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Author Archives: Shelley Seale

Save the Date ~ The Power of our Story: Do I Matter?

Have you ever asked the question, “Do I matter?”

These thoughts roamed fiercely through Shana, a participant in our class at the Lane Murray Facility.  Shana  joined the Talk to Me Speaking class in 2013 and is currently participating in her 5th class with us.  She has been a Mentor for 3 of these classes and through these last 2 ½ years she has grown more comfortable with a deep knowing that she matters.

Here is her poem:

Yesteryear
by Shana H., Mentor

Shana BOW artWay back when, in Yesteryear

I lost all the things I held dear

Full of hate and lies and fear

Pushed all back, not one came near

 

Holding both my fists real tight

I’d scream, I’d yell

“Can’t break me, not tonight!”

 

I ran from you and I ran from me

My pain running deep

But you never would see

 

So all alone, I was running scared

Didn’t realize people still cared

Little did I know

the things we all shared

Low self-esteem, low self-worth

thinking I’m nobody,

ever since birth

 

After all was said and done

Thinking my wrecked life was no fun

 

Took a life to save my own

Could not understand

Could never have known;

The torn part of my heart inside

That fought so hard, had also died

 

Received a term behind bars

No more moon, no more stars

Tell me,

How do I live inside this place?

You see,

I cannot stand my very own face

 

Oh look,

something I’ve not seen before

Right over there,

on the board, by the door

 

I know that signing up is

What I need to do

Change my life and

Become brand new

 

It’s Good. It’s Real. It’s Bold!

Yep, you guessed, it’s Truth Be Told

How awesome it is to know it’s true

I can change and so can you!

 

Give it a chance and you will see

Forgiveness, love and community

Growing strong with new friends here

Showing me what’s real

Teaching me what’s dear

 

I can live in the now

Not scared and alone

Not stuck anymore in

My Yesteryear.

Amplify Austin 2016 Is March 8-9!

Save the date or — better yet — schedule your gift in advance.

Amplify Austin is an annual community-wide day of online giving. Truth Be Told is participating for the third year in a row and we’re asking for your help to make it our biggest fundraising success yet.

The event starts 6 p.m. March 8 and ends 6 p.m. March 9. We invite you to join us in our thrilling mission to raise $25,000 to support programs for women behind and beyond bars in just 24 short hours.

Here’s How Else You Can Help

In addition to making a donation, you can also support our efforts by telling your family and friends about the event.

For your convenience, we’re providing a short explanation of Truth Be Told’s mission and how to donate that we hope you’ll consider copying and pasting into an email or social media post:

I’m supporting Truth Be Told’s fundraising efforts during Amplify Austin. TBT has been providing transformational programs to incarcerated women for 16 years. Donate now to help women behind and beyond bars find healing through speaking their truth.

Please personalize your message in any way you wish! If you prefer to send a longer form message to your contacts, email Co-Founder and Program Director Carol Waid at carol@truth-be-told.org. Thank you in advance for helping us spread our reach.

Where 2015’s Do-Good Dollars Went

The generosity of last year’s donors empowered Truth Be Told to expand its impact in ways that make a significant difference in the lives of incarcerated women in our community:

  • writinghandsVolunteers spent 381 days in various correctional facilities, where they motivated 105 women to graduate from long form classes and inspired 692 additional incarcerated women in shorter programs.
  • Our organization obtained a scientific evaluation of its two long form programs which confirms the impact of these programs.
  • We’ve completed the lion’s share of work toward creating a written master curriculum for our core programming.
  • We launched an exciting new initiative to create a formal mentoring program. It will begin when an offender is still incarcerated and continue after release, giving graduates a solid support system upon leaving prison and a more concrete chance to remain beyond bars.

Where 2016’s Do-Good Dollars Are Going

Charitable donations raised in 2016 will be invested in projects which will help us grow and expand in ways that deliver an even greater positive impact for our community.

Our main goals are below — but this is by no means an exhaustive list. We’ve got a lot on the docket for this year and look forward to getting the resources we need to start rolling!

  • Hire a new part-time Executive Director.
  • Hire a part-time Volunteer Coordinator/Administrative Assistant.
  • Upgrade operational support for our volunteer facilitators.
  • Finalize work on a formal Mentoring Program.

Thank You for Making a Difference

We can’t ever say “thank you” enough. Your generosity contributes to the success of graduates like Rutanya and Dara, pictured below. In the photo, they were at an event sharing about how important their three-year-quilts are to them.

Graduates who stay involved in our Beyond Bars program three years after release are presented with a quilt lovingly handmade by Carol Waid’s parents. The quilt symbolizes our continued support in their journey beyond bars and celebrates their success.

Thank you for being a part of the work that makes moments like this possible.

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Rutanya and Dara are spreading the word to their own family and friends to raise money for Truth Be Told during Amplify Austin. Donate to their individual pages to help them reach their fundraising goals!

Photo Credit: Linda Valencia

 

Celebrate #GivingTuesday — Donate Today

We all know Thanksgiving — a day of thanks. And we all know Black Friday — a day of getting deals. So what’s Giving Tuesday?

A day of giving back.

2015-its-time-for-giving

Truth Be Told is participating in #GivingTuesday for the second year, and we’re so excited to join thousands of nonprofit organizations in a global movement that promotes donating to causes that speak to us — and that make the communities we live in a better place.

Our goal is to raise $10,000. The money we raise will support the work we are currently doing, and help support our growth in 2016.

In the last two years, we have grown from providing services in three facilities to five, with a sixth facility planned for the New Year. Growing in such an impactful way has only been possible thanks to the support of donors like you, and the incredible dedication of our vigilant volunteers.

As an organization, expansion stretches our comfort zone. But that’s also something we ask of the brave women we serve. We ask them to step into a place of vulnerability and courage, and to dig deep, uncovering the story that has brought them to the place that they now sit. The women who sign up for our classes step over the threshold of the unknown, and into a new way of life.

We, too, want to step over the threshold of “what’s next,” and discover the beauty that waits on the other side. But we need your help to get there.

Donate today to support our Giving Tuesday campaign. Thank you in advance for your support. Without you, none of this would be possible.

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Celebrating Strong Women, and the People Who Believe in Their Stories

On October 17, 2015 the board members, volunteers, and graduates of Truth Be Told came together in celebration of our community. Because no one can properly celebrate on an empty stomach, a light brunch was served — including coffee, juice, pastries, and breakfast tacos (in true Texan style).

The Journey Imperfect Faith Community graciously let us use their space for the event. It was just the perfect size for our little soiree, cozy but not crowded. As people milled in, the room filled with a positive energy that was palpable, and just as invigorating as the coffee.

Board Member and Facilitator Donna Snyder took on the additional role of MC for the affair. She kicked off the event with a warm introduction for the first speaker, the “heart and soul of our Beyond Bars program,” Director of Programs Carol Waid.

Carol told us about Karen, a Truth Be Told graduate that has written Carol enough letters from prison to fill a book. Literally. Karen plans for the letters to form the bulk of a book she’ll write called Against All Odds. The letters are especially beautiful, not only because of their written content but also because each is also a piece of original artwork. Karen drew incredible pictures on the backs of each page.

Karen was released from prison October 2014, and is still in touch with Carol. She jokes that she now has “high class problems,” like having to get up late at night to change her grandson’s diaper. Those are the kinds of problems we love for our graduates to have!

After Carol told Karen’s success story, Elizabeth, whom Donna called a “star graduate,” took to the podium to tell hers. Elizabeth signed up for the Truth Be Told public speaking class when a judge mandated she deliver speeches as part of the terms of her release.

Elizabeth said the class, “changed me, or it reminded me of who I’d always been. By the time I was done with their class, prison wasn’t a prison anymore. I was freer in my life than I’d ever been.”

Autumn Schwartz

Autumn Schwartz

Chair of the Board Autumn Schwartz then spoke about her introduction to Truth Be Told as an internal auditor. Autumn ended up falling in love with the organization, becoming a full time volunteer, and picking up the reins as passionate Chair of the Board in 2013. She expressed her excitement for the future of Truth Be Told and for those involved in the mission.

Following Autumn was graduate Sandra. Sandra’s been out of prison a little less than six months. She shared the story of how another graduate at the event, Rutanya, recently helped her find employment. How wonderful that our community could support Sandra in such a tangible way during her transition to life outside of prison!

Sandra

Sandra speaks to the audience

Next facilitators Sue Ellen Crossfield and Becky Deering spoke about how much they’ve gained from their experience teaching classes in prison. Becky told us teaching her classes each week gives her strength; the women inspire her. Sue said, “The women who have been inside tell us how much we give them, but it’s really them who give so much to us.”

Sue Ellen

Sue Ellen

Donor and Mentor Margaret Kahn was the last official speaker — though her mentee, Dara, jumped in with heartwarming words of love from the audience. Margaret talked about how she met Dara, and how their relationship has strengthened and changed them both over the years.

In summation Margaret said, “This is the most powerful thing I have ever done in my life.”

The event closed with a community circle honoring Co-Founder Nathalie Sorrell, who retires from facilitating this year. Nathalie will remain a strong advocate for the cause — and will always remain in the thoughts and our hearts of the people she’s touched within our community. Everyone held hands around Nathalie and shared impressions the days’ stories had left with them. There were smiles, some tears, and lots of laughter.

We said our goodbyes, and though we left in separate cars, we left as a strengthened community, excited to look down the road ahead.

Graduation Days by Christina Wisdom

Today we have a guest blog by Christina Wisdom:

Wisdom

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.

A Road to Recovery

252128_2110746080709_1007330243_32397622_730538_nCarol Waid is one of the founders of Truth Be Told and serves as our Director of Programs. She says that connecting with our graduates when they are released and participating in our Beyond Bars Program is the work reward that makes her heart sing. After an early morning check-in call with a graduate, she shared what determination and success look like.

Seven months ago, Tara was released from the Lockhart Unit. This morning she set her alarm so that she could check in with me before 8:00 a.m. When she was in our prison classes, she was loyal, dedicated, enthusiastic, willing, hard-working and determined. She graduated from both Let’s Get Real and TTM Writing. In Let’s Get Real, I give certificates for perfect attendance and Tara set her mind to getting that certificate. One day, she came to class with a fever (which I don’t recommend) and another day, with her jaw bulging from a tooth ache when she wasn’t able to say much more than, “I am here.” My heart aches and my tummy rolls when I think about how she did that.

Before being released, Tara made the decision to set boundaries with her abusive husband. He was also incarcerated and she let him know she would not stay in her violent marriage. Her poem below, Letter From My Wise Self, that she wrote as one of the TTM Discovery exercises expresses that she came to know who she is and what she wants out of life. Tara’s soon to be ex-husband has been released and she has continued to keep her boundaries. This is so huge!

photo 2Since her release, Tara has been living with a woman who gave her a safe place until she can go back to her home state. She hasn’t seen her mother and son since 2010, but her parole officer just gave her permission to go home for five days at Thanksgiving. She is so excited! She talks to her mom several times a day and she always reminds Tara to connect with her support system. At the end of our conversation she said, “I will talk to mom later and tell her that I checked in with you.” This made me smile and it’s one of the reasons that TBT’s Beyond Bars is important to all of us.

Tara’s personal transformation was internal but she is demonstrating it by her accomplishments:

  • She has been working at McDonald’s since June and got a raise after three days.
  • She was employee of the month and was given a $25 gift certificate.
  • She likes working long hours because she has made enough to pay rent and still send some to her son.
  • Tara is active in her Narcotics Anonymous group.
  • Her parole officer has removed her “high-risk” status and is considering her for early release. He says she is the “poster child” for how to be a parolee.

Tara has checked in with me six times to fill me in on how she is doing and fulfill her commitment to our Beyond Bars Program. Just like her perfect attendance, she now has her sight on the quilt that she will receive after three years of being released, not reoffending, and staying in touch.

I asked her how it felt to be the employee of month. “It felt deserved. I have worked hard to prove myself. The other employees, well they can find jobs a dime a dozen, but with my background I have to prove myself. I love my job, where I work the night shift.”

My morning has been blessed by Tara. I love it when these calls come in to remind me of the importance of our work, but also how important it is for our graduates to have beyond bars emotional support. Cheerleading is awesome!

Letter From My Wise Self

You have come a long way from where you use to be.

You know now not to let men abuse you.

You have come very wise to this.

So you know not to go back.

You know now you can be a leader, not a follower.

You have come wise to this.

You know things are going to be different for you now.

You have come wise to this.

You know you will be accepted in life.

You have come wise to this.

In all in all, you are a very wise lady.

Don’t ever forget that.

Art For The People and Body Stories

Two upcoming events will be donating a portion of their proceeds to Truth Be Told!

Art for the People Gallery

Art For The People Gallery exhibit Human/Nature opens July 9 and runs through August 16 and features Liberty Lloyd and Jules Buck Jones. Artist Liberty Lloyd was so moved by our Truth Be Told mission that she is donating a percentage of her exhibit proceeds to us. A centerpiece of the exhibit is Liberty’s three beautiful watercolor portraits of women who were executed in Texas.

Watercolor by Liberty Lloyd

Watercolor by Liberty Lloyd

Art For The People is a new gallery and workshop whose purpose is to use the arts to help change lives for the better. Deanna Serra, the founder, says, “Art is a global language. It builds bridges and unites people.” The renovated space is located on South First Street, the iconic neighborhood that really is keeping Austin weird. They strive to be a place where artists and art lovers connect and come together as a community that inspires hope. Hope that empowers change in the world.

What a beautiful connection for Truth Be Told! Creativity is one of the Four Cs practiced in Truth Be Told programs: Creativity, Communication Skills, Community Building and Caring for Self. Our Discovery classes and Exploring Creativity workshops engage the women in creative self-expression to better understand their past and reimagine their future. Using expressive arts is a time-honored way to release pain and express despair without harming oneself or others.

Please join us at the Art For The People Gallery Human/Nature opening Thursday, July 9, 6:30-9:00 p.m. Or visit the gallery at 1711 South First Street before August 16.

Body Stories: An Exploration in Authentic Movement and Expressive Writing

This workshop will be held on Saturday, August 15, 2015, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Body Stories is inspired by the work Ginger McGilvray and Katie Ford do as volunteer facilitators for Truth Be Told. This co-ed workshop, hosted at a rural art studio, explores authentic movement and expressive writing as creative practices for unlocking personal wisdom and creative potential. No experience required. Enrollment is limited to 12 participants.

What you get:

  • 4 hours of guided exploration in authentic movement and expressive writing
  • An opportunity to meet others who are drawn to these types of experiences
  • A journal and pen
  • Drinks and dessert to accompany a BYOBB (bring your own brown bag) lunch
  • 10 percent of your tuition will support Truth Be Told program

Send an email to Katie Ford at iamkatieford@gmail.com to add your name to the roster, and she will provide you with payment options. Cost: $150.

Questions? Email Katie iamkatieford@gmail.com or Ginger at ginger.mcgilvray@gmail.com. Full refunds are available through August 7.

KatieFordA professional writer and editor since 1993, KATIE FORD discovered her love of teaching five years ago when she began leading writing classes for women in prison. Every semester, Katie witnesses how the simple acts of writing and sharing from the heart can awaken personal wisdom and plant seeds of empathy and compassion among strangers. She aspires to bring these experiences into the community by hosting similarly inspired workshops in the free world. When she’s not going to prison, she enjoys taking walks with Martha, her three-legged cattle dog.

GingerGINGER MCGILVRAY is a movement instructor and massage therapist. Her experience working with women in prison has ignited her life-long interest in justice and reconciliation, which recently led her to become a certified conflict resolution mediator. “Embodiment” is a good word to describe her approach — an invitation to come back home to ourselves and, from there, rediscover how to live in truth with others. She is grateful for the love, encouragement and creative inspiration she shares with her fiance, Nathan.