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Truth Be Told Spring Semester Graduations

Please join us as a respectful witness to a prison graduation. At the end of the fall and spring semesters we take about 20 guests into the prisons to serve as an audience of respectful listeners. It is so meaningful to the women who are graduating that a group from the “free world” spends the time to hear their stories and appreciate their performances. It is a powerful experience that gives attendees a glimpse of our behind bars programs and the lives of incarcerated women.

We need more attendees for both of our June graduations. Please respond by May 1, 2015 to Carol Waid at office@truth-be-told.org or 512-292-6200.

  • June 4: Graduation at the Lane Murray Facility in Gatesville. We leave Austin in a carpool caravan at 2 p.m. and arrive home at about 10:30 p.m. Please forward this to anyone you know in the Temple, Killeen, Waco, Gatesville area to help us grow our volunteer base there.
  • June 5: Discovery Graduation at Lockhart. We meet in Lockhart at noon for a barbecue lunch and are back in Austin around 5:30.

Feel free to forward this to anyone you know who might be interested in learning more about our programs.

The Participants’ Feedback

305890_10150343354189679_367013015_nKatie Ford has been facilitating the Talk to Me Circle class for the last five years. Towards the end of the eight-week class, she asked, “As a volunteer who comes to the prison for two hours once a week, I know my view of prison life is limited. I’ve always wondered what it feels like to enter and leave our classroom. How ‘big’ is the transition? How does it feel to do what we do in here (expressing our emotions and sometimes they are very strong emotions) and then to go back?”

The women responded with the following:

  • I feel free in here.
  • I never want to leave this class. I hate when it ends.
  • I look forward to this class because I can think in here. Out there it’s always so noisy you can’t even hear yourself think.
  • I am able to cry in here.
  • It’s exhausting. My friends tell me I look tired and I tell them it’s because I just came from this class.
  • I can breathe in here.
  • This class is a highlight of my day. It’s like when I get mail.
  • I have a private face and a public face. They’re not dramatically different, but they are not the same. I wear my public face out there. I can wear my private face in here.

Often the women tell us that our programs are different from other programs. One women expressed:

“Y’all let us heal ourselves instead of telling us we need to heal.” Then another said: “Yeah, we don’t like it when people come in here and start telling us what they think we need.”

Special Graduation for Nathalie

IMG_0292On April 17, Nathalie Sorrell joined a group attending the Talk To Me graduation at Lockhart and came full circle from fifteen years ago. In February 2000, Nathalie stepped into the Lockhart facility to begin a program called Telling Your Story. She advertised this program on a handmade poster that offered to guide the women through a process to share their story with juveniles in an effort to prevent the juveniles from following in their footsteps.

This program was effective and the probation officers reported that the youth spoke about the impact on their way back to their facility. However, the program was cut within a year, because of changes in the TDCJ system. But the Warden supported the program and asked that we find another audience to support the women and their stories.

The participants of the new class named the program “Talk to Me.” We now have Talk to Me Speaking, Talk to Me Circle and Talk to Me Movement – offering three modalities of the curriculum. Each semester brings a different group of faces, but the same longings…women wanting to be seen, to be heard, and to be loved. We witness courage and bravery as each participant shares the vulnerable story of her journey that led her to incarceration.

On April 17, Nathalie came full circle as a respectful witness. She shared that she had no idea that her first tentative steps would lead to fifteen years of programs that are now offered in five facilities. One woman’s journey has sparked a transformation in many facilitators and participants. We are grateful when the women in our programs share why the programs are important to them and that this work continues to make a difference.

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My Prison Classmates

By Cis Dickson

Traveling through Gatesville, Texas, you see hectares of razor wire. My classmates are not traveling through. My ladies are locked-in, locked up, and a few are locked-and-loaded for parole.

In Truth Be Told, I am a Facilitator-in-Training. Think F-I-T. That’s me: trying to FIT in; wearing new outFITs each week to show my ladies; trying to FIT the eight-hour day (which includes four hours of round-trip driving from Austin to Gatesville) into my FIT lifestyle.

Oddly enough and truth be told, I FIT. My classmates have grown to love me as much as I love them. Which came first I cannot tell. I call them my mates because I am doing the class with them; same homework; same amount of speaking; same drills; same hokey-pokey. And then we shake it all about. Good way to end class and relieve ourselves of a busload of tension and heartache. We do this for 16 weeks. I do this for 16 weeks. After that I get to have Thanksgiving with my family, my kids, my grandkids. Then I have Christmas. I cannot bear to think of what they have after our classes end.

When I say to someone, “Well, I’m off to prison tomorrow,” they stare blankly at me.

They don’t ask questions. Could be I’ve seemed strange to my friends and family for years.

I may FIT in at the Lane Murray Unit more than I realize and FIT in less with my circle of non-criminals. Hmm!

My mates and I started off strangers in late July. Now we can’t wait to see each other; we laugh; we dance; we tell stories; we do impromptu speaking and some rehearsed speeches, and we think of hugging each other. At Lane Murray Unit, you must remember at least two things: don’t touch and don’t climb the fence. I have bruises on my arms each week from squeezing myself because I can’t squeeze my mates. We jump up and down when we see each other coming down the hall to the classroom. Since I’m much older, I have tears running down my legs with the joy of their smiling faces.

So it works like this….you hear a heartbreaking story; you have secret thoughts about the son-a-bitch who harmed this girl, but then you remember this is about healing, not revenge; you wipe your nose on your sleeve because no one in Lane Murray ever has Kleenex. EVAH!

One of my mates said to me last week when I was sporting a new outFIT, “Girl, where do you shop?” Another of my mates said when she was on “the outside” her life got so bad, even though the money she made from selling drugs was good, that she just stopped and prayed to God to get her out of hell. The next morning she was arrested. She laughed at how fast her prayers were answered. She’s too young to be there.

I hope we’ll all stay on the straight and narrow with the TBT tools we’ve learned.

“Going to prison saved my life.” I’ve come to understand what they mean.

IMG138-1Editor’s Note: Since 2010, Katie Ford has served as a volunteer facilitator for Truth Be Told at the Lockhart GEO unit in Lockhart, Texas. In March 2014, she was invited to present on her volunteer work at an Austin event called Pecha Kucha Night, which took place during South by Southwest. The format required 20 slides with 20 seconds of talk per slide. Katie worked hard on her presentation, which was very well received.

You can watch a video of her presentation below (please hang in there; the sound improves. Katie is the first presenter, so if you want to skip to just her section, it runs from 1:24 to 8:24).

You can also read Katie’s thoughts about the experience on her personal blog. Katie teaches writing in the prison, and it’s a good read, worth clicking over. (You’ll also meet Martha.)

Here are a few truths from Katie:

 Why is it so important to heal? Very simply put, healed people heal others, and hurt people hurt others.

These women who are locked away and invisible to most of us are also our neighbors. They are members of our communities. And one day, when their sentences max out or when they make parole, they will be back among us. Will they be safe, contributing members of our society, or will they continue in their old ways?

In a certain respect, going to prison, it saved my life too. In helping others to tell their stories, I’m learning the words to my own story. I’m discovering the power and the freedom in having a safe community, and I’m learning my role in helping to build that for others. And I’m helping to build that one story at a time.

Katie will also speak about her work with Truth Be Told on Creative Mornings Austin on Monday, May 16, at TOMS Cafe at 8 am. Click this link for details.

Thank you, Katie Ford!