being judged… I was being heard.

donnaquiltThat was when the healing began. Truth Be Told gave me my life back. They helped me understand why I made the decisions I made, not blaming others but understanding them. They helped me change my thinking and be a better, stronger person.

I have been home for four years now. I use the tools I learned from Truth Be Told in my everyday life. Although things are hard at times, I haven’t failed or given up, because of what the women of Truth Be Told have given me…my truth. We are a true community of women. In my times of weakness I reach out to them, and they never let me down. I keep my three-year quilt close. Anytime that I need to feel supported I wrap it around me and I see all their smiling faces.

The world needs more selfless people like the facilitators with Truth Be Told. They are my angels.

~~~

Thank you so much, Donna, for sharing your beautiful story, and thank you, Jim Walsh, for being the kind and loving man that you are.

Readers, we thought you might want to see a poster that Truth Be Told used to invite women in prison to learn about and sign up for Talk To Me classes.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 8.27.15 AM

Amplify Austin Is Over – Here’s How We Did

By Leigh Camp, Truth Be Told Volunteer

First, a huge thank you to each and every person who contributed to our Amplify Austin fundraising efforts this year. We’re still receiving checks in the mail, but it looks like the grand total will be around $23K — just shy of our goal of $25K.

We’re thrilled to have earned that level of support from our community. Your efforts are making a difference in the lives of women both behind and beyond bars.

If you missed the chance to donate during Amplify, don’t worry — we accept donations all year long! Donate now to help us make a positive impact on our community.

Here are some words from a few Truth Be Told graduates to give you a fuller illustration of the powerful, positive changes your donations make possible.

Karen I“I never knew that people you never knew could feel like family until [Truth Be Told]. My own relations didn’t ever feel like family. There is an amazing power with these women. We have been through some of the worst and made some really bad choices, but we also rose up from that, and continue to every day. It’s all thanks to the love, dedication, faith, and the skills given to me in this program that I am alive and moving forward.”

Karen, released Oct. 16, 2015

 

 

ann williams (1)[Truth Be Told] helped me remember I was still a Human Being not just a Felon… The Love and Spiritual aspect of all of it gave me a Love of Service to all Women trying to better there lives and not return to Prison […] Truth Be Told saved my life in so many ways!!!”

Ann, released in 2003

 

 

Tory

“TBT changed my life for the better. I am a more open and upfront lady now. I am able to express my self like never before […] Because of TBT I am stronger more stable and more confident in me. A special thank you to Miss Carol and all the women who came to Lane Murray. You are our Angels.”

Tory, released June 22, 2015

 

 

 

Karen Cantrell_N&C

“It has been my greatest pleasure exploring the talents and abilities of women truth tellers who have impacted my life in such a beautiful way behind, and now beyond, bars. I have learned through the process and connection with powerful influential people that it’s not about how much I have, but about how much I give.”

Karen, released Oct. 30, 2014

Thank you again for all of your valuable support. Your donations give us the means to help these women change their lives. We’re so very grateful for that precious opportunity.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 1.08.54 PM

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!

teri in church

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.

IMG_1976

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.

11004817_672572826205046_1759662122_n

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.