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Category Archives: KOT Keep on Talking Empowerment Group

Emily’s gift to TBT grads: E Ho Mai (Let It Come, Let It Flow)

 The Keep On Talking Empowerment Group, a Truth Be Told program for graduates who have moved beyond bars, is a conference call community that meets weekly for 30 minutes to inspire hope, empower the spirit, and connect with others who are committed to personal growth. Each week, a member of the Central Texas community gives a brief talk on life, compassion, and strength of spirit to Truth Be Told graduates who have been released from prison.

After the talk, the group then holds a Q&A period, followed by an open conversation between the speaker and the graduates.

The group is intended to encourage formerly incarcerated women to keep a regular connection to other people who are firmly dedicated to strengthening their fundamental potential. The participants in this group believe that by finding their voices and sharing their struggles and their successes, they can continue to turn positive thinking into action, continuing to practice a better way of life for themselves and their families.

Emily Harris

Madame Knows All!

Emily Harris, writer of the post below, discovered Truth Be Told soon after she moved to Austin three years ago. It was a serendipitous moment at a party when she overheard a conversation linking the words “storytelling” and “incarcerated women.” Emily has been a professional storyteller and teaching artist for 12 years, specializing in programs for underserved and at-risk girls. She wanted to contact whoever was in charge of this storytelling program for women in prison.

Within 24 hours she contacted co-founder Nathalie Sorrell and within the week was interviewed and accepted into the facilitator training program. For the next two years, her happiest hours were spent learning the program and helping the women in the prison classroom at Hilltop Unit find their voices and speak their truth.

Emily recently left Austin and moved back to her childhood home of Pittsburgh, PA. On the January 21, 2014, Keep On Talking Conference Call, she shared her continuing story of self-discovery, revealed below.

 

E Ho Mai (Let it Come, Let it Flow)

by Emily Harris

 This past summer I followed my very strong intuition to live in a yoga and wellness retreat far from the city. Real far. Kalani is in the jungle on the Big Island of Hawaii — it was Paradise! I served the volunteer and guest community as a member of the housekeeping staff and learned to live the Hawaiian philosophy of E Ho Mai — let it come and let it flow.  My best self emerged: Madame M, a life-affirming, fortune-telling free spirit. I hadn’t been Madame in a very long time. I adored being that me again!

At the end of the summer I felt a strong desire to move back home Pittsburgh, PA, where my story began.  It was home, it was familiar, it was comfortable.

And it was not working out. I thought I had a job waiting, but that didn’t happen. I thought I’d spend time with extended family and lifelong friends, but with the birth of new grandchildren and holiday vacations, that didn’t happen either.

After being independent most of my adult life, I moved in with my sister and felt uncomfortable as I tried to find a job, not one of my better skills. I was afraid that I had made another mistake and would now have to start all over again.  The lightness of being was being pushed out by a familiar heaviness, and I was getting stuck in it.

I began to take long walks through the neighborhoods and parks where I grew up. The energy was settled, withdrawn — the earth resting in winter — the time when roots gather nourishment and strength for the spring. This was my cue from nature. I would take this opportunity to rest and recharge.

I took deep breaths and practiced  E Ho Mai, being fully and quietly present, noticing the thoughts and feelings coming in without doing anything to stop them.  Just acknowledge. Let it come and let it flow.

What I noticed was startling.  I saw myself stuck in a relentlessly recycling loop of denial and isolation, anger, depression — the first four stages of grief.

But not for the dead, no. I was grieving for myself because I couldn’t fix all the mistakes, the dumb decisions, the squandered opportunities! And every moment I spent trying to fix the past, I missed more of the present.

But wait a minute. There is another stage of grief, the fifth and final one: acceptance.  Where was that? Nowhere in the loop I was stuck in.

 “How do I get to acceptance?”

When I got back home, I pulled out my journal and remembered an exercise I hadn’t tried in a long time.

I wrote the question, ““How do I get to acceptance?”  with my left hand, my dominant hand.

Then I put the pen in my right hand, took a deep breath, and waited.

My hand began to write,

“Ah, Emily. You have many glorious gifts and an inquisitive nature. There are many who have benefitted from those gifts. You are not one of them. In order to move in the direction that keeps eluding you, you must write a love story to yourself!”

I recognized that voice!  Madame, at her life-affirming, fortune-telling, free spirit best!

Alright, then. I put the pen back in my left hand as my new story flowed effortlessly on to the page.

“Emily was not afraid to make mistakes. The more she made, the richer her life became. For in the culture of fear that surrounded her, every mistake was an opportunity to love herself even more. It was so counter-intuitive for anyone else, or most everyone else, but for Emily, it was just the most expansive feeling!

“She learned that pressing buttons to see what they did would 99 times out of 100 blow something up, or crash it, or render it useless, or lead to nowhere, or produce mud — always something unexpected, something magical, something unusual to help her see the bigger picture.

“Emily also gave herself credit for getting that 1% right, when she discovered something that worked flawlessly, easily, someplace where she fit, someplace where she belonged.”

Seeing myself from this fresh perspective is a powerful first step in completing my grief process.  Acceptance can only happen when love replaces fear.

 “So what’s it taking to get me to acceptance?”

One loving breath at a time. Let it come, let it flow.  E Ho Mai.

we do not heal the past by dwelling there; we heal the past by living fully in the present. ~ Marianne Williamson

 

Truth Be Told Keeps Former Prisoners on Track

Truth Be Told graduate Debra Broussard is going into her 10th year of freedom clean and sober.

Debra and her sister, Becky.

Debra and her sister, Becky.

Since being released from prison, Debra has been a great supporter of Truth Be Told, attending every event and serving as a guest speaker for the Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars program. This program was designed so that formerly incarcerated TBT Graduates can go back into prison to share their experience, strength and hope. The women currently enrolled in Truth Be Told classes often ask Debra what is the worst thing she has had to face since getting out of prison. Unfortunately, Debra’s answer is having to mourn the loss of her sister, who was murdered on New Year’s Eve in 2010.

“They couldn’t believe I was still sober after facing the worst,” Debra said of the women at Hilltop prison.

When her sister was murdered, Debra turned to the tools she had learned in Truth Be Told classes at Lockhart prison. She knew she had a support system in place — one full of people she could reach out to and who would help her.

“I’m going to tell you straight up. My sister was my best friend, and the way she was found was very degrading. She didn’t deserve being nude, folded up like a pretzel, and left in a footlocker, which was dumped behind some road construction like a piece of trash. Unless you’ve been through something like this, you can’t imagine what it’s like,” she said.

To help her stay clean and sober during a very dark time, Debra leaned into her TBT community. She participated in Truth Be Told’s “Keep On Talking” Facebook page to stay in community with other released graduates who understand the healing power of respectful listening, truth telling, authenticity and compassion. She also read the Truth Be Told blog because she often benefited from the stories and experiences posted there.

“We are all the same in one way or the other,” Debra said.

When Debra first heard about Truth Be Told, she was serving her last six months in prison. She knew she was interested because she had heard that she would learn to tell her story. She went in with an open heart and an open mind.

Debra said she learned who she was in those classes. She got rid of her junk. She learned not to judge other people. She learned that the organization’s founders, Carol Waid and Nathalie Sorrell, always had her back, that whenever she reached out to either one of them, they were there for her.

“Carol and Nathalie don’t sugarcoat; they let me know the truth. Most people tend to mask things and tell people what they want to hear,” Debra said. “I want to go to someone who is going to be honest with me. They were there for me.

“Addicts are runners and I was a runner,” she continued. “[Truth Be Told] taught me to stop and think before I run, that I am strong enough to stand there and take whatever is given to me.”

According to Debra, it took prison and Truth Be Told to get her to face herself. The program has given her hope. It has allowed her to look at herself for the first time and really see who she is.

“When I first started with Truth Be Told, I didn’t want other people to know what I had done,” Debra said. “I decided that I would just tell bits and pieces of my story. Nathalie let it slide for a couple of meetings, but then she confronted me. She said: ‘Debra, you know there’s more to this than you’re telling me. You need to put it all out there — the whole truth.’

Debra sharing her story at a Truth Be Told fundraiser in 2011.

Debra sharing her story at a Truth Be Told fundraiser in 2011.

“She didn’t allow me to mask things. She was making me see things and admit to things that I didn’t want to remember. But then, she would hug me and laugh and look at me with those eyes,” Debra recalled. “She gave me something I had never had from a woman before — not my mother, not anyone. She gave me the comfort and toughness that I needed.

Being in prison and being involved with Truth Be Told were life-changing experiences. I still use my tools every day — with my children, my husband, friends, family, and in running my own business. I am grateful for the journey I took and the path I followed.”

If you are a Truth Be Told graduate and interested in the Keep on Talking Facebook group, please send us an email.

A Truth Be Told Graduate Reclaims Her Magic

Kay Rosenkranz is a graduate of the Truth Be Told Let’s Get Real program and a current member of the Keep on Talking program, where women who have been released from prison connect by phone once a week to talk about their strengths and challenges.

Kay talked to Truth Be Told about her experience with the program in prison and how it helped her reconnect to her “magic.”

Kay always loved learning. Before she went to prison, she was in her second master’s degree program. She was gaining academic knowledge, but what she later realized was that academics was just another way to disconnect from her life.

Kay Rosenkranz and ChaCha

Kay Rosenkranz and ChaCha

“At the same time I was getting A’s in my classes, I was abusing Xanax. It was a way for me to escape from the real world. It was good in some senseI excelled in the academic communitybut it was a bit of a shelter. I was working as a waitress and was much older than the other servers there. I felt like I was wasting all my knowledge by working there.

In my younger life, I felt magical and connected, and I was aware during my drug life that the magic was gone, that my creativity only raised its head every once in a while, specifically in flower arranging. “In drugging myself, I totally lost the magic. The drugs robbed me of magic”.

“What I’ve learned is that this is a problem that’s way deeper than a drug problem because it is my nature to think of all the things that can go wrong. I get overwhelmed and don’t see the things that are right, only those that are wrong”.

“I wasn’t solving any problems, and I wasn’t impacting anyone’s life—at least that’s what I thought. That made me feel empty. I have learned through this process of being in prison that being of service to others is really the key to making me shine. It’s really what brings me joy”.

Learning to see what can go right is an important part of Kay’s healing. It helps her show up even when she doesn’t want to, even when it’s hard.

“In the first Let’s Get Real class that I took, we were to explore our greatest passion. Carol and Julie asked us “What would you do if you could not fail?” I hadn’t dreamed like that since I was going to save the world in the 1970ssince I was at UT. It was such a daunting assignment to even think about something I would do if I couldn’t fail, to look at, ‘What do I dream about’”?

Kay began to see a vast difference between the academic learning that she hadn’t been applying in her life and the learning she was putting to use in Let’s Get Real. Through her addiction, she had lost touch with the deeply personal learning that connected her to her true self.

“Learning about myself and opening my heart to other people’s suffering was the kind of learning that was missing from my life in my addiction. In our Truth Be Told classes, we had to sign an agreement to make it a safe community. We talked about being impeccable: that we tell the truth, that we don’t take things personally, that whatever’s being said, even if it hits your skin, is not about you. It’s about who ever says it and what’s going on with them at the time.”

After two years in the Truth Be Told program, at the end of the second Let’s Get Real class, Kay wrote:

“Willing to evolve, I am.

Only and always searching for peace, I am.

Willing wisdom and truth, I am”.

“Through Truth Be Told, I learned I could write again. I used to write poetry and prose in the seventies. I thought that voice was totally gone. It was way deep inside, but it could come out at times when I was inspired”.

“A lot of people will tell you routines are good. But if we just become like robots, going through our daily lives in a routine, we can find that we have become the routine, getting up at a certain time, going to work, saying the same things to the same people every day. Then we don’t push the envelope and learn things about ourselves. We don’t learn about the divine connection we all have.”

Truth Be Told also offers three Exploring Creativity workshops a year, and Sherry Gingras and Djembabes helped Kay regain her experience to that divine connection.

“The ladies of the drum circle told the stories about where the drums came from in Africa.  We realized that every girl had a handcrafted drum in her hands. Someone had spent time honing each drum to make the perfect wood, and someone had skinned a goat to make the perfect top piece. The drummers told us stories and taught us rhythms, and to me, it became the beat of the earth. I felt that the earth is alive, and we’re all part of the earth. I learned a lot that day. It brought me to the point where I felt levitated, like I had left my body and become some part of oneness with the earth and all the experiences with all the people everywhere.”

IMG_0014-3

Truth Be Told made prison a really positive experience for Kay. She counted weeks between TBT classes and wrote in one of her classes:

“I now know that what I needed to learn is that my opinions have value to others. My next phase is going to be “learning to trust my opinions and myself”, and acting in the knowledge that what I share is valuable to others. After that, I want to focus on being in service to others.”

Truth Be Told classes helped Kay remember the person she was, who had just been asleep for a long time. It is important to her to keep her connection to Truth Be Told through the Keep on Talking Classes.

“When I first got out, I found that between classes I would lose momentum. The Keep on Talking class is very important to me, even though I sometimes get low and don’t make it to the phone”.

“This last week in Keep on Talking, the toastmaster spoke about the three elements of fear: motivation, sabotage: paralysis. I identified with the paralysis. I’d never looked at fear as being a motivator, so I’m still learning. This week, instead of hiding behind the computer and turning in applications online, I turned in an application in person and got two interviews. During the second interview, I was told I would be called back. I had to take tests and reveal my history. I had to work at having a different attitude. I had to go and try because I have all these years of experience to offer. I have to use self-talking to encourage myself. It turned out to be a three-hour interview. It was a good experience. I turned  fear into a motivator.”

Kay has learned that she has a choice about whether or not to be miserable. Making a gratitude list can shift the axis of her entire experience. She is so grateful that the man she hit on the motorcycle lived and that he came to court and forgave her.

“We can choose to be miserable, or we can choose to show up and make a connection with other people and find the magic. We can choose to stay home because it’s safe and comfortable, but it’s miserable. Who wants to be miserable?”

Keep on talking! A volunteer’s inspiration to do more helps women beyond bars adjust

thankyoucoffeeheartWhat can happen over a cup of coffee?

Pam Maulding, a long-time member of the Get Up and Go Toastmasters club, has been volunteering as a Toastmaster evaluator for Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me Speaking Class since early 2000. After attending a one-hour informational gathering called a BABB (Behind and Beyond Bars), Pam was inspired to do more, and she and Carol Waid spent an hour over coffee brainstorming some ways to help grow the Beyond Bars program.

One idea led to another and then an “aha” appeared: Pam saw how she could involve her Toastmaster community by asking them to share their talents with women who have been released from prison.

Pam said:

My mind whirled. How could I, with my current skills and experiences, best contribute to this facet of the program? You see, every time I go to the prisons to help the women grow as communicators, I have the intense desire to do something to help them never be in this place again! I truly believe that it is but by the grace of God that I am not one of them. Granted, life is about choices and decisions, and thus there are consequences. However, sometimes, people have no power (no skills and no community) in their lives to guide them to make correct decisions. So their lives take a very different path, one of no self-worth, one that is very destructive to themselves and anyone they come in contact with. And this can go on for generations!

What came out of that coffee conversation between Pam and Carol was a new Beyond Bars program called Keep on Talking Empowerment.

The vision for this new program is for the women to continue to grow and connect to the tools that they learned in Truth Be Told programs: the 4 Cs, which are Community Building, Communication Skills, Creativity, and Caring for Self.

Keep on Talking Empowerment helps women who are adjusting to life out of prison. Every week, women gather by conference call to help one another stay in community and to continue learning and practicing skills. A guest speaker talks for 7-10 minutes every other week, and there’s time to discuss the topic and work on goals and movement in the women’s lives.

One woman expressed her gratitude for the program, noting what a culture shock it is to be released. She said that it was like being thrown from a ship with no life raft and treading water alone in the ocean. She said setting goals could be overwhelming because there are so many things to do, such as parole visits, getting clothes, and even deciding where to live.

She said:

I learned a lot with y’all, but it seemed to dissipate when I got out because of the culture shock.

Keep on Talking hopes to help women stay connected and to continue to provide them with much needed support.

We will have our sixth call tonight.  In the last five weeks, we have had two guest speakers, and we will have our third speaker tonight.

Our first speaker, Sonya, shared Five Steps to Success. Her topic was inspirational and helpful.  We each shared the step that we had the greatest strength in and then shared about the one that we wanted to grow in.

The Five Steps to Success

  1. Become a superb communicator
  2. Honor your commitments
  3. Become an expert at what you do
  4. Have a great attitude
  5. Be a great teammate

Our second speaker, Nigel, shared the Five Characteristics of a Leader.  His topic was equally inspirational. He shared the following quote by Zig Ziglar:

You are what you are and you are where you are because of what has gone into your mind. You change what you are and you change where you are by changing what goes into your mind.

The Five Characteristics of a Leader

  1. Vision
  2. Passion
  3. Critical thinking
  4. Listening
  5. Commitment

Nigel ended his speech with this quote from Robert Greenleaf:

Good leaders must first become good servants.

If you are asking yourself how you can be involved with Truth Be Told, please email office@truth-be-told.org. We would love to hear your ideas. You never know what can happen over a cup of coffee!

Truth Be Told Renovates Lives

On September 11, Truth Be Told held a workshop/presentation at the 2013 Vision Summit: Looking Toward the Future of Re-Entry, hosted by Travis County Sheriff’s Office. Truth Be Told’s workshop covered the topic: Truth Be Told Renovates Lives.

“I was so inspired by the Sheriff’s speech,” says TBT Co-founder Carol Waid. “He was speaking to a group of 100+ people, who came here from many states as well as from all over Texas. The Sheriff was  really motivating us to work to become one voice, with one vision, to help with re-entry.”

There was a man there, Edward, who is 57 years old, released in June of this year.  He has done 3 visits in the penitentiary, doing a total of 38.4 years in prison.  The Sheriff held him with respect and invited him to speak.  I was so moved, and the Sheriff highlighted that we have an Edward in every county, and many of these people have made some wron doings, but this does not make them “BAD” people, and they are looking for a hand up.  I felt so proud to be among people that were there to hear from organizations that are making a difference, as well as people that are seeking ways to get involved.

Truth Be Told is also proud to introduce a new initiative:

KOT (Keep on Talking) Empowerment Group

Art work created by TBT Graduate Donna N.

Art work created by TBT Graduate Donna N.

KOT Empowerment Group is a conference call community that meets weekly for 30 minutes to inspire hope, empower the spirit, and connect with others who are committed to personal growth.  Each week, a member of the Central Texas community will give a brief talk on life, compassion and strength of spirit. The group will then have a question and answer period followed by an open conversation among that speaker and the Truth Be Told graduates.  The group is intended to encourage formerly incarcerated women keep a regular connection to other people who are firmly dedicated to strengthening their fundamental potential.  The participants in this group believe that by finding their voice and sharing their struggles, along with their successes, they can continue to turn positive thinking into action, while continuing to practice a better way of life for themselves and their families.

In keeping with this mission, Carol Waid brings to mind a daily meditation by Richard Rohr. “I love this reading. Communication, intimacy, secrets, true self, rejection, fear — all words I use so often, but I think Richard Rohr does sweet justice to make his point: “The pain of rejection after self-disclosure is so great that it often takes a lifetime for people to risk it again.”

Richard Rohr

Richard Rohr

So how do you communicate to others what is inherently a secret? Or can you? How can the secret become “unhidden”? It becomes unhidden when people stop hiding—from God, themselves, and at least one other person. The emergence of our True Self is actually the big disclosure of the secret. Such risky self-disclosure is what I mean by intimacy, and intimacy is the way that love is transmitted. Some say the word comes from the Latin intimus, referring to that which is interior or inside. Some say its older meaning is found by in timor, or “into fear.”

In either case, the point is clear: intimacy happens when we reveal and expose our insides, and this is always scary. One never knows if the other can receive what is exposed, will respect it, or will run fast in the other direction. One must be prepared to be rejected. It is always a risk. The pain of rejection after self-disclosure is so great that it often takes a lifetime for people to risk it again.*

“I want to thank ALL of you for your part in creating a safe place where women will take this risk,” says Carol. “I can see how important it is that we continue to ask them to risk, again, and again, in our classroom communities – and BEYOND BARS, as we invite them to continue to be in self-disclosure.  Thank you for your gifts of compassion, empathy, leadership, kindness, tenderness, and love.”

 
*Adapted from Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self, pp. 168-169
The Daily Meditations for 2013 are now available
in Fr. Richard’s new book Yes, And . . . .