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Truth Be Told’s message goes nationwide

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IMG_1976On Oct. 13, Truth Be Told program graduate Dara Musick and volunteer facilitator Katie Ford gave a presentation at the 16th Biannual Adult and Juvenile Female Offenders Conference in Hartford, Conn. It is the only conference in the nation that focuses exclusively on programs and policies tailored for women and girls involved in the criminal justice system. The conference addresses mothers and child care, financial stability and income, prostitution and human trafficking, domestic violence or intimate partner violence, trauma, and different pathways to criminal behavior.

In their presentation, Dara and Katie spoke about Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me Series and the tools we call the 4 Cs: Community building, Communication skills, Creativity and Caring for Self.

We invite you to visit Katie’s website to read a summary of their experience in Connecticut and what it was like to share their stories with a national audience.

We should never doubt the power of our stories!

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Art For The People and Body Stories

Two upcoming events will be donating a portion of their proceeds to Truth Be Told!

Art for the People Gallery

Art For The People Gallery exhibit Human/Nature opens July 9 and runs through August 16 and features Liberty Lloyd and Jules Buck Jones. Artist Liberty Lloyd was so moved by our Truth Be Told mission that she is donating a percentage of her exhibit proceeds to us. A centerpiece of the exhibit is Liberty’s three beautiful watercolor portraits of women who were executed in Texas.

Watercolor by Liberty Lloyd

Watercolor by Liberty Lloyd

Art For The People is a new gallery and workshop whose purpose is to use the arts to help change lives for the better. Deanna Serra, the founder, says, “Art is a global language. It builds bridges and unites people.” The renovated space is located on South First Street, the iconic neighborhood that really is keeping Austin weird. They strive to be a place where artists and art lovers connect and come together as a community that inspires hope. Hope that empowers change in the world.

What a beautiful connection for Truth Be Told! Creativity is one of the Four Cs practiced in Truth Be Told programs: Creativity, Communication Skills, Community Building and Caring for Self. Our Discovery classes and Exploring Creativity workshops engage the women in creative self-expression to better understand their past and reimagine their future. Using expressive arts is a time-honored way to release pain and express despair without harming oneself or others.

Please join us at the Art For The People Gallery Human/Nature opening Thursday, July 9, 6:30-9:00 p.m. Or visit the gallery at 1711 South First Street before August 16.

Body Stories: An Exploration in Authentic Movement and Expressive Writing

This workshop will be held on Saturday, August 15, 2015, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Body Stories is inspired by the work Ginger McGilvray and Katie Ford do as volunteer facilitators for Truth Be Told. This co-ed workshop, hosted at a rural art studio, explores authentic movement and expressive writing as creative practices for unlocking personal wisdom and creative potential. No experience required. Enrollment is limited to 12 participants.

What you get:

  • 4 hours of guided exploration in authentic movement and expressive writing
  • An opportunity to meet others who are drawn to these types of experiences
  • A journal and pen
  • Drinks and dessert to accompany a BYOBB (bring your own brown bag) lunch
  • 10 percent of your tuition will support Truth Be Told program

Send an email to Katie Ford at iamkatieford@gmail.com to add your name to the roster, and she will provide you with payment options. Cost: $150.

Questions? Email Katie iamkatieford@gmail.com or Ginger at ginger.mcgilvray@gmail.com. Full refunds are available through August 7.

KatieFordA professional writer and editor since 1993, KATIE FORD discovered her love of teaching five years ago when she began leading writing classes for women in prison. Every semester, Katie witnesses how the simple acts of writing and sharing from the heart can awaken personal wisdom and plant seeds of empathy and compassion among strangers. She aspires to bring these experiences into the community by hosting similarly inspired workshops in the free world. When she’s not going to prison, she enjoys taking walks with Martha, her three-legged cattle dog.

GingerGINGER MCGILVRAY is a movement instructor and massage therapist. Her experience working with women in prison has ignited her life-long interest in justice and reconciliation, which recently led her to become a certified conflict resolution mediator. “Embodiment” is a good word to describe her approach — an invitation to come back home to ourselves and, from there, rediscover how to live in truth with others. She is grateful for the love, encouragement and creative inspiration she shares with her fiance, Nathan.

From Behind Bars to Beyond Bars: Dream Big

Introduction: Truth Be Told facilitators met Karen in 2010 at the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville. She enrolled in the two classes Truth Be Told offered at that prison, Talk to Me–Circle and Talk to Me–Speaking, multiple times, and then she served as an excellent class mentor.

Karen used to say how much she loved the women in white [the uniform at Gatesville], and she was the mother wisdom of love, acceptance, and appreciation for her classmates.

Karen was released in October 2014 and has stayed in touch through our Beyond Bars program. She loves to express herself and her big dreams through writing and drawing.

By Karen

Truth Be Told came to me by way of a huge miracle against all odds. I came into the prison system desperate and broken. Fear, bad choices, and booze trapped me long before a prison cell. Little did I know that God had already forged a plan, and that faith, hope, and love would set me free.

The TBT facilitators, Carol and Nathalie, taught me to never give up, that I had my own story to tell, and that I had a vision and a special purpose on this earth. I had to let go of the idea that I could have had a different past. I began to believe that what the enemy meant for harm, God was causing to work out for my good.

TBT is a safe and trusted community that taught us to use our voices and experiences to inspire a healing power of restoration in body, mind, and spirit. I am convinced that we overcome by telling and owning our own stories; the good and the bad are interwoven to make us who we are. TBT is living out loud: building integrity and character with expression of genuine heartfelt experiences using words, body language, respectful listening, arts, music, and dance, but most of all our voices.

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 1.34.08 PM

Daring to be true, to speak and believe the truth, says it all for me. Life and Death are in the power of the tongue. TBT has taught me a better way of making decisions and to use my talents and abilities to bless others, to make a difference in our world today. I especially love when we combine our creative gifts to inspire and encourage and set a standard of excellence that states that the little things are big things. Both behind and beyond bars, the moments are unforgettable!

There are no limits or boundaries to what we can accomplish together. TBT brought light and love into a dark place, and the light shone so vividly and gloriously that it changed my life forever. I knew for the first time that there was still good in the world and that I should prepare to win because I was in the midst of winners! God put the perfect people in my life.

I am determined to make the most of the opportunities I’ve been given and to capture the dream that the Lord planted in my mind and heart. TBT pays it forward by letting us know that are not forgotten with the most profound love and generosity. The untamed gratitude I feel spills over into every area of my world, making the destination well worth the journey. The transforming truth we tell allows us to savor life’s sweet moments and to rise above the bitter ones with grace and power. We embrace this new beginning as brave and courageous Princess Warriors with a fearless passion that is bold and beautiful.

It’s your day to do something powerful! To Connect, To Relax, To Learn, To Experience, To Grow, To Create, To Enjoy, To Celebrate, To Love! The extraordinary inspiration and TBT are very good medicine.

My Day in Prison

Note from Carol Waid, co-founder:

Jenny attended the April 17 graduation at the GEO Lockhart facility. She was one of 20 respectful witnesses to hold the space for the 24 women that graduated from the eight-week Talk to Me classes. All 24 went on a journey of discovery looking at what led them to be incarcerated. This focus isn’t honed in on just their crimes, it’s looking at their individual lives to discover what events and experiences happened to them and what choices they made that led them to be incarcerated. This work is intense, courageous, vulnerable, brave, and so often freeing. To be a respectful witness holding the space with kindness, gentleness, and respect is a landmark in time for these women and most often for those that are willing to come in and share the gift of their time on this huge celebratory day. Read more about Jenny’s experience.
We have three more graduations on May 6, June 4, and June 5, but all of these are full and have waiting lists.  We hope you will want to join us for our fall graduations. Watch this blog for announcements.
From all of us at Truth Be Told, we thank you for helping to make a difference.

My Day in Prison

by Jenny Robertson

“Have you ever been to prison before?”

Tall, quiet but confident, Lisa asked me this as we sat talking before her graduation ceremony started. Dressed in navy blue prison scrubs, she smoothed the notebook in her lap and chuckled when I confirmed this was my first time in a prison.

“Everyone stared at you as you walked in, right? It’s so bad — we all stare, but we can’t help it. Everyone wants to know who you are and why you’re here.”

On a stormy Friday about an hour outside Austin, Texas, I and a group of 20 other volunteers spent an afternoon in the GEO Lockhart Unit with Lisa and roughly two dozen female inmates: listening to their stories, sharing our responses, even dancing with them. (Well, okay, others danced. I stood frozen awkwardly in place, because it turns out public dancing is just as uncomfortable for me inside a prison as it is in any other venue).

The day was organized by Truth Be Told, an Austin nonprofit that provides tools of community building, communication skills, creativity, and self-care for incarcerated — and formerly incarcerated — women. The idea is that, through writing, public speaking, and movement, these women can begin the healing process by confronting what has led them to prison. They explore the dark places — who has hurt them, whom they have hurt — in an honest, judgment-free zone.

women writing with katie and carol

They were graduating after eight weeks of class, and we served as an audience of respectful listeners. The stories they shared weren’t necessarily surprising, but were nonetheless horrifying and sad — stories of sexual abuse, drug use, of continuing the cycle and inflicting trauma upon their own children. One woman robbed several pharmacies in hopes of being arrested and finding a safe place in jail. Another spoke of her father plying her with alcohol to the point of blacking out the night of her high school graduation; as she crossed to the dais to pick up her Truth Be Told certificate amid standing applause, it occurred to me how different and positive this graduation must feel to her.

Despite the dark subject matter, a palpable sense of joy permeated the room. Here we were, a group of participants and volunteers, illustrating the gift of thoughtful, open listening. I forget sometimes how powerful that gift can be in a world of texts and tweets.

I was able to attend the ceremony thanks to a new AT&T initiative providing paid time off for the volunteer project of my choice. In my daily job, I talk so much about communications — machine-to-machine technology, petabytes of data over our network, call quality, and download speeds. It’s easy to lose sight that at the center of all this activity, our business is still inherently about people making connections.

Laughing with Lisa about how, indeed, everyone stared as I walked the gray line painted through the prison halls, I made a connection I would never have imagined a few days earlier. It was short, but it mattered, and I’ll carry it with me.

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.

“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!

Meeting the woman, not the crime: Exploring Creativity at Hilltop

by Peggy Lamb

Twenty-eight women in dingy white uniforms file into the chapel at the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville. Most of them know me and gift me with big smiles. I feel a flood of joy circulate through my body, and my heart opens wide.

These women are all in the Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP), an intense 18-month cognitive therapy program. (For more information on this program go to http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/divisions/rpd/rpd_sorp.html). They live together in a special dorm where community is emphasized. Each woman has committed a crime that will brand her for life as a sex offender.

Most people have a hard time wrapping their minds around the concept of female sex offenders. I certainly did. A Google search brought me to a research paper entitled Female Sex Offenders: Severe Victims and Victimizers. It was hard to read about women sexually molesting children, even harder to grasp that some of the women of SOTP had committed similar crimes. Women don’t do such things. Only men do, right? Wrong. Both genders are capable of unspeakable and horrifying crimes.

I do not know the specifics of these women’s crimes. I could find out via the TDCJ website, but I’ve made a conscious choice to remain in the dark. I meet them, woman to woman, outside ideas of right and wrong.

The artists I bring in and I share tools of discovery and encourage the creativity of these deeply wounded women, who themselves are victims of sex abuse, to take root and blossom. I passionately believe in the power of creativity to heal and redefine oneself. Walt Whitman wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

I want these women to know in their bones that they are more than sex offenders; they are more than their crimes. They are writers, poets, dancers, singers, actresses, and visual artists with gifts to share.

When I learned that the Hilltop unit had a SOTP program, I was deeply drawn to teach there. I do not know why I was drawn there, but I have learned to follow my soul urges. It’s been almost two years that I’ve been going up there once a month, and it is work that deeply feeds my soul.

Today I’m teaching a movement and writing class I call Elements. Chairs are moved out of the way and we circle up for warm-up exercises. The sound of African drumming fills the room, breaking down barriers and inhibitions like a magic wand. Hips sway, shoulders shimmy, toes tap, and heads bob. We boogie and rock out. Movement is generated from the core — pelvis and torso. In the Soul Train section, I encourage the women to get down and shake it out, to shake out anger, despair, loneliness, frustration, and resentment. It is deeply satisfying!

women dancing black silhouettes orange and pink background

My first writing prompt is five minutes of free-flow writing on  the topic “I Am Earth.” Then I ask the women to create an earth gesture — a movement that symbolizes groundedness, stability, and nature. Each woman shares her gesture, and the rest of us repeat it. I play just the right earthy music (usually another cut of African drumming), and we go around the circle dancing each woman’s gesture. We’ve just choreographed our first dance! 

We repeat that process with three more writing and movement prompts for the elements of air, water, and fire. By the end of the class, we’ve created four dances, and the women have four pieces of creative writing they can be proud of. The chapel is filled with the divine energy of creativity and community.

One woman comments, “I didn’t know I was creative!”

Another says, “This is the deepest sense of community this dorm has ever had.”

A comment that touches my heart deeply is, “In the twenty years I’ve been locked up, this is the most fun I’ve ever had.”

I am filled with awe at the women’s willingness to step outside their comfort zones. I love this work. My soul is filled with joy and gratitude.

Below is one woman’s beautiful poem:

I am water

By Laurie S.

I am water

Pouring

Dripping

Sprinkling

I am the water from the sky

I am water

Pounding

Breaking

Rolling

I am the water of the seas

I am water

Rippling

Flooding

Streaming

I am the water of the rivers

I am water

Breathing

Circulating

Flowing

I am the water

Inside us all

 

Peggy Lamb organizes Truth Be Told’s Exploring Creativity program. She brings artists to both the Hilltop and Lockhart units. Exploring Creativity classes use expressive arts to enlarge the women’s sense of themselves, to release pain and to express despair without harming oneself or others. Leaders vary from storytellers to singers, visual artists, dancers, quilters, yoga teachers, and writers. If you are interested in teaching an Exploring Creativity class, please contact Peggy at peggy.lamb at sbcglobal.net.