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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.

My Freedom Will Hold, Thanks to Truth Be Told

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By Stephanie, a Truth Be Told graduate.

Stephanie and her daughter

I am Stephanie, graduate of the 2013 Talk To Me Circle class at the GEO Lockhart Unit. I came into this class with an open mind, willing to learn, but my main objective at the time was to have something to show parole. I had just gotten a year set off (a delay in release). I knew why I had received this set off. It was because the system was tired of me. You see I had spent the majority of my life in and out of prison. More in than out. I am a fifty-year-old, repeat offender. Been to state jail three times, TDC (Texas Department of Corrections) two times, and out-of-state once.

My prison journey started at the age of 19. So as much as the system was tired of me, I had finally become tired of it. So I signed up for everything that had a dotted line and embarked on the Truth Be Told class with my all. I really was tired of prison life. I knew I needed a change or I would die in prison or lose someone close to me and not be able to handle it. I took the Circle class where you have to write your truth with Katie Ford.

I was very distanced and I held my feelings inside. I didn’t know how to communicate very well. I felt I would do good with the writing. At least it was a start and I would let go of some of my junk and pain. In the beginning, I didn’t know that was a way of healing and finding your truth. I give thanks to Katie, because that’s a tool I learned from her and Truth Be Told, my tool of journaling. See I had never journaled in my life and this has helped me to face my truth. There were other tools as well as writing my truth. I learned to speak my truth, that I still have a voice, and that I am somebody besides a number. Most importantly I learned how to change and never go back to prison.

This class provided me with personal and spiritual growth. It’s true that these tools have held me together. I’ve been out for three months now and it has been a challenge for me. I have to constantly remind myself that I can do it, that I can ask for help, that I am not alone, and to trust in my Father’s Words that he will make a way. I am holding on and expressing my feelings through my journaling, because I know that God has got a blessing with my name on it and it’s not a TDC number.

Gratitude, New Beginnings, and Celebrations

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Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

We just received a $10,000 grant award from The Donald D. Hammill Foundation . We are honored to be recognized by this wonderful foundation that supports so much meaningful work in Austin. The Hammill Foundation was established to “improve the quality of life for people who have disabilities, the aged, and people who are financially disadvantaged, including the working poor and those who are Thank youindigent or chronically ill.” One of the Foundation’s Trustees attended the spring Talk To Me graduation at the GEO Lockhart unit and, like most guests who serve as respectful witnesses to the graduates’ truth-telling, was moved by the women’s heartfelt stories. The award letter from the Foundation stated: “We feel your program provides services to a population in our community that would otherwise face very limited resources or be overlooked, and we are pleased to be able to support your efforts.” We are filled with gratitude for this generous gift and the recognition of our mission.

 

New Beginnings
In June, we will begin providing programs at the Federal Prison Camp in Bryan (FPC Bryan), our first venture into a federal correctional facility. Our current programs serve women in a county jail, a privately run prison, and a state-run prison. The FPC Bryan administrators attended a Truth Be Told presentation at the 2013 Vision Summit hosted by the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. The Summit’s mission was “to awaken and ignite communities to attain a unified vision and thriving re-entry process that enables the incarcerated to amend their place in the world, by showcasing effective programs, listening to each other and networking to make future possibilities a reality today.” In January, the FPC Bryan administrators asked Truth Be Told to make a 1 ½ hour presentation to their staff and 80 inmates. Three facilitators and two TBT graduates (former inmates) shared about the power of our programs. In an evaluation of the presentation, all of the inmates expressed an interest in our programs.

A couple of their comments included:

“If this class were available to me it would help me to get out in society not feeling scared to trust others and make better choices.”
“I really loved that this presentation was made available to us, because a couple of the speakers are ex-cons and that makes it more real for me, to hear someone who has been in my shoes and is now successful. Margie & Debra are awesome!!!”

Each facility we go to has a different culture, as well as unique policies and procedures, so there is always a learning process in starting programs at a new one. We are eager to discover how we can best serve this group of women while we learn about being in a federal facility.

 

May Graduations

May brought two prison graduations. At the Gatesville Hilltop Unit, thirteen women and two facilitators-in-training completed the Talk To Me and Discovery series. Their courageous performances engaged a group of twenty guests that included Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) administrators and the TDCJ regional chaplain. At the GEO Lockhart unit, sixteen women and one facilitator-in-training completed the Discovery program.
The Discovery program is a six-week level 2 series that immediately follows the eight-week level 1 Talk To Me series. In Discovery, the women build upon the self-knowledge they gained during Talk To Me by more deeply exploring the kind of person they want to be moving forward in life. Each class offers an opportunity for self-expression through the creative arts. As part of the curriculum, the women get to publish a piece of their original writing in what we call the Book of Wisdom.

The following poem, written by Kasey Marie T., was published in the Spring 2014 Book of Wisdom for the GEO Lockhart unit. Kasey, who is in her early 20s, made a strong impression on her facilitator, Katie Ford.
“Kasey once admitted in class that prison was simply teaching her to be a better addict and convict — that is, until she enrolled in Talk to Me and Discovery,” Katie says. “She said our classes were teaching her the importance of building relationships with safe people who will support the change she wants to see in herself. I saw her blossom into a self-confident, compassionate woman. I can’t guarantee the direction of her young life moving forward, but I’m confident that a seed of hope was planted.”

Find Myself
By Kasey Marie T.

I promise this isn’t another violin song.
I’m not tryin’ to justify, just tryin’ to figure out
where things went wrong.

Don’t feel bad for me. Feel bad for my kids.
Feel bad for the birthdays that I’ll miss.
I’ll take this time away to find out who I am.
I know if I don’t change my ways, I’ll end up here again.

My thoughts were clouded. I was slowly going insane.
The person I’d become brought tears of disappointment and shame.

Where’s everyone who said they’d stick by my side?
What hurts the most is I never said goodbye.
It’s been a long time since my family wanted me around.
It’s been even longer since I could say I made them proud.

I pray the ones I love never have to go through this,
hoping they detour this road of unhappiness.

This is just a bend in my road that I’ve created within.
Eventually I’ll overcome this and find myself again.

“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!

Creativity an essential tool in the development of Truth Be Told

By Nathalie Sorrell, Truth Be Told Co-Founder

When Carol Waid and I were creating Truth be Told classes in the first two years of our work behind bars in Lockhart prison, we knew we were offering these incarcerated women our primary tools for maintaining our own sanity and exceeding our various forms of discouragement when life presented us with difficulties. Our main tool was writing and talking, when those to whom we wrote and spoke were respectful listener/readers and authentic truth tellers themselves. Being in 12 Step programs provided us with a belief in a Higher Power that could support our life journey, as well as the example of others who had struggled, now choosing a more authentic lifestyle, and willing to talk and listen at a deeper level. We began thus to share, in the format of a public speaking class, which the warden at the prison had offered me a chance to create.

Soon the women wanted more and were greatly distressed when the Talk to Me class completed after “only” eight weeks of soul-searching honesty and sharing. They had formed a community of support behind bars where they’d never known it – and they wanted more. Carol and I began to add more writing exercises like we had done when we were friends, writing together in the Texspresso coffee shop at the Village shopping center. I had other personal growth exercises I’d used in my Lighthouse Enterprises workshops and when I was leading women’s retreats for various churches in Texas. Some were based on Wishcraft, Barbara Sher’s book about how to discover your heart’s desire and become a success by your own definition. Others were from Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, by Susan Jeffers, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. A primary book for me was Elizabeth O’Conner’s Our Many Selves, which is still a staple of our Discovery Classes. Soon, we had a six-week Discovery class planned for our graduates to attend, using exercises which we and friends and mentors had created or borrowed from workshops we’d attended.

The women in our classes felt rewarded for the intensely difficult work of delving into their past pain and shame-smeared life experiences, speaking them aloud to each other and even to audiences at graduations, when they knew that they were going to then be eligible to attend the creative Discovery classes. We promoted them by saying:

“Now that you’re no longer driven by or hiding from the past, you can begin to create a future for yourself. Now your past becomes the gift you can offer when your truth-telling is needed, to help others caught like you were, to create a safer community for everyone to grow.”

When our second group of women began with the deepest possible truth-telling by a young intense woman speaking the unspeakable trauma of being her father’s sexual plaything when she was a toddler, Carol and I realized we were into facilitation beyond our depth of training or life experience. After meeting with prison officials, and while creating our first prison pray-er team at the suggestion of Margaret Simpson, the idea arose of bringing into this class other facilitators who had creative gifts for dealing with trauma. One week was devoted to the creation of mandalas, which the facilitator had used to get her through the trauma of a miscarriage. Another week was given to a singer song-writer who used her writing to express how the trauma of her divorced father’s neglect played over into her adult love-life of choosing men who were unreliable in spite of their spoken words. And another program came from a woman who did bodywork for many women who’d endured many kinds of trauma. The participants showed a profound resilience emerging from their shared creativity. They then continued the class by staying within guidelines for 5-7 minute speeches for graduation (that didn’t include such intimate detail that they’d traumatize the audience.)

Carol and I saw that we needed to include opportunities for women in prison to experience the power of creativity beyond their commitment to our eight-week Talk to Me classes. Thus were born Truth Be Told’s Exploring Creativity workshops. Any creative person we met in our daily lives in Austin’s generative community was liable to find Carol and me standing in front of them after they had sung, played, painted, read their writing, danced, or performed in any way that inspired or evoked our attention. We’d be asking them:

“Would you be interested in going into the women’s prison with us and doing a two-hour creative workshop?”

It was amazing and gratifying to see that artists so often are wide open to sharing their talents and gifts with people who can’t afford to pay them. We couldn’t, and didn’t… but again and again, these performers and visual artists experienced the same thing we did: Their own passion and creativity was rewarded deeply as they satisfied the yearning women in prison have. Incarcerated women long for meaning, for role models, and for playful and courageous exploration of new ways of discovering and expressing their true selves.

Suzanne Armistead was invited in to lead an Exploring Creativity workshop, and as a dancer, became our passionate advocate for letting the women release and address their issues through movement as well as talk and writing. She had a lot of work to do with Carol and me as well … because although I’d awakened eight years before to my severe neglect of my own body’s need for my attention and respect – I was still far more comfortable with ignoring my physical desire for expression than giving in to it – especially in the groups or classes I facilitated.

So Truth be Told had three founders with great mutual respect for what the others had to offer and the willingness to go beyond our own comfort zones into innovative and challenging experiences with following each other’s leadership. As we facilitated classes and workshops together, we continued on our own path of personal and spiritual growth and learned many more creative forms of working through the inevitable conflicts and differences that occur in team leadership.

Creativity is an essential tool of the work we have been doing for the past 14 years. A new article in The Texas Tribune just came out expressing this primary truth that we’ve learned through our own experience. It is a joy to read, and I hope you’ll find time to go to this link soon, and see how once again, Truth be Told is doing something simply because it works for us that has great value on a far wider scale than we knew when we began this work in 2000.

What a joy to be part of this journey with so many authentic, growing women and men, beyond and behind bars, within and outside our organization. I will be thanking my Higher Power until the day I die for the fun and the growth I’ve experienced as a co-creator of the Talk to Me classes, Discovery classes, and Exploring Creativity workshops of Truth be Told.

Lisa Lowery: From Prisoner to Paralegal

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Lisa Lowery is a 2009 graduate of the Talk To Me Circle & Discovery Program at the GEO Lockhart Facility.  This 14-week program is designed to deepen the inmates’ self-understanding and wise use of freedom of choice; to improve communication skills, through writing, speaking and respectful listening; to develop tools of self-expression; as well as to grow the understanding in the importance of community and creativity, both to be thought of as tools for transformation.

 Lisa has just celebrated her fourth year of living in her hometown of Amarillo.  Please read the article that was written about her today in The Amarillo College News.  We are so proud of her!

Interviewed and the article written by: Joe Wyatt, Communications Coordinator for Amarillo College

Lisa Lowery knew going in that mediocrity was not likely to suffice, not for her. What she could not know, however, was just how far even academic excellence might take a convicted felon who was seeking a paralegal career. Lisa therefore took aim at unequalled academic excellence—and she nailed it. 

Lisa was named Paralegal Major of the Year in 2012, the same year she graduated from Amarillo College with a 3.96 grade point average, and just three years removed from a six-year stay in the state prison system. That latter experience might have seriously diminished her chances of becoming a working paralegal, especially had she been an ordinary student, but Lisa’s unparalleled prowess made a huge difference.

 That’s why she is happily employed today in the law office of Amarillo attorney William R. McKinney, Jr., who was naturally apprehensive when he first reviewed her application and the full disclosure of her past that it contained.

 “Lisa was an incredible student, the best. The only B she made at AC was in typing,” Bruce Moseley, director of AC’s Paralegal Program, said. “My tests are extremely hard, but if there were 100 points to be had, plus extra credit, Lisa scored 110 every time.  

“I had a long discussion with Mr. McKinney about Lisa because I truly believed the only thing he might regret would be passing up a chance to hire her. I don’t think he has any regrets about that now.”  

She may have made her paralegal studies look easy, but the truth is Lisa had to work hard for her exceptional grades—she began her AC experience in remedial classes—knowing all the while that only exceptional results might positively change potential employers’ perceptions once they learned of her unhappy past.

  The short version of that past is this: When Lisa was 12 and living in the Metroplex, her mother stepped out into the driveway with a loaded gun and committed suicide. Lisa disliked the stepmother who arrived almost immediately; she ran away from home while in the eighth grade and began using drugs. By the time she reached her 20s, Lisa had earned a GED and reconciled with her father, but at age 23 she experienced renewed misery when her dad was shot and killed at the convenience store he operated. The very next year, she underwent chemotherapy and had a mastectomy.

  Lisa’s use of methamphetamines spiraled out of control after that. Her health waned. Virtually skeletal, she was busted in 2003 for possession and theft by forgery. While incarcerated, she learned that her brother had died of a drug overdose.

  “I thought God hated me,” Lisa said. “I could not have been more wrong. It was God who changed my life, who saved me. He brought me a lot of tangible help through those in my church.” 

Her path to redemption began behind bars. She discovered a latent faith and became a peer educator, teaching new inmates about health, hygiene and HIV. By mail she received a certificate of completion in restoration ministry from the NET Institute, so she could help restore broken families upon her parole, which finally came in October of 2009. She moved to Amarillo to live with an aunt who was active in a local ministry.  

Lisa, whose mother had been a legal secretary, had always been interested in the law. Once she achieved residency within the Amarillo College District, she enrolled at AC and began remedial work in writing and math, with one eye on the Paralegal Program. That was in 2010.

“My English and writing were at a seventh-grade level,” she said. “My algebra was dismal. I had nine months of remedial work, and I did it with the wonderful help of the tutors at AC. There are so many incredible people and resources there, like the math lab, and the writing center, and of course Mr. Moseley, who encouraged me beyond belief.

 “I’d been an A student all through grade school. The help I got at AC helped me figure out how to be a student again, how to take tests.”  

Hard tests are no triviality, but compared to hard time, well … Lisa went on to set a new standard in the Paralegal Program. The rest, as they say, is history. Or it would be were Lisa not still connected to AC’s Paralegal Program in an unofficial way. Moseley occasionally connects her with students who express interest in his program but whose own pasts are flecked with dubious occurrences: people who logically question their own ultimate employability.

 “I’m honest with them,” Lisa said. “I tell them my story. It’s pretty harsh. I mean, I was in the penitentiary, and that’s a hindrance in getting any job, but especially in the law.


“But I also tell them that if they are willing to give it everything they’ve got, if they are committed to what it takes to excel, then anything is possible. I tell them that because I’ve personally discovered that it’s true, and if I could do it, I believe they can do it, too.”