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Beauty Behind the Fence

 

by Lindsey Lane

In January 2016, I travelled to the Gatesville Prison with Carol Waid to be a facilitator in training for Truth Be Told’s Talk To Me Writing Class. I was familiar with the prison system as I had gone behind the fence as a journalist and novelist, but this time, with TBT, I would be in service to the women of the Lane Murray Unit by helping them tell their stories. (In the classroom next to ours, Christina Wisdom and Julie Wylie were facilitating the Talk To Me Speaking class.)

Because I was completely new to TBT, Carol asked me to experience the class as a newcomer, like the women did: Doing the homework, telling my story, sharing my life. At first, I felt like I didn’t belong. I’m outside the fence. I have freedom. But I am also a woman an a mother and, just as I was hungry to hear their stories, they were eager for mine. We wanted to connect. We wanted to understand one another. We wanted to share. We wanted to heal through telling the truth about our lives, however different they are.

One of the most beautiful parts of the Talk To Me Writing and Speaking classes comes near the end of the eight weeks. Our homework is to write one or two sentences about each member of our class and how we see them. It is an opportunity to reflect on how each person has revealed their hearts over the last eight weeks.

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-11-23-19-pmThis is what I said about one class member named LaVerne:

I can imagine coming to Miss LaVerne’s home (that’s what I would call her: Miss LaVerne) and drinking slightly sweet tea with a hint of lavender, I think. I try to get her to tell me what the secret ingredient is but Miss LaVerne only smiles. We talk about the weather and other sweet things, “The Blessings,” she calls them. Miss LaVerne knows there is plenty of meanness in the world but she likes to talk about “the blessings that bind us.”

After the Speaking and Writing classes were complete, we joined the two communities together. In the first eight weeks we were looking into our pasts and focusing on how we got to our levels of incarceration. The next six weeks is called Discovery – discovering the women we want to become. Near the end of Discovery we began planning our graduation. Each of us would share something we created as a result of being in the classes. LaVerne was stumped about what to contribute. Someone in the class suggested she write a poem. LaVerne said, “Can it be about lavender? I like what you said about lavender.”

Here is what she wrote and shared with us at graduation on May 26, 2016.

Lavender

by LaVerne F.

True happiness only comes from fearing God and keeping His commandments. Our happiness depends upon the habit of mind that we cultivate. I say let’s practice happy thinking. Every Day. Again I say let’s practice happy thinking every day. Let’s cultivate the merry heart. Let’s develop the happiness habit, and I believe life will become a continual feast for us. Lavender, to most people, is a color. To me, Lavender is beautiful and fragrant, and it is widely known as an essential oil that brings about calming and restful energy as well as evoking a feeling of happiness…Lavender, again I say Lavender.

As a result of experiencing this work, I signed up to return to the Lane Murray Unit with Carol Waid to co-facilitate Living Deeper and Freer, which is a continuation of TTM Writing and Speaking classes. Twelve women from the original twenty-eight (some were released, some were transferred to other prisons, and others went to the faith-based dorm) continued on with us. We are a tightly woven community committed to exploring how to live deeper and freer on both sides of the fence.

There is so much beauty behind the fence. Truth Be Told allows the women to become more than the crime that put them there.

And the next time you smell Lavender, think of LaVerne and cultivate the happiness habit.

 

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2016 goals plus great job opportunity!

Dear Friends of Truth Be Told,

Happy 2016!!! Did you know that Truth Be Told is now 12 years old as a non-profit and that we have been offering programs for over 15 years? Over these years we have grown from one class that graduated 15 women, to now serving in 5 facilities, serving hundreds of women per year in our various programs. We could not step into our 16th year without your support.

2015 was a growing year for Truth Be Told and our organizational structure. We have grown through and with the challenges of turnover in leadership. Through these challenges, we have worked on our overall structure including how to improve our communication and interaction with our volunteers and facilitators. We have identified internal structural needs for the organization and the board. As a community, we spent time to set our immediate goals for 2016 and to strengthen our overall vision.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Carol Waid (Program Director), and our supporters, volunteers, facilitators, and board members, and let you know how much I appreciate the generous donations, contributions of time, and overall moral support you have provided to Truth Be Told. I also want to share with all of you the hard work the Board and Carol have put in toward identifying goals we want to work on for 2016. We need your help to successfully obtain these goals.

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From left, Joanne, Ginger, Linda, Carol, Donna, Peggy, and Nathalie

Our 2016 Goals

  1. Hire an Executive Director
  2. Hire a Volunteer Coordinator/Administrative Assistant
  3. Strengthen and Improve the Mentoring Program
  4. Prepare and Implement a Facilitator Manual and Training Program
  5. Have a fall event recognizing Nathalie Sorrell for her 15 years of dedication
  6. Host volunteer appreciation events and gatherings

Of course each and every one of these goals has its challenges, and we appreciate any input and assistance from our friends.

Amplify Austin

In addition to these goals we are going to be working on our fundraising efforts including our third annual participation in the Amplify Austin event on March 8th. We look forward to having a record number of Truth Be Told individual fundraising pages this year. If you had a page last year, please consider participating again this year and spreading the word to friends and family. If the Amplify Austin event is new to you, we hope you will consider setting up a page to help support our work with incarcerated women.

To learn more please email carol@truth-be-told.org.

Board Members and More

If you know anyone who may be interested in joining the Board we would love to hear from you.  Please email your interest to office@truth-be-told.org and include “Board Member Inquiry” in the subject line.

If you haven’t logged on and viewed our website www.truth-be-told.org, please check it out.  We have updated it and are continuously including events, blog posts, and inspirational stories from some of our graduates.

We look forward to hitting the ground running and look forward to all of you running with us. Thank you again for everything you do for Truth Be Told. I look forward to a very productive 2016! Please feel free to reach out to me at any time if you have any questions or concerns.

Best regards,

Autumn Schwartz
Chairman of the Board
Truth Be Told

Learning What You Can Take Into Prison and What You Can Take Out

by Jardine Libaire

jardine libaire_gold shirtLast week, I was so lucky and happy to be a witness at the Truth Be Told Talk to Me graduation at the MTC Lockhart Correctional Center. This was my introduction to Truth Be Told (TBT)—looking at Katie Ford’s website one day, I read about the TBT program and wanted to know more. The potential of a writing workshop in prison has always seemed massive to me—incarcerated people (and subsequently society) are better served if they’re offered tools for reformation and introspection even while they experience the punishment of being imprisoned. Living in prison might also be a person’s first chance to slow down and take stock, especially if they’re coming from a chaotic and rough life.

The writing process (which of course begins as a thinking and considering and remembering process) has been the backbone to any spiritual, moral, and emotional growth I’ve made in my own life. I’d be lost without a pen and paper. Stranded. A phenomenal teacher taught me when I was ten to write—not to echo ideas I’d heard, or create tales I thought people would like to read—but to start with the building blocks of my own visions and memories and my sensory life and my dreams and my observations of my immediate world, and to think, and to make something out of all that, to treat it like valuable material. To head into the process without guarantees, to explore, and to see what I could discover. I’m forever grateful to him, and to the teachers who followed.

I’d never been inside a prison, and TBT co-founder Carol Waid kindly sent me guidelines for volunteers coming into the facility. We could not bring cell phones, or tobacco products, or handguns (of course). We couldn’t wear all white, or revealing clothes, or short skirts, or sweat suits. No facial jewelry. Our shoes had to be closed toe, with a back. We shouldn’t mail letters for an inmate, or hug them, or ask when they’re getting out. We couldn’t have more than $25 on us, or a bottle of prescribed pills. I kept rereading this list, worried I would mess something up.

Our group of guests, volunteers, and workshop facilitators signed in that afternoon and met the women who were graduating in a big room with fluorescent lights, plastic chairs, and a scuffed floor. The women sat with us, fidgeting with the sleeves of their jumpsuits, grinning nervously, and we all introduced ourselves to each other.

The graduation wasn’t just a ceremony of passage, but a reading. The women had worked all session to discover their own stories, to write them out, and then to deliver them to an audience, which is what they did that day.

And I was just floored, jaw hanging, eyes wide, eyes wet, heart beating. I know this could sound melodramatic, but these ladies crushed it. Their stories were radioactive with honesty, dark humor, bravado, tenderness, bloody pain, maternal pride, rage, old-fashioned gratitude, and that very delicate and intricate thing—hope.

They hadn’t pasteurized their memories; they used raw material to create real portrayals. Their details were vicious, vivid, unexpected—and hard-won, because all good writing is hard-won. The women had ventured past safe and comfortable tropes and clichés and bush-wacked their own paths to their own true story. No one is ever the same after doing that kind of expedition. You better understand yourself, the way you function, the world you came from, how it affects you; knowing this personal territory, you have leverage in future situations. At least that’s been my experience, and I heard the premonition of it in these women’s stories, too.

But these stories weren’t just illuminating to their own authors. They filled in abstract reports we all hear on poverty, crime rates, domestic violence, disability. These women used details like a ferris wheel seen in a dream, smelling faint perfume on a sister’s letter, stolen makeup, and basketball courts to make their lives real to everyone listening.

Statistics often seem simple, but it’s harder to reconcile (and impossible to forget) the personal account of someone who as an 11-year-old sold crack to her mother; or a girl who knows love mainly from being sexually abused by her father; or a mother dealing drugs to give her kids a childhood free of the violence and hunger she lived through, but getting busted and losing her family entirely.

I looked at the facilitators with great respect since writing like that just doesn’t come out of typical workshops!

There was a dearth of self-pity or blame. Ambition and self-knowledge took up more space. I only fear that the outside world, when a woman is released, will threaten her sense of self and her goals, but, as Katie said in a closing moment, the best thing anyone can do is believe in these women. Fear isn’t useful.

And so we left the prison, exiting into the parking lot, past the razor-wire fencing. We didn’t take anything concrete with us, but I definitely left richer, laden with new knowledge and insight, carrying stories into the world beyond. It made me think for the first time in a firsthand way about oral storytelling traditions and how they’ve saved and protected cultures and individual souls from extinction in the collective consciousness. Stories don’t trigger metal detectors either, and they can go wherever there is life.

Living Deeper and Freer: New class at Lane Murray Unit, Gatesville

by Carol Waid

We are grateful and humbled by the 225 people who contributed to Truth Be Told during Amplify Austin. You contributed more than $24,000 to delivering programs to incarcerated women who are hungry for change. Your participation supports our belief about community helping to change the world.

Community. Connection. Empathy. Compassion. Respect.

These nouns bring a community of women together, seeking a safe place to bring forth the TRUTH of who we really are. We meet in a sacred space each Thursday night, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., for a class called “Living Deeper & Freer.” Most of the women in this community have been in prison for over 10 years.

I have been going into prison for 15 years. I have never been incarcerated, but I have lived much of my life being incarcerated by my fears, stuck in stories of loss and tragedy, searching for a place that I felt like I fit.   I have met hundreds of women, who like me, were seeking a different way of living their lives, seeking a way to fit in, seeking a way to belong.

We find each other in our sacred space. How can a prison classroom become sacred, you may ask? You begin slowly with the idea. You set the intention, and the silence is held as we are serenaded by Karen Drucker’s song “Gentle With Myself.”   Closing your eyes and letting your walls soften is palpable. I often hear sniffles, because the gentleness of the music releases the tension of everyday life in prison.

We slowly, ever so gently, open our eyes, and the connectedness sets in, deeper each week. Each week we begin our community together in this way. This is much like the community that I belong to on Tuesdays in the “free world.” I consider the Tuesday space sacred too.

 

I feel the earth move in my weekly classes. Two weeks ago a woman shared about how in the last 16 years she had become desensitized. She shared an experience of seeing herself being unable to feel empathy. She knew what was missing, and she is readying herself to come back into the world this June. In three months she will walk out of the barbed wire world, she will step back into the “free world,” and she wants to not be desensitized.

This was exciting to me, because in the moment of her being aware of this, she was reconnecting with the true self.

Her discovery also was the story of the other 18 women, who said, “Girl, you are telling it.” They were so grateful that she was able to so beautifully articulate their own knowing from the years of their own incarceration. This caused a beautiful ripple of connection and a stronger community. That day was no different than the weeks that I have gone behind bars to be real with women.

Today I called a young woman who has been out of prison for 126 days. This is not her first time to be released to the free world, but it’s this time that is important. This time she really wants to be an active parent, and in the short time of her reentering she has had the same job. She has her daughter living with her and the son that she hadn’t seen in six years is spending weekends with her.

When we checked in she got real very quickly, because this is our practice in our classroom. We moved the small talk aside, and she shared what was really going on.

I talked to her for 10 minutes, and in that time I heard important truths. We ended connected, even though when we got off the phone she was weeping, because she was reminded of who she is.

Within three minutes, she texted this message,

“Thank u Ms. Carol. It’s almost spooky how right on time u were calling me. LOL. I luv u lots.”

What I believe is that in that 10 minutes she was reminded of the community that she built for herself behind bars, but it’s hard out here to stay connected. She works 12-hour shifts at her job, is raising a daughter, paying bills, and continuing to live her life in integrity.

As I said, I feel the earth move, and my heart responds in gratitude as I say thank you to Truth Be Told and how my life has changed because of it. I have found important work that I belong to – it is a purpose and it is a passion.

imagineTBT

 

 

15 Years of Helping Women Behind Bars Find Their Voices

In February 2000, Nathalie Sorrell responded to a request from the warden at the GEO Lockhart Unit to teach 15 incarcerated women to tell their stories to juveniles, to inspire the young girls not to follow the women’s paths to prison. The next semester, the juvenile program was discontinued and at the warden’s suggestion, Nathalie brought in an audience of respectful listeners to witness the women’s truth telling. She invited Carol Waid and Suzanne Armistead to facilitate and invite listeners, and they added classes that incorporated writing and movement. The first participants named the classes Talk To Me. In 2003, the three founders established Truth Be Told as a 501(c)(3).

In the15 years since Nathalie agreed to that initial small volunteer commitment, thousands of women have attended programs that are offered in five correctional facilities and support program graduates once they are released.

All of the programs are still facilitated by volunteers. The organization relies on donations from generous individuals and a few small organizations and foundation grants. On our website, we recognize donors in several categories. The Voice of Melinda lists donors who gave $5,000-$9,999. Melinda was our first program graduate to donate to Truth Be Told. Her mother passed away while she was incarcerated, and she didn’t get to attend the funeral. When she was released, a small inheritance enabled her to go to school, and she made a donation to Truth Be Told. She says that most people don’t understand how vitally important the programs are to society as a whole. She has gone from being a self-described “low-bottom drunk” who committed a “heinous crime” to living amends to her family and community and starting a meaningful career.

Recently, Carol interviewed Melinda on how Truth Be Told contributed the life she has built since she was released in April 2005. Melinda did eight years on a 20 year sentence, the last three at the GEO Lockhart Unit. She was drawn to the first class out of desperation and fear of living beyond bars. She needed hope and tools to lead a different life. Once she started classes, she knew she was getting what she needed and took Talk To Me – Circle, Talk To Me – Movement, and Let’s Get Real. She describes being physically “bound up” from incarceration and needing her spirit to move and the powerful effect of sharing honestly with the other women in class. Listen to Melinda’s voice and story: http://youtu.be/P6GqD5MnJ0g

Last year, six of our graduates created campaigns to give hope to women who are still behind bars.

Please help us empower more voices like Melinda’s. Join our Truth Be Told team for Amplify Austin. Spread the Word. Create a Personal Fundraising Campaign. Make a Donation. 

TBTamplifyatx#AmplifyATX

Now I Become My Self: A new facilitator shares her many selves

by Hannah Miller

During the spring semester of 2014, I became a volunteer facilitator in training for Truth Be Told. I joined Carol Waid’s Talk to Me Circle class at Hilltop Prison in Gatesville, Texas. In one of our classes, we explored the reality that each of us has many different identifies, roles, and faces we wear. Some of these faces have hurt ourselves and others. Some of these faces are healing faces of wholeness.

Through creative writing and storytelling, we shared with one another the faces that we hide and the faces we celebrate. In speaking our truth, we began to let go of our shame and embrace the wisdom that comes from knowing all of our many selves. The following piece was my entry in The Book of Wisdom, which includes writing from each of the women in the class. At graduation, each woman receives two copies of the publication.

Now I Become My Self

by Facilitator in Training Hannah Miller

HannahMillerI am a woman of many faces—a woman of many selves. You may try to call these faces my masks, but I know them each to be equally as true, each an essential part of me. Just because these selves at times contradict one another doesn’t make me a hypocrite. It makes me a tapestry. These selves, sometimes harmoniously and sometimes acrimoniously, coexist and intermingle inside of me.

If you know me, you may only know one of these selves. If so, you have only seen a sliver of the real me.

  • Maybe you first met me as the Adventurer—paddling among glaciers in Alaska, sleeping in a hammock on the border of Guatemala, or climbing the steps of a Hindu temple in Indonesia.
  • Or perhaps you know me as the Achiever. The disciplined one, always in competition with myself, whether running a cross-country race, studying for a biology exam, or learning to play the piano.
  • At a certain time, you would have encountered me as the Warrior. Fighting for the lives of the invisible and the powerless, those awaiting the gurney or the death chamber.
  • If I am your daughter, you see me as stubborn, outspoken, capable, responsible, sensitive, and loyal.
  • If you are my child, you know me as strong but affectionate, grounded yet playful, loving and present.
  • As a friend, you call me Truth-Teller, Justice-Seeker, Spirit-Keeper, Old Soul. You know I am openhearted, quick to cry, and ever eager for intimacy.
  • At work, I am the Peacemaker, Reconciler, Calm One. An attorney paid to argue and advocate but at core made to mediate, to see the gray, to find a middle way.
  • And then there are the faces of me I hope you never see. The selves I would prefer to keep hidden. The Critic. The Challenger. The Ferocious One. Explosive, sharp-tongued, demanding, relentless, unforgiving.

But if I had my way, I would rather tell this story. It is a story about the parts of me that remain unseen. Not because they do not exist but because they have not yet been fully realized. Some of these unborn faces have been present from my very beginning but were forgotten and must be recovered. Others do not come to me naturally and must be learned. All of them, however, are present, latent, and waiting to be born. These are the parts of me I claim today. It is only through them that I begin to fully become my self.

Courageous, free, trusting, fearless, slow to anger. Risk-Taker, Woman of Gentleness, Woman of Compassion, Kind and Merciful One. If you meet her along the way, tell her I believe in her. I can already see glimpses of her beauty and wisdom.

Princess Warriors in Prison

Our recent Donor and Volunteer Campaign mailing included a card that has our Mission, Vision, and Values on one side. We recently learned that people want to hold on to the card because this Princess Warrior drawing by Donna, one of our program graduates, is on the other side.

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Donna was released more than two years ago and continues to be part of the awesome community of graduates who participate in our Beyond Bars activities. Since we have shared her artwork recently, we wanted to hear about what she was experiencing when she created it in class, so Carol Waid interviewed her. Click to listen.

Listen to Donna describe how after being incarcerated for six years, she still felt lost and confused about the mistakes she made and why things turned out the way they did. Then she found a Truth Be Told class.

At first she was hesitant to face her pain rather than trying to block it out, but when the healing started she knew she was changed and finally ready to go home.

She did the drawing in response to Nathalie Sorrell’s speech about being a Princess Warrior no matter what your circumstances. The woman in the clock represents breaking free, a woman not defined by her past or being in prison.

Donna, thanks for sharing you gift and your story with us!

If you would like a Princess Warrior card, please contact us.

Transformational Donors

We love hearing graduates like Donna talk about their healing and transformation. Truth Be Told has been blessed with a small group of donors who have transformed our work and our organization by consistently contributing major financial support over the years.

Our Transformational Donors are:

Two of our Transformational Donors share why they donate.

I support Truth Be Told because I have witnessed the healing of women who were broken. I have seen for myself the transformational power of creating a community of respectful listeners as each one tells her story. I believe that a woman transformed can transform her family. I have seen TBT nurture and support this transformation. – Jim Walsh, Walsh, Anderson, Gallegos, Green and Trevino P.C. and “Law Dawg”

Why do I give? I give to see lives transformed. I heard Nathalie Sorrell’s story of why she felt compelled to work with women in prison. I thought, “Good for Nathalie!” A few months later Nathalie invited me to attend a graduation ceremony in the Lockhart prison. I was mildly curious about what she was doing. I received a firsthand experience of the powerful work she and Carol Waid created.  Although I did not feel compelled to actually work in the prison, I did feel moved to get involved. What moved me during that visit were the stories the women told. Each women told a story about how their life had been transformed by their work in the Truth Be Told curriculum. I wanted to be a part of something that transformed lives. My involvement is the giving of my financial resources. I want to see that as many women as possible will have access to Truth Be Told. – Bobby Miser, Rogers Benefit Group, Houston

Watch your mailbox or inbox for our Donor and Volunteer Drive letter or go online to help us reach our $25,000 goal for the campaign.