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Beyond the Fence

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Today’s guest post is from Truth Be Told volunteer and supporter, Wendi Romero:

Wendi Romero

Last year, I had the profound privilege of attending a Truth Be Told graduation at Hilltop Prison.  I was a changed woman when I walked out of those prison gates that day. At the time, I was at a crossing in my own life, no different than some of the situations these incarcerated women found themselves in when they lived freely in the world, enjoying the same freedom we still do. There was no longer a doubt in my mind about the course of action I would have to take to protect an innocent child. Informed by what I heard from the women’s experiences, I knew what I had to do.

So I went home the next day and did it.

Yesterday, I was invited again by Carol to return to Hilltop Prison as a special guest, this time to attend a Truth Be Told class. While we waited to enter the gates, the five of us who rode together were led in prayer by Nathalie. This poem grew out of the prayer we offered in our small circle … beyond the fence.

Beyond The Fence
(for the women at Hilltop Prison)

You used to live
in my neighborhood,
or perhaps you
sat in the desk
across the aisle
in elementary school.
You might even
be my sister.
I knew you
when you were
just a girl,
bright-eyed
and pig-tailed,
so much life
yet to be lived.
How did it
come to this …
you and I,
living in a world
separated by
barbed and twisted wire;
heavy gates,
guarded and
locked shut.
Women,
on one side
and women
on the other;
this great divide
of weaved steel,
a seemingly
insurmountable barrier
between us.
Even so,
that could never
stop me from reaching
beyond the fence
where you now live –
reaching,
to help you
remember that
you were born
to be free.
We were given
the same spirit.
What brings
you and I together
is stronger than
any cause
for separation.
You may have
lost your way,
but no matter
what side of the
fence you’re on,
your spirit has never
lost its wings.
You were born to fly.

Wendi Romero

Wendi Romero is a lover of nature, travel, art, and photography. She grew up in rural Southwest Louisiana, where the culture is still predominantly French. She is a graduate of McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA. There, she further developed her craft of creative writing and poetry under the tutelage of renowned poet, art critic, and photography historian, Dr. John Wood. Her first poem was published in 2008 inLISTEN, a publication for Spiritual Directors International. This is the poet’s first compilation of her work, but not her last. She and her husband live near the lush oak and pecan groves of Grand Coteau, LA. Visit her website and learn more about her book, Pilgrimage to Self: Leaving, Walking, Returning.

Making a Difference Beyond Bars

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My Deep Truth

by Margie Stone

The deep truth about why I am willing to devote time to Truth Be Told now, is because I spent thirteen years out on the streets helping people destroy their lives and now I would like to devote some time helping others restore their lives. I love planting those seeds of hope that prison doesn’t have to be the end of someone’s story if they are willing to do the work and promote change not only in their lives but within themselves.

For thirteen years of my life I sold drugs on the streets of Tarrant County not caring about where the money came from or whether children were provided for. I saw many people lose their jobs and homes to their addiction but all I cared about was that they were paying me, their supplier. There used to be a sign hanging on my gate to the garage (which was the place to hang out), that stated caution you may lose your job, your wife and your home if you enter, but you are welcome. Today I think about how awful and how sad my life must have been not to care about the mental, physical or spiritual state of another human being, but most of all I must have been really lost in my own mind that I could not see the destruction in others’ lives.

Truth Be Told came into my life and introduced community building, something that was foreign to me but at the time it was something I was interested in enough to seek it out once I was released from Lockhart. I found my communities among the place I grew up, my home town, the place I ran from in my youth searching for something I never found. I began by becoming part of a church community, then part of the recovery community, which is where I found my calling, so I stepped out on faith and became part of a college community.

I found being part of a community and being accountable to others who only had my best interest at heart was what my saving grace became. I no longer felt like I didn’t belong anywhere but accepted for who I was even though they knew where I was coming from; they showered me with kindness and listened to my needs. I learned to communicate with my new found community, which was another tool Truth Be Told taught me communication skills. I was caring for myself by becoming a part of a community and communicating, which was helping me create myself a life worth living. The 4C’s were actively teaching me how to return to the person that was buried under all the rubble of my past and I found out I was worth knowing and quickly becoming a vessel God could and would use to help others.

I returned to Truth Be Told to become a participant in their training five years after they had touched my life, feeling like I had something to give back to them for what they had done for me. So when I was asked; what was my deep truth for wanting to be part of this training, I simply stated I spent thirteen years out there willing to do the wrong thing so now I would like to step out there and do the right thing, spreading the seeds of hope for other incarcerated women. I would like to tell my story to others so they can see that if they are willing to do the work prison does not have to be the end of their story.  I will be graduating college with an Associates of Applied Sciences degree with an emphasis in Chemical Dependency on April 27th. I am graduating with honors, a 4.0 GPA and having the privilege of wearing the honors regalia. All things are possible through God and nothing is possible without God.

A Co-Founder’s Journey: Carol Waid’s Story

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Last month, we introduced you to Truth Be Told co-founder Nathalie Sorrell, and shared her journey of starting this organization. Today we share the story of our other co-founder, Carol Waid.

Carol Waid

How did you get involved with Truth Be Told?

Well TBT wasn’t conceived when I started with the work of Nathalie Sorrell.  In the Spring of 2000, I was invited by Nathalie to come to Lockhart and tell my story to the 15 of her very first class, which was at that time called Telling Your Story (or something like that).  I was invited, because I have a background of insanity and Nathalie saw that my life had some parallels with the women that she was serving in her classroom.  I was 3 years sober and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, so when a call to service comes along one of our commitments is to say yes, especially if it’s about telling your experience, strength and hope.  I actually went into the prison with my sponsor, who was a moving FORCE for me to actually say yes.  I was terrified to even think about telling my story, or getting the attention that comes with speaking about yourself, but I trusted Nathalie, and my sponsor, so YES was the word.

I remember when we got to the GEO unit I was nervous, but not terrified.  I had never been in a prison, nor had I ever had a desire or curiousity to know what would be inside that concrete building, with those very tall chain link fences, topped with barbed wire.  I remember walking to the double doors and seeing this pink rose in full bloom, just before we entered into the doors.  I would stop to smell this rose, with a full breath, as we left the unit that day, but I would be walking out of that concrete building, which I began to think of as a concrete vault with beautiful humans living inside, a different woman that day.

I timidly asked Nathalie if I could come back.  The 15 women that I met in that prison that day, those women who were incarcerated and living in prison, saw me, loved me, nurtured me, inspired me, noticed me, and respectfully listened to me.  I met women who knew the road I too had crawled, and many times stalled, on.  One of those women, Teri Dyer, saw the pain I was still in over my first husband’s sudden death.  She too knew what it was like to be widowed and I remember her seeing the pain in me and encouraging me to keep on keeping on.  That woman was one of Nathalies’ first participants and she has been out of prison for over 10 1/2 years and she has never missed a fundraiser or event that we have.  She is loyal and she did the hard work that was asked.

So, what turned into an afternoon of service work, to share my experience, strength and hope, has turned into an 11 1/2 year life transformational walk for me.  I NEVER NEVER NEVER thought that I would grow into the woman that I am today.  I never thought that my working alongside Nathalie, basically a facilitator in training (although I didn’t know that and Nathalie didn’t know that) would turn into me one day facilitating not just one class a week, but two classes a week, and I NEVER thought that I would actually create classes, but I did.  So, the TRUTH about TBT, for me, is that it has given me the tools to live, just like it does for the women we work with.  We are all given the tools of communication, community building and creativity, and now we have the caring for self, which we call our 4 C’s, and using these has kept me sober and growing saner all the time, but it has also healed my family and I found a purpose and passion, which I had no idea I even needed.

Why do you feel this work is important?

Carol (left) with TBT graduate Margie and co-founder Nathalie Sorrell

I feel this work is important because it is sacred work.  I went to treatment some 13 years ago and in treatment I pretty much did the same kind of work that the facilitators guide the women to do, telling the TRUTH about our lives, through a process of using a lifeline to see your life.  I did not even know my own story, much less know how to talk about.  When I did a lifeline I was able to see the reasons I would try to take my own life at 15 and why I would choose the vehicle that I chose.  I began to see why I would choose a violent teenager to fall in love with and obsess over, even beyond his death.  I began to see how depression was in my fabric, and the fabric of my family.  I was shocked to discover that I had moved 32 times in my short 17 years of life and it began to make sense to me why I didn’t know what a friend was, or how to be a friend.

I also began to understand why I was scared to say my name and be seen.  What I didn’t know, for a very long time, and still struggle to accept, is that I am courageous and strong and compassionate and loving and smart and gentle and authentic, but I have to fight off what rules, which is fear and timidity and anger and depression and insecurity and the curse of believing I am nothing and not special.

In treatment I saw my life’s path before me, which gave me a map to work with all these years.  This is the work we do with the women who reside in prison, for many of them they are creating a map of their lives and they are discovering what has been the thread that was sewn into their fabric.  They are then given the tools to pull out threads that do not belong in their tapestry and to appreciate and respect the threads that remain and so beautifully they get to continue creating a new rows….  This work is crucial to healing.  Healing is what opens the door for living a blooming life.  A blooming life includes living in the “free” world and becoming a citizen that can help the world change for better.

What is one major thing that YOU have received back from your work with TBT?

The particular instant that happened with a graduate happens EVERY single semester.

Barbara is 60+ years old and she has been in prison for 19 years.  She came to the orientation and I remember her so well, because she was me, she was my mirror image.  We do an exercise, right away, coming together in a circle and holding hands and, because our time is limited and we have much to pack in each week, we dive off the high board.  We ask the women to say their name and to say a feeling word and then a movement to go with it.  This is a pretty big package if your job, for most of your 60+ years is to live invisible.

Barbara’s turn came up and I can recall the pain I felt, and I feel, when I see a woman put her hand over her mouth and nose and her eyes express how stuck her voice is, because the terror has a grip.  I can feel the knot in my stomach right this instance.  You could not hear the wisp that was tried to come out of her, but you could hear the heaviness of the alligator tears that streamed down her beautiful face.

Carol and Nathalie with Truth Be Told graduates

When Barbara chose to come to the TTM Circle class I was ecstatic.  I love women like Barbara, because I know, from these years of expereince, that if she will come back each week we will ALL experience a transformation WITH Barbara. When you can see as dramatic a change, in just 7 weeks, that Barbara would make, then you can believe that Miracles do happen.  Well each week was a wondering, “Will Barbara come back today?”  When Barbara showed up, knowing that it was going to be her turn to tell her story, I was so happy.  I’m glowing again, right this second.  When it was her turn to stand up and speak, I said, “Barbara, we are going to give you the time to find your voice and you can do it.  We are not going to hurry you, we are going to listen and wait.”

She took her white paper, which so matched her white clothing, which was such a bright contrast to the color of her skin, and she slowly, slowly, (turtle style, because this is how she moves), walked that long road to the spot for the speakers, which was like 4 steps, and she had her hand over her mouth and her puddles fell.  She held her paper in front of her and she tried to read her writing.  We would learn that she didn’t know how to read when she came to prison and she had trouble reading, but she said one word at a time, and it was like watching someone take a heavy concrete block, one block at a time, and setting it down.  It was excruciating for me.

And then, she got the part about her daddy, I can see it right now, she got to the part of the story that was stuck in her body, she got to the part of being 7 years old, and the paper came down to her side and her tears flowed freely and her body trembled and she grieved that story right there as we witnessed her.  She talked, she shared about that painful story that had us all weeping.  Barbara stood up there for 18 minutes and she turtled back to her seat.  We can’t hug in this prison and it aches me, but I want you to know that that classroom became a more sacred space at that very moment.  Yesterday, some 4 weeks later, I watched “Bold Barbara” which is what she claimed for herself when we were in our last day of TTM Circle and the question is raised, what will you be taking in to the new community we are about to join?

Barbara said, without the need to cover her mouth, I am taking in boldness.  Yesterday, our first class to be a community, she was a new human being.  This is a woman that was not only speaking, laughing, and having joy, but she was raising her hand to ask questions and answer questions.  She was expressing and being a part of.  The other part of this is that her community was cheering it on and recognizing the enormity of it all.  Barbara changed my life yesterday and gave me the courage to do another day.  This happens EVERY single semester, without fail.  Love rules these roosts and it wins over that grip.

TBT Graduates: Embracing the Holidays Through Creativity

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Hello Truth Be Told Graduates, Precious Princess Warriors.

We are so EXCITED to be inviting you to be a part of Beyond Bars, in action. We will be offering the 4 C’s community building, communication skills, creativity, and caring for self, with Conference Calls and Social Media (Facebook). This group is only for TBT graduates, so YOU have been handpicked to participate in this exciting continuation of community building. Our first topic will be about Embracing the Holidays Through Creativity. If you are interested, please RSVP by December 1st. We are limiting this first call to 10 participants.

To give you a brief outline of what the vision is for this NEW communication outreach: we are seeking new ways to stay connected and keep you involved. We will discovering, together, if these calls can bridge the gap of your time in the TBT community, Behind Bars, and your growing lives Beyond Bars. We want to see if this is something that you will want to participate in on a monthly or bi-weekly basis.

So, for now, we need to know if you can commit to the conference call on December 12th. I will give you more detailed information about how to get on the conference call in a later email. You will need to be able to make the call from a place that is quiet, and you will need to know how to work your mute button on your phone. We will send you more detailed information about the first call, but the first and most important thing is for you to let us know if you are interested.

Date of first call: Monday, December 12, 2011
Time: 6 – 7:30 p.m.
Topic: Embracing the Holidays Through Creativity

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Carol Waid
Co-Founder of Truth Be Told
Director of Beyond Bars
www.truth-be-told.org