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Category Archives: In the News

REFLECT: Convicts’ letters to their younger selves

Photo by Corey Desrochers

Trent Bell; Photo by Corey Desrochers

At Truth Be Told, we love hearing about other prison projects and are particularly pleased when they validate our efforts and experiences. Photographer Trent Bell was moved to create a prison photo project in response to one of his friends receiving a thirty-six-year sentence.

His friend, who was in his twenties, was an educated professional with a family and Trent couldn’t stop thinking about him. In the introduction to REFLECT: Convicts’ letters to their younger selves, Trent says:

“Our bad choices can contain untold loss, remorse, and regret, but the positive value of these choices might be immeasurable if we can face them, admit to them, learn from them and find the strength to share.”

We couldn’t agree more! Our Talk To Me classes lead women through the process of understanding and then sharing their stories.

Trent photographed twelve convicts against a background of the letter each one wrote to his younger self. During the photo shoot, filmmaker Joe Carter produced REFLECT, video interviews with the men sharing what brought them to prison, what they miss the most, and how they have changed.

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Click photo to see a video of this project in a new window

In Donna Sapolin’s nextavenue article, 5 Things Older Prisoners Want You to Know, she shares how the stunning REFLECT photo project mines critical wisdom from regret.

If you see an inspirational prison project that might be appropriate for this blog, please share it with us at office@truth-be-told.org.

Food Trucks Give a New Future to the Formerly Incarcerated

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A high school English teacher quit her job to run a food truck. But this isn’t an ordinary one, reports Upworthy.

What if we could help people who have been released from prison actually stay out of prison?

Jordyn Lexton, founder of a nonprofit called DriveChange, used to teach high school English to incarcerated 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds — all of whom were convicted as adults — at Rikers Island in New York. When she saw how bleak the future looked for them once they were released from prison, she decided to do something about it.

She left teaching behind and started the nonprofit. What makes the organization special is that it hires formerly incarcerated youth to operate the trucks, giving them an opportunity to earn money and gain job skills. Both of these things help keep people who have been incarcerated from returning to prison.

The Snowday food truck, Drive Change’s first, makes $15,000 a month.

The profits are put right back into Drive Change, which hopes to expand its operations to help more people. Drive Change’s eight employees, all of whom start at $11 an hour, operate the truck, selling food inspired by maple syrup. (Yum!)

Awesome, right?! This is a case of someone seeing a problem, coming up with a solution, and taking action.

“Our plan is hopefully to make this a national model … because unfortunately, there is not a shortage of formerly incarcerated youth across the country.”
— Drive Change head chef Roy Waterman

Read the entire Upworthy story here, or watch the video below to see how Drive Change is making a difference.

My Day in Prison

Note from Carol Waid, co-founder:

Jenny attended the April 17 graduation at the GEO Lockhart facility. She was one of 20 respectful witnesses to hold the space for the 24 women that graduated from the eight-week Talk to Me classes. All 24 went on a journey of discovery looking at what led them to be incarcerated. This focus isn’t honed in on just their crimes, it’s looking at their individual lives to discover what events and experiences happened to them and what choices they made that led them to be incarcerated. This work is intense, courageous, vulnerable, brave, and so often freeing. To be a respectful witness holding the space with kindness, gentleness, and respect is a landmark in time for these women and most often for those that are willing to come in and share the gift of their time on this huge celebratory day. Read more about Jenny’s experience.
We have three more graduations on May 6, June 4, and June 5, but all of these are full and have waiting lists.  We hope you will want to join us for our fall graduations. Watch this blog for announcements.
From all of us at Truth Be Told, we thank you for helping to make a difference.

My Day in Prison

by Jenny Robertson

“Have you ever been to prison before?”

Tall, quiet but confident, Lisa asked me this as we sat talking before her graduation ceremony started. Dressed in navy blue prison scrubs, she smoothed the notebook in her lap and chuckled when I confirmed this was my first time in a prison.

“Everyone stared at you as you walked in, right? It’s so bad — we all stare, but we can’t help it. Everyone wants to know who you are and why you’re here.”

On a stormy Friday about an hour outside Austin, Texas, I and a group of 20 other volunteers spent an afternoon in the GEO Lockhart Unit with Lisa and roughly two dozen female inmates: listening to their stories, sharing our responses, even dancing with them. (Well, okay, others danced. I stood frozen awkwardly in place, because it turns out public dancing is just as uncomfortable for me inside a prison as it is in any other venue).

The day was organized by Truth Be Told, an Austin nonprofit that provides tools of community building, communication skills, creativity, and self-care for incarcerated — and formerly incarcerated — women. The idea is that, through writing, public speaking, and movement, these women can begin the healing process by confronting what has led them to prison. They explore the dark places — who has hurt them, whom they have hurt — in an honest, judgment-free zone.

women writing with katie and carol

They were graduating after eight weeks of class, and we served as an audience of respectful listeners. The stories they shared weren’t necessarily surprising, but were nonetheless horrifying and sad — stories of sexual abuse, drug use, of continuing the cycle and inflicting trauma upon their own children. One woman robbed several pharmacies in hopes of being arrested and finding a safe place in jail. Another spoke of her father plying her with alcohol to the point of blacking out the night of her high school graduation; as she crossed to the dais to pick up her Truth Be Told certificate amid standing applause, it occurred to me how different and positive this graduation must feel to her.

Despite the dark subject matter, a palpable sense of joy permeated the room. Here we were, a group of participants and volunteers, illustrating the gift of thoughtful, open listening. I forget sometimes how powerful that gift can be in a world of texts and tweets.

I was able to attend the ceremony thanks to a new AT&T initiative providing paid time off for the volunteer project of my choice. In my daily job, I talk so much about communications — machine-to-machine technology, petabytes of data over our network, call quality, and download speeds. It’s easy to lose sight that at the center of all this activity, our business is still inherently about people making connections.

Laughing with Lisa about how, indeed, everyone stared as I walked the gray line painted through the prison halls, I made a connection I would never have imagined a few days earlier. It was short, but it mattered, and I’ll carry it with me.

Writing Your Way to Happiness

A New York Times article, Writing Your Way to Happiness, collects recent research on the powerful effects of writing personal stories and journaling. Truth Be Told programs have always incorporated these tools, so we love seeing the scientific validation. Talk To Me, our basic eight-week prison program, leads the women through a process of understanding, owning and sharing their stories.

Photo credit: Chris Gash

The article quotes Dr. James Pennebaker, a University of Texas psychology professor who has led much of the work on expressive writing, “The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go. I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”

The article continues…

The scientific research on the benefits of so-called expressive writing is surprisingly vast. Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.

Now researchers are studying whether the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.

The concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.

Why Your Worst Deeds Don’t Define You

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In 1991, Shaka Senghor shot and killed a man. In this 12 minute TED Talk he says he was “a drug dealer with a quick temper and a semi-automatic pistol.” Jailed for second degree murder, that could very well have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t. Instead, it was the beginning of a years-long journey to redemption, one with humbling and sobering lessons.

He describes the four things that aided his personal transformation: mentors, literature, family and writing. This journey led him to understand the three things he needed to do, the things he now shares with other former offenders: acknowledging the hurt he had caused and that which he suffered, apologizing to the people he harmed with no expectation of acceptance, and atoning through service work. The beauty of this brief talk is surely an act of atonement.

Watch the full TED Talk video here

The Invisible Population and Their Children

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Women prisoners are called the “invisible population” because they aren’t what comes to mind when most people think of prison. But they aren’t invisible to their families. The Sentencing Project reports that 64% of women under correctional supervision are the mothers of minor children. About 12,000 women are in Texas state prisons and jails. This doesn’t count the Texas women who are in county jails and federal prisons. The trend is disturbing; the female prison population is growing at twice the rate of the male population. We are grateful for other sources that bring attention to the stories Truth Be Told hears in every class.

In A Nation of Women Behind Bars, ABC News Anchor Diane Sawyer takes you on a journey into the world of women living in America’s prison system today. She visits four maximum security prisons, including an interview with the two youngest women on death row. She reports, “The U.S. is incarcerating more people than any other country in the world, people serving long sentences. And women are coming into prison at a faster rate than men.”

photo credit: Thomas Hawk

In Sesame Street’s Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration, Alex talks with Abby Cadabby, Rosita, and Sofia about his dad’s incarceration, real families with young children share their own experiences with parental incarceration, and an animation shows a family’s trip to visit a parent in prison.

Margaret Mead so wisely stated,  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  Thank YOU all for being in our community, helping to change the world.

 

“Recognizing Our Wonderful Donors”

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Since 2000, the faithful support of individuals and a few churches has allowed Truth Be Told to bring programs to thousands of incarcerated women. We have always been a primarily volunteer organization; so, we are fortunate that it hasn’t taken much prodding to convince our network of friends that helping women heal their lives, strengthen their families, and build safer communities is a worthy cause. Recently, we added grants from local foundations to that mix of support. Please check out our new webpage that recognizes many (but sadly not every one) of these wonderful contributors.

This is an extraordinary time in the evolution of our humble and fiercely passionate nonprofit. Increasing numbers of prison administrators are recognizing the importance of our work as unique and powerful. We are a little overwhelmed by the current interest of federal and state correctional facilities. If we had the organizational capacity, we could be serving twice as many women next year!

Our Need: In order to grow efficiently and effectively, we need to improve our facilitator training materials to reach volunteers outside Austin; format our curriculum so it can be shared with a wider audience; enhance our database to keep better track of participants, volunteers, and donors; and retain sufficient staff to manage all of these tasks.

Watch Your Inbox: For the first time ever, we are having a pledge and volunteer campaign. We mailed Donation and Volunteer Forms this week. We don’t have mailing addresses for some contacts, so they will receive an email instead. If we missed you altogether, you can go to our webpage to donate or volunteer.

 

Thank You, Thank You Tom Bentley

Recently, Tom Bentley advised us on how to become a more sustainable nonprofit and then, he made a generous donation! Tom has been a hi-tech entrepreneur and was design manager for the teams that built the first generations of laptops for Apple and Dell. This is how Tom explained his interest in Truth Be Told:

“I look for the same things in a nonprofit that I look for when designing or investing in hi-tech:

  1. An enthusiasm for the mission.
  2. Transformational to their customers.
  3. Effective with very few people.
  4. Scalable to very large numbers.

Truth Be Told has the first three handled with aplomb. I believe with increased funding, they can build the organization to scale effectively. I am grateful to support them in their fantastic work.”

 

Creative Ways to Contribute

Amazon Smiles AmazonSmile

Amazon just started a new charitable giving program. If you buy an eligible product at AmazonSmile, 0.5% of the cost is donated to an organization of your choice. Truth Be Told is a registered organization, so please choose us when you make a purchase. There is no additional cost to you. To shop at AmazonSmile simply start your regular Amazon shopping at smile.amazon.com.

 

Gone For Good   gone for good

We just got our first check from a donation made to Gone For Good by Sarah Sibert who says, “I highly recommend Gone for Good. I wish I had known about them before I took five car loads to another place. I sold my house and downsized. It was so nice that Gone for Good came and looked at what I was donating and carted it away. I didn’t have to deliver anything. I was very excited that my donation turned into dollars for Truth Be Told.”

 Gone For Good is a nonprofit with a simple but clever model to help other nonprofits. Individuals donate items of value that they no longer want. Gone for Good sells the items and donates the proceeds, less a handling fee, to the charity chosen by the individual, who in turn gets a tax deduction. Gone For Good has a booth at the Antique Marketplace, and they sell items online. They also organize and manage estate sales.

 

Thanks For All You Do

Thank you to our many wonderful donors, in-kind contributors, and volunteers, named and unnamed. Thank you for sharing this link and spreading the word about our mission whenever you can. You are both the foundation of Truth Be Told and the scaffolding for our future work. We can’t wait to meet the new folks who Donate and Get Involved.