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Author Archives: Rebecca Farrell

Honoring Francesca Wigle by Melissa Klein

“Going out to the jail was my favorite day of the week.”  – Francesca

Francesca began training me as a PEACE program facilitator in January.  From the minute I met her I knew she was a special person.  Her contagious smile, child-like spirit, and perpetual laughter stood out in the Travis County Jail like a snowy day in Texas. She greeted everyone like an old friend- the officers, security guards, and the mother’s with their little babies waiting on the visitor line.  Everyone she talked to smiled back- it seemed like they just couldn’t help it! With this attitude Francesca melted through layers of sadness, resignation, boredom and frustration that marked so many of the faces as we walked toward 12A where the maximum security women waited for our class.  It was such a joy to watch her seamlessly weave together the day’s topic with personal insights, while leaving space for the ladies to reflect and express their own original thoughts and feelings.  Francesca’s unique way of getting through to people allowed her access to those women’s hearts in a way that was meaningful, moving and inspiring.  I believe she has made a lasting impact on those women.  I hope I can carry on her legacy by bringing laughter, joy, creativity and insight into the jail to help illuminate the most difficult of circumstances. Francesca
(Left to right: Carol Waid; Jennifer Scott, Social Services Program Coordinator at TCSO; Francesca Wigle; B. Gentle, Volunteer Coordinator at TCSO; and Melissa Klein)

Note: Francesca began volunteering with Truth Be Told in 2011 and then assumed the lead role as facilitator for the PEACE program at TCCC. She quickly became a donor as well, thereby supporting the organization in numerous ways. Francesca was 1 of 5 nominees to receive a certificate and acknowledgment for her work at Travis County Sheriff Office (TSCO) during its Volunteer Appreciation event. We will miss her greatly and hope that she will carry on her legacy in El Paso. Read the rest of this entry

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“What I Learnt Volunteering In A Women’s Prison”

Jardine Libaire who is a volunteer with Truth Be Told wrote a beautiful piece about volunteering with Truth Be Told for an Australian site. She shares “how TBT has focused [her] attention these days.” In her sharing with us, she wrote: “Cheer and all best!” Her sentiment is what we hope to share with the women who are incarcerated and also re-integrating back into their communities upon release.  You, too, can be a part of this process!

We hope you enjoy Jardine’s work just as much as we have: What I Learnt Volunteering In A Women’s Prison.

 

Witnessing Powerful Women Share Their Stories

Written by Leigh Camp

I attended Truth Be Told’s most recent graduation as a respectful witness. It was my second time to be a respectful witness with Truth Be Told, and my second time in a prison, ever.

Both events took place at Lockhart Correctional Facility. When I went to the first graduation, the prison had just undergone a management change and was in the process of receiving a major facelift.

At this second graduation, the improvements were markedly visible — inspirational quotes cover the freshly painted walls, creating a warmer, more cared-for environment than the prison I’d entered on my first visit.

Lockdown lifted just in time.

The prison had been in lockdown the past few days. Lockdown is a “surprise” routine procedure that happens a couple times a year. During lockdown, the inmates have to remain in their cells (except to shower) while the officers search the entire facility for contraband.

We’d been in limbo about whether or not the event would take place for a couple of days. As co-founder Carol Waid pointed out via email, it was a great exercise in experiencing some of the uncertainty and lack of agency the women who attend TBT classes face every day.

We received word from the warden around 1 p.m. — Lockdown was over and graduation was a go!

 Settling in and making introductions.

About twenty-five witnesses attended the graduation with me. We waited for the graduating classes in a room usually used during visitation hours.

Katie Ford, a longtime TBT volunteer who taught one of the graduating classes, instructed us to leave empty chairs between us so that the women could sit with us in the audience. That way we’d all be in it together, experiencing the moment as one group.

The woman who sat next to me told me that she was nervous. Because of lockdown, she and her reading partner hadn’t had as much chance to practice. Her partner walked in about then and sat down in the chair in front of me.

“Can you copy this out?” she asked my neighbor.

“Now?”

“Yes, now, I want us to both have a copy to read from! Please.”

It was clear they were close friends. The woman sitting next to me just rolled her eyes, grabbed the sheet of paper, and started writing. When she was done, I asked her if she’d known her friend long.

“Oh, yes. We’re both diabetics, so we go to a lot of stuff together.”

Sharing stories.

Katie announced it was time to start and the sound of conversation was replaced by a silence filled with a combination of anticipation and nervous energy that was palpable.

The pair in front of me were fifth on the list, but the time passed quickly and before they knew it they were up! I patted my neighbor on the back as she walked by. “You’ll do great!”

And they did. Theirs was a side-by-side titled “Letting Go.” In it they alluded to the painful experiences they had endured that eventually led them to prison, and described the freedom they had found by accepting those realities and moving past them, into the present.

Other stories had titles like “Live Day by Day,” “Shy No More,” “Fear,” “End of the Road,” and “Phoenix Rising.” Each described the women’s personal journeys of reflection and growth through creative expression and connecting with their fellow inmates in a way that was vulnerable, and inherently not how relationships in prison typically work.

I was in turn moved, saddened, and strengthened. One woman chose to sing her story, taking the mic and belting it out with true feeling that I’m certain reverberated in each of our beings.

The audience punctuated the end of every reading with resounding applause and the women returned to their seats with sounds of “good job!” “well done!” “way to go!” echoing in their ears.

Graduation.

At the conclusion of the stories, the women lined up to receive their certificates. Every one of the women had completed all sixteen-weeks worth of classes, along with extensive coursework after hours.

That coursework included the very difficult task of self reflection, digging up painful past experiences, examining them, and acknowledging them while not letting them define the course of what happens next.

To graduate was truly an achievement, and the pride showed in their eyes as they returned to their seats with their certificates in hand.

Giving thanks.

 At the end of the graduation, the respectful witnesses are invited to share how the women’s stories have affected them. We circle up, and one volunteer stands in the middle of the circle at a time and talks into the mic.

We took turns talking about how touched and humbled we felt by the women’s stories and commended them on the bravery required to share such deeply personal emotions and experiences.

Once it was our turn  to be on the mic, we experienced some of the same jitters and butterflies the women had had to overcome as part of their graduation ceremony.

It takes guts to speak to a crowd of strangers. If, as volunteers, we didn’t fully realize it while the women were performing, we were made aware of it while we ourselves were the focus of so many eyes.

What they gave to me.

The graduation ceremony is for women who have made a commitment to complete a course that’s not only difficult, but darn near impossible. They’re asked to be open fully with one another, to expose their deepest fears, lowest moments, greatest hopes…all in an environment that’s constantly telling them to let no one in, to keep their heads down and their guard up.

As a respectful witness, my job was just to listen to the product of their journeys and demonstrate my support of their efforts to become the greatest version of themselves. But in doing only that, I gained so much that I feel guilty it may not have been a fully even trade.

Meeting these women and hearing their stories gave me a deep appreciation for everything I take for granted. We’ve all made mistakes. We are imperfect people. The difference between their mistakes and my mistakes is that mine have not yet taken away my freedom.

On the drive back, I thought about how nice it was that I could drive from Lockhart to Austin, listening to whatever I chose, and arrive at my apartment, and take a bath or read a book or do laundry or do all three without asking anyone’s permission. And all of those ordinary things became extraordinary to me.

I was both humbled and inspired by the women who graduated. Humbled by their bravery, and inspired to dig deep into my own story and come out more whole on the other side.

Interested in being a respectful witness?

If you would like to attend a Truth Be Told graduation as a respectful witness, please contact Carol Waid at carol@truth-be-told.org.

The Power of Impact

Please stop for a moment to ask the following 3 questions: Who has or is currently impacting you? What has or currently is impacting you? Who have you impacted or are currently impacting?

The concept of impact seems to be at the forefront of our nation. Thus, I thought it was fitting to write my first blog on it. Impact as a verb, is defined, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary as “having a strong effect on someone or something” or “to hit (something) with great force.” How true the definition is; at least for me. The synergy I experienced during my first 3 weeks with Truth-Be-Told (TBT) was meaningful and eye-opening!

I was deeply honored and humbled to listen to the stories of both incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women. I was touched by their willingness to share openly with a complete stranger. They are acutely aware of the stigma, negativity, and judgment associated with incarceration. I witnessed their courage, strength, resilience, creativity, and talents in addition to their pain and sorrow. They owned the decisions they made that led to their sentences and began making amends with their pasts while sharing hopes for their futures. I also witnessed their gratitude and respect for the program facilitators who played a pivotal role in guiding them to speak their truths and reclaim who they are as women and human beings. Support both behind and beyond bars is pivotal for the women. They learn to trust and rely on each other. Successes are celebrated and challenges especially with re-entry are shared. The women possess a determination to succeed even when they experience frustration, disappointment, and struggles. I learned some will experience re-incarceration while others persevere like the graduate of the TBT program whose college graduation I attended. This is the impact TBT has on them and the impact they have on us.

On October 27th, TBT will hold its fundraiser. During this event we will be honoring co-founder Nathalie Sorrell for her instrumental, profound, and continual impact on the organization. Her desire to actively minister to women created the momentum that established TBT with her co-founders Carol Waid and Suzanne Armistead. The impact created, I believe, will resonate in the responses given if you ask individuals who served as respectful witnesses at graduations, the staff at the facilities in which the programs are held, and the program participants, themselves.

A friend posted to Facebook a photo that had a male wearing a graduation gown and cap holding a sign that read “California spends $9,100 per year to educate me.” Standing beside him is a female wearing an orange jumpsuit holding her sign that reads “California spends $62,300 per year to lock me up.” I wonder how much Texas spends on education and incarceration. According to TDCJ, as of March 2016, TX facilities are comprised of 11,631 (8.1%) female inmates. I wonder what the overall impact would be if the focus centered on education, empowerment, and successful re-entry for the incarcerated population. TBT has begun this work and seeks allies and supporters in continuing the impact.

In closing, please consider how you would like to be involved with TBT. Do you enjoy writing and want to be a blog member? Do you enjoy interacting with others in group formats and want to be a program facilitator? Do you enjoy serving on boards and want to be a board member? Do you enjoy sharing information and want to help bring awareness to TBT in our communities? Do you enjoy fundraising, marketing, and/or social media and want to help in these areas? Do you want to give? Do you know others who have the talents, desires, and passion to be involved? Your involvement, in whatever form, will be impactful. Thus, I invite you in joining TBT in creating a long-lasting and meaningful impact on the women we serve and the communities in which we are members.

I may be reached at rebeccaf@truth-be-told.org. Don’t forget to follow us on both Facebook and twitter @TruthBeToldnews.