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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.

 

April 16 workshop to benefit Truth Be Told

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April 16 workshop to benefit Truth Be Told
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Katie Ford

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to experience a Truth Be Told class? In April, Truth Be Told volunteer facilitators Katie Ford and Ginger McGilvray will host a day-long workshop inspired by the Talk to Me classes they lead in prison on behalf of Truth Be Told.

Body Stories, a workshop in authentic movement and expressive writing, is slated for Saturday, April 16, from 10 am to 3 pm, at the Still Waters Retreat Center. A portion of the workshop’s proceeds will be donated to Truth Be Told.

“We hosted the first Body Stories workshop in August last year, and the experience was downright magical for me,” says Katie. “It’s my dream to bring the restorative work we experience behind bars through Truth Be Told out here in the free world. Body Stories is part of that dream. One thing I’ve come to understand is that you don’t have to be incarcerated to benefit from doing this kind of work. Being human is the only prerequisite.”

Ginger

Ginger McGilvray

Body Stories offers four hours of guided practice in authentic movement and expressive writing. Each participant will receive a plantation paper journal and a pen. A healthy lunch will be served midday.

“We’re limiting this workshop to 20 participants to ensure quality instruction and depth of practice,” Katie says. “I encourage anyone who desires time for reflection and creativity in a beautiful, rural setting to join us. It’s an opportunity to invest in yourself while supporting a great organization.”

You can read what others have to say about Body Stories here. To register, visit www.iamkatieford.com.

Celebrating Strong Women, and the People Who Believe in Their Stories

On October 17, 2015 the board members, volunteers, and graduates of Truth Be Told came together in celebration of our community. Because no one can properly celebrate on an empty stomach, a light brunch was served — including coffee, juice, pastries, and breakfast tacos (in true Texan style).

The Journey Imperfect Faith Community graciously let us use their space for the event. It was just the perfect size for our little soiree, cozy but not crowded. As people milled in, the room filled with a positive energy that was palpable, and just as invigorating as the coffee.

Board Member and Facilitator Donna Snyder took on the additional role of MC for the affair. She kicked off the event with a warm introduction for the first speaker, the “heart and soul of our Beyond Bars program,” Director of Programs Carol Waid.

Carol told us about Karen, a Truth Be Told graduate that has written Carol enough letters from prison to fill a book. Literally. Karen plans for the letters to form the bulk of a book she’ll write called Against All Odds. The letters are especially beautiful, not only because of their written content but also because each is also a piece of original artwork. Karen drew incredible pictures on the backs of each page.

Karen was released from prison October 2014, and is still in touch with Carol. She jokes that she now has “high class problems,” like having to get up late at night to change her grandson’s diaper. Those are the kinds of problems we love for our graduates to have!

After Carol told Karen’s success story, Elizabeth, whom Donna called a “star graduate,” took to the podium to tell hers. Elizabeth signed up for the Truth Be Told public speaking class when a judge mandated she deliver speeches as part of the terms of her release.

Elizabeth said the class, “changed me, or it reminded me of who I’d always been. By the time I was done with their class, prison wasn’t a prison anymore. I was freer in my life than I’d ever been.”

Autumn Schwartz

Autumn Schwartz

Chair of the Board Autumn Schwartz then spoke about her introduction to Truth Be Told as an internal auditor. Autumn ended up falling in love with the organization, becoming a full time volunteer, and picking up the reins as passionate Chair of the Board in 2013. She expressed her excitement for the future of Truth Be Told and for those involved in the mission.

Following Autumn was graduate Sandra. Sandra’s been out of prison a little less than six months. She shared the story of how another graduate at the event, Rutanya, recently helped her find employment. How wonderful that our community could support Sandra in such a tangible way during her transition to life outside of prison!

Sandra

Sandra speaks to the audience

Next facilitators Sue Ellen Crossfield and Becky Deering spoke about how much they’ve gained from their experience teaching classes in prison. Becky told us teaching her classes each week gives her strength; the women inspire her. Sue said, “The women who have been inside tell us how much we give them, but it’s really them who give so much to us.”

Sue Ellen

Sue Ellen

Donor and Mentor Margaret Kahn was the last official speaker — though her mentee, Dara, jumped in with heartwarming words of love from the audience. Margaret talked about how she met Dara, and how their relationship has strengthened and changed them both over the years.

In summation Margaret said, “This is the most powerful thing I have ever done in my life.”

The event closed with a community circle honoring Co-Founder Nathalie Sorrell, who retires from facilitating this year. Nathalie will remain a strong advocate for the cause — and will always remain in the thoughts and our hearts of the people she’s touched within our community. Everyone held hands around Nathalie and shared impressions the days’ stories had left with them. There were smiles, some tears, and lots of laughter.

We said our goodbyes, and though we left in separate cars, we left as a strengthened community, excited to look down the road ahead.

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

 

 

Gatesville: A first-time visitor’s observations

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Shelly Ogle, a retired editor, attended a Truth Be Told graduation at a women’s prison in Gatesville on November 20, 2014. These are her impressions as a first-time visitor to prison.

 

 

 

Gatesville: A first-time visitor’s observations

By Shelly Ogle
Austin, Texas

In lots of ways, my first visit to a Texas state prison was full of surprises. I’d thought we’d be driving to East Texas, but our van headed west out of Austin. I’d been ready for a lot of traffic and congestion, but the country roads we drove on were winding and open. A stormy day had been forecast; instead, the November skies were clear and sunny.

Within a couple of hours, under that gorgeous sky, our van turned into the prison’s entrance. All was flat. At our right was an empty guard’s shack and ahead was a big parking lot. There wasn’t any sort of main gate. Everything was ugly – fencing and razor wire and lights and cameras, big signs with commands and prohibitions, wire cages enclosing each of the chain-link gates.

I was among a group of 15 women visiting this women’s prison. We were there to applaud the graduation of 23 inmates who had just completed 18 weeks of Truth Be Told classes. The training teaches them to better understand themselves, to review their lives, and to write and speak the truth about what they know and remember and hope for. Of the prison’s 1,500 inmates, some 250 had signed up for the classes, but there was only room for less than a tenth of them.

11302014 TBT 1st Lane Murray Graduation_1

In groups of six, we were led through a caged gateway and into a lobby with a shiny linoleum floor. It was 5 p.m., and it seemed like a shift was changing. The lobby was busy with uniformed guards, almost all female. Some looked friendly and bright; some smiled, some frowned. After a short wait, we were led into a room with tables and chairs and greeted by the warden, who was another surprise. I’d expected someone military and harsh; instead, this warden was a friendly and perky blonde, in civilian clothes. She looked like a yoga instructor or a vitamin saleswoman.

From her, we learned that the state has 150,000 prisoners, and that 12,000 of them are women, mostly housed in Gatesville units. The prison we were at was medium-security, but it had a maximum-security unit. Maybe that’s the same one that she casually called “adseg”; when asked what it meant, she explained that prisoners who violate institutional rules are put into “administrative segregation.” Not being in good standing, they’re not eligible to sign up for programs such as Truth Be Told. We were warned to expect aggressive language from them, as we’d be passing them on our way to the prison chapel where the graduation ceremony would be held.

We were also told to not give anything to a prisoner, to not accept anything from one, and to not touch them in any way except for a handshake, and even that small contact was permissible only on this special occasion.

The warden then led us outdoors toward the chapel. We had to wait at yet another inner gate while a guard got the key to it.

A strip of concrete pavement, about 20 feet wide, led to the chapel, past a few grassy areas with high chain-link fences around them; one area had a sad-looking little rock-lined pond and fountain. The concrete had a yellow stripe on each edge, marking off narrow shoulders where the prisoners walked – guards accompanying them strolled in the wide center. “Hi there, ladies,” I said to a few guards and to a few prisoners. They all seemed a little startled to be addressed.

The metal-clad buildings we were passing – there were no stone walls in sight – looked like industrial-district warehouses for welding or plumbing equipment. Though wide and squat, some seemed to hold as many as four stories, as I saw three layers of tiny windows, most of them numbered on the outside, above a windowless ground floor. At the windows, I’d often see more than one face, so I guessed that those cells are shared.

None of the “adseg” prisoners yelled out much of anything to us. I noticed little showers of birdseed or breadcrumbs being tossed out of their windows for pigeons, and I waved at a few of the prisoners in the windows; they waved back.

The chapel was another squat metal building, again with a highly polished floor. Its bathroom had to be unlocked by a guard for me to use it. It was immaculate. Its door locked automatically behind me, so the next person to use it also had to ask the guard to let her in.

In front of the chapel’s low stage, we arranged two rows of chairs into a semicircle, with our 15 chairs on one side facing the prisoners’ 23 chairs on the other. A few women, probably trusties, set up a microphone and fiddled with a sound system. While we waited for the prisoners to arrive, I admired a beautiful quilted banner on the stage and took in the wall-sized painting behind it, kitschy but earnest, showing the gates of heaven, a garden, a rainbow, and lots of shafts of light. That was the background behind each of the graduates as they stood and shared their insights with us.

A group of guards led in the 23 women we’d been waiting for. The prisoners wore white, not orange. Their pants were what my family called “bumper stumpers” when I was a kid: thick, unattractive sweats with a bunchy elastic waist. Their white T-shirts had polo-style collars. I was surprised to see makeup and elaborate hairstyles on some of the women. Shoes showed some variety, but all were closed-toed and flat-soled.

I was excited to see the prisoners, and they seemed excited to see us. After they sat down, their guards gathered at the back door and the graduation ceremony started. It was about 6 p.m., so the prisoners must have had an early supper. Over the next 90 minutes or so, each of them went to the stage and gave a short talk. A few offered performances – one lady played guitar and sang a song she wrote; a couple of skits and dances were also done, some in pairs. We applauded everything heartily.

Women spoke of their childhoods, and it made me cry. One was abandoned at the age 5. Where was I when I was a 5-year-old? Not abandoned. Another ran away from home at 14, escaping abuse and hunger, and hung around the bus station when she arrived in a big city. No one came up to her to ask where her parents were or whether she needed any help – except, of course, a pimp. “He put a needle in my arm,” she recalled, “and I wasn’t hungry anymore.”

Not a single person said, “I was a victim” or “I was victimized,” but each one of them was. I was impressed by their avoidance of the word. I was horrified by their stories.

One lady spoke about how, as a child, she was abused by her family in numerous ways, starting with being fingered, as a toddler, by her uncles when she’d sit on their laps. That invasion of trust reminded me of how much I loved to sit, so comfy and secure, on my dad’s lap; one of my earliest memories is being fascinated by the golden hairs on his forearms. I loved sitting on my grandpa’s lap, too; it was the safest place ever, except when Gorgeous George did some fancy wrestling move on the TV and Grandpa would jump up out of his chair and cheer. It’s so sad that the lady in the prison chapel had never felt that same goodness and love.

Another lady spoke of being loved and safe for her first seven years, living with her grandparents, until her mother took her away from them, and a life of hell began. I thought, “Where would I be today if everything good for me had stopped when I was 7 years old?” That’s the age I was when John F. Kennedy was killed, and I was so innocent then that I assumed that Jackie would just be named queen. I had opinions and ideas, but I was basically an unformed blob, and if those had been my final memories before starting a life of suffering, I could have been turned into anything.

I was lucky. I could have been her, but instead, I was lucky.

And what became of that prisoner? She emerged from her years of pain with a defiant insight, only recently gained from her Truth Be Told experiences: “I am lovable for who I am.” That’s a big, bold idea for someone like her.

A thin woman with an impossibly thick braid proclaimed, perhaps metaphysically, “I am free.” Another woman, contradicting a widespread assumption that prisoners always protest their innocence, declared, “I am exactly where I belong.”

Only one lady, one of the last to speak, had anything specific to say about the crime that landed her in prison. Twenty years ago, she said, she shot her husband while he was throttling their baby and also threatening to kill her and himself.

“Good,” I thought.

“I called it self-defense,” she said, “but the state of Texas called it capital murder.” She got a 30-year sentence and has 10 years left to serve.

Put yourself in her place. Think of all the good things that have happened to you in the past 20 years, and erase them all. And then erase them for the next 10 years, too. Now try to be serene and brave.

After the last woman had spoken, we visitors were invited to go to the mike and let them know our reactions. I wasn’t brave enough to, although I’ve spoken in public in the past, yet each of those 23 women had been brave enough to get up there and speak.

So, I admired them all the more.

One visitor spoke for me, though, when she told the prisoners that she was impressed by their ability to bear the problems they do, compared with the minuscule worries we have. They have been through so much. They are survivors. They’re courageous, and in many cases heroic. They embody the best of the human spirit.

Well, I sure wasn’t expecting to ever have that thought.

My favorite part of the visit happened next, when the prisoners all lined up and we visitors went down the line, shaking each woman’s hand and briefly saying whatever we could think of. I thanked them and told them they were beautiful and brave. I said I admired their endurance, and I congratulated them on their self-awareness. I praised the two who had been signing throughout each performance for their abilities in American Sign Language. One woman “hugged” me in the permissible way: hugging herself while smiling at me. I “hugged” her right back.

She’s hoping to be paroled soon; the signs are good. She might be released in Houston. I asked if that’s where her family lives. “No,” she answered. “I hurt my family. They don’t speak to me.”

That’s right, I reminded myself, she’s a criminal, and she’s paying for it.

I worry about her.

Afterwards, dining at a long table at a restaurant in town, we visitors all reviewed the day. Many agreed that the women’s self-awareness gained through their Truth Be Told classes was all-important. “It heals their trauma,” said Nathalie, a Truth Be Told founder. “It works,” agreed Kathleen, the organization’s executive director. “And their new awareness isn’t going to go away,” added Louise who, like me, was a first-time visitor.

The drive home through the dark was mostly quiet. It had been a long day, and when I got into bed and stretched out between my fleecy sheets, I was filled with gratitude for the life I have. How exceptionally lucky I was to have been born into a stable family. As my mom used to murmur, whenever she’d pity someone, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

 

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If you would like to attend one of the TBT spring prison graduations, watch our website for Upcoming Events and email: office@truth-be-told.org . The next graduation at the GEO Lockhart Unit is April 17 and the Bryan Federal Prison Camp graduation is May 6. Other dates are pending.

 

 

The Journey Home

Kay started her physical journey home when she was released from prison on July 5, 2013, but her spiritual journey was already well underway because of her commitment to seek out healing experiences while incarcerated. Kay enrolled in the Truth Be Told (TBT) Talk To Me – Movement class and then Discovery, where she wrote the poem below.

She attended every one of the TBT Exploring Creativity Workshops that she could and had a powerful opening experience when Sherry Gingras and the Djembabes brought drumming to the women in prison (described in this November 2013 post).

Kay_reduced imageWhen Kay was close to being released, she joined the TBT Let’s Get Real class for two semesters.

Our programs weren’t her only resource: her love of dogs made her the perfect match for PAWS in Prison.

Since being released, Kay has been active in our Beyond Bars Program, connecting and supporting other women, in spite of a busy life with a new job, new dog, new car, new home, and renewed life.

We love that Kay took the time to create a personal fundraising page for Truth Be Told during Amplify Austin 2014 and raised $500!

Kay, thank you for sharing your grace, your wisdom, and your story.

 

The Journey

By Kay R.

 

For so long, I’ve had this absolute longing to go home…

Even when I was home.

Did that mean I felt lost?

Did that mean I sought death?

Did that mean I yearned to be embraced by God?

Did that mean I slumped over in weariness and confusion?

Yep! You betcha!

 

Oh, I’m not talking about going home from this cell, the walls, and the razor wire —

the oppression.

Oh yea, I want out of here.

BUT – which way is home from here?

I’ve been searching; I’m still searching.

 

Could that path over yonder lead me back to home?

I wonder.

I’ll have to remove some of the many masks I’ve worn.

Some I’ll toss away forever.

Ah! Look! The core of me.

Wow! The spirit of all that I am lives.

 

The spark of my spirit flickers…just a little.

I’m shedding layers now.

I’m digging through the pain.

Whew! That really, really hurts.

I’m not sure I want to do this.

Now I’m shrinking, crumbling – fearful.

I scream: I can do this, determined.

Tumble down the walls and barriers

Courage, please take hold

 

There’s the hand of God

For once I grab it and hold on tight.

Look at me. I feel innocent and pure

Even in the midst of all my experience

I’m feeling my spirit begin to shine now

The glow heals me.

Smiling, I embrace the hearts of my circle of friends, boldly.

 

I am still growing, eager to evolve

I encompass resolution and acceptance

I am rejoicing in being me

I am celebrating being me

Dancing, twirling, laughing

I’ve found home. Hello, self! Welcome home.

A Life Revised

By Margie Stone

Margie&babyWhen I accepted the task of writing this entry for the blog, I was faced with attempting to write about the changes in my life without feeling like I was bragging. As I sat at my laptop and attempted the writing, I figured out that there was no way for me to complete it without bragging. So as you read this, forgive me if it sounds like I am bragging! A life revised is exactly what it says: my life has been revised, by the grace of God and the people He placed in my life — from the organizations that touched my life both inside and outside of prison to the profession that I am currently striving to succeed in and the family bonds that have been strengthened.

 

First, I would like to write about the organizations that touched me seven and a half years ago. That’s right, this is how long ago I was in prison. The few organizations that come to prison facilities do so in hopes of helping people like me find their way back to productive lives in society. I am here to say thank you for giving me a new set of eyes to those that were placed in the GEO Lockhart Unit.

Truth Be Told was one of those organizations. Through the understanding of the 4-Cs (communications, community, creativity, and self-care) and the continued care of the Beyond Bars Program, I have been able to find my way to a meaningful relationship with society. I am in a place where I am able to give back what they gave to me — support, understanding, respectful listening, and most of all a nonjudgmental attitude. I enjoy being able to return to the prison facilities with Truth Be Told as a graduate in support of others and to plant those seeds of hope for their own lives to be fruitful.

It was through my relationship with Truth Be Told that I was introduced to Conspire Theatre and their work in the criminal justice system. In July 2013, I was invited to participate in a workshop. Without realizing this was to be a performance, I accepted. It was probably the most rewarding event I ever participated in. The event grew into a yearlong series of requested performances for the citizens of Austin, and from that stemmed a public television special about incarcerated women. I have been fortunate and blessed with the task of planting the seeds of hope for people with loved ones struggling with addiction issues or incarcerated due to those issues.

Margie&lineupI have been successful in maintaining my sobriety, and I am proud of the five and a half years of living life on life’s terms. I completed an associate’s degree and received a license from the Texas Department of State and Health Services to practice as a Counselor Intern. As of this writing, I have completed the 4000 required hours of the internship, and I am studying to take the state board exam to become a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. I hope to be able to reenroll into college in January to continue my education towards a bachelor’s degree in social work.

I currently work in the system that incarcerated me. I am a Substance Abuse Counselor Intern at a Substance Abuse Treatment Felony Punishment Facility for probationers that are in court-ordered treatment. The environment is a tough place to work, but I truly love my job. Working in this environment with this population inspires me to grow as much as the people I work with.

Margie&lineupThe bonds have always been intact with my family, but the trust was destroyed by the time I went to prison. Today, I can say I am accepted by my family as a person of my word. The trust has been restored, not by me telling them I changed but by living life as an example that I have changed.

I was able to spend the last living days with my dad and grandmother, may they rest in peace.

I am able to be here for my mom since she is alone.

I am able to spend time with my beautiful granddaughters and have been blessed with a handsome grandson who is two months old. I am the grandmother of 11, but I do not have the pleasure of spending time with all of them due to the miles between us. But I love them all!

Life sometimes throws a curve ball, but how one copes with what is thrown defines their character. My 28-year-old son was placed in prison this past summer. It broke my heart, but I will do the best I can to support him through the journey God has selected for him.

I have the opportunity to practice self-care. I was diagnosed with lower back issues and a pinched sciatic nerve that is causing paralysis in my left leg. I am able to understand the limitations of my body’s abilities, and I am receiving medical care. I refuse to believe that I am unable to continue the mission of spreading the seeds of hope to others. I will overcome.

This is the testimony of a life revised by the grace of God and the organizations that I have been blessed to be a part of. It is being able to be a part of those organizations that will continue to inspire me to live life on life’s terms.