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, 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.