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My Prison Classmates

By Cis Dickson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


TEDx Goes to Prison

By Kathleen Littlepage, Executive Director, Truth Be Told

Kathleen Littlepage

Kathleen Littlepage

By now, most of us have been inspired, educated, or just amazed by a TED talk. The short, powerful videos can start public conversations and even change lives. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment, and Design converged, and today talks cover almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.

Truth Be Told facilitators were fans of Brene Brown and her work on vulnerability and shame before her TED talks, The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame, went viral and catapulted her to the national stage.

At Truth Be Told, we know the transformational power of giving the women in our classes an opportunity to tell their story to an audience of respectful listeners. That is what happens at our prison graduations. When one of our graduates who participates in our Beyond Bars activities shared the link to a TEDx event in California’s Ironwood State Prison, my first reaction was a little flash of envy.When I watched the videos, I couldn’t imagine how they created this high quality production in a prison.

This Mother Jones magazine article, TEDx Goes to Prison, explains that the event was the brainchild of movie producer Scott Budnick, who has been volunteering in California prisons long before he became a celebrity. The article has some of the videos embedded and you can find more of them here.

As we find in our Truth Be Told programs, the voices of prisoners in these videos are inspiring, humbling, and surprising to the uninitiated.

If you would like to attend a Truth Be Told graduation and respectfully listen to participants in our Behind Bars programs telling their stories, the dates for fall graduations appear on the Truth Be Told website’s Events page. Three public graduations are scheduled: two at the Lockhart GEO unit and one at the Murray Unit in Gatesville.

Stay tuned to this blog for reminders!

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.

Truth Be Told Spring Graduations and Gone For Good

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By Kathleen Littlepage, Truth Be Told Interim Executive Director

There is no better way to learn more about Truth Be Told and our programs than attending a graduation.

Right now, we are filling spaces in the last two spring graduations: Talk To Me and Discovery at Hilltop Unit in Gatesville is May 16, and Discovery at GEO Lockhart Unit is May 23. We need about two weeks to process the prison paperwork for the attendees, so please let us know as soon as possible that you want to attend. For more information, contact Carol Waid at carol (at) or (512) 292-6200.

On Friday April 4, a group of about 20 from Austin met up at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, but it wasn’t all about the barbecue. After lunch and some visiting, Katie Ford, a Truth Be Told facilitator, prepared us for the short trip we were about to make to the GEO Lockhart Unit for a graduation. It was routine for the TBT facilitators but a completely new experience for a journalism graduate student, a school counselor, a psychiatric nurse, a stay-at-home mom, a former DPS officer, a UT professor, and the rest of the assembled. We listened carefully as Katie described how we would be processed into the prison and what the event would be like.

The three spring Talk To Me classes were ready to graduate 31 women. They had all spent eight weeks learning how to tell their life stories— not the stories of their convictions but the larger stories of how they became who they are.

The women had all chosen one of the three Talk To Me formats, speaking, writing, or movement. Many of the women had never participated in a graduation, although a few had some higher education, but the occasion marked completion of an intense personal journey of discovery for all. We were there to be respectful listeners to enlarge the safe communities they had built in class.

In the auditorium, the guests and graduates mingled and sat together while waiting for the ceremony to begin. This was my third graduation, but it had been several years since the last one. Ginger McGilvray’s movement class began with a group performance to a rendition of Motherless Child, and I remembered how deep these women go and that I was about to go on that journey with them. Three women from the speaking class and three from the writing class told their stories. I heard about a father who was a drug dealer, a mother who left, a brother who took her innocence, a girl who knew she was pretty, a child who died mysteriously, bad choices, and struggles with addiction. Pain, loss, mistakes, hopes, and redemption all tumbled out together. When Donna Snyder began calling the names of her 12 students in the speaking class, I was so thankful and ready for the upbeat mood of the women celebrating their accomplishments. After some guests chose to share their thoughts in the closing circle, we ended with laughter as we each said our name, a one word feeling, and a gesture that the entire group then repeated.

I agreed with the guest who said, “I am comforted to know that some of the people that we incarcerate have access to moments that will make a difference in their lives.” And I wanted to add, “…and make a difference in our lives.”

Kay Rosenkranz, who was released from prison in 2013, wrote about her experience with three Truth Be Told classes, “Graduation day was so special for me. I became an emotional basket case that day too. I was so surprised to see that people from the ‘free world’ were inspired to tears by what we did that day and the stories we shared. More surprising was learning how many other women had stories to tell and how those stories impacted their lives. I found hope in learning I had so much in common with these women. I remember thinking that if only we could harness this goodwill, this human commonality, and this energy, what a world we could then create!”

Gone For Good Supports Truth Be Told

On April 1, Gone For Good presented Truth Be Told with a $2,500 grant award at a lovely luncheon at Chez Nous. Kathleen Littlepage and Carol Waid were there to accept the check from the three founders, Retta Van Auken, Gail Miller, and Sandy Rotman. IMG_3049

Gone For Good is a nonprofit with a simple but clever model to help other nonprofits. Individuals donate items of value that they no longer want. Gone for Good sells the items and donates the proceeds, less a handling fee, to the charity chosen by the individual, who in turn gets a tax deduction. Gone For Good has a booth at the Antique Marketplace, and they sell items online. They also organize and manage estate sales.

Gone For Good was started three years ago by these three Austin women and has made over $150,000 in cash and in-kind donations. For the first time this year, Gone For Good used some accumulated funds to award grants to five small local nonprofits, and Truth Be Told is fortunate to be in that group. We are grateful to Gone For Good for their hard work and generosity and for choosing to support Truth Be Told.

Please keep Gone For Good in mind as new way to support Truth Be Told next time you want to give some items a new home. We love playing a part in their mission to sell worldly treasures to do a world of good.

Jim Walsh shares why he supports Truth Be Told

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This week’s post is from Jim Walsh, a Truth Be Told volunteer, a lawyer in Austin, and the husband of Nathalie.

Why do I support Truth Be Told? Because I believe what I learned from Franciscan priest Richard Rohr: “Transformed people transform people.” I not only believe it—I have seen it happen. Jim 1

Truth Be Told’s mission is to teach women in prison “transformational tools.” One of these tools is the tool of communication. I have seen this in action. I have seen women gather up the courage to tell the truth of how they ended up in prison.

My role as a volunteer with Truth Be Told is to give the women an evaluation as they practice the speeches they will give at the conclusion of the Talk to Me class. I learned how to evaluate public speaking through my membership in Toastmasters International, an organization designed to help its members improve their public speaking skills. Among the tools that Toastmasters use is the formal evaluation of a speech. Every time a Toastmaster gives a speech in the club setting another Toastmaster provides feedback, an evaluation. The idea is to nurture the speaker’s strengths, while pointing out specific ways in which the speech can be improved.

I had a lot of practice at doing this after 22 years of weekly attendance at my Toastmasters club. But none of that prepared me for the kind of speeches I would be hearing from the inmates in the Talk to Me classes at Lockhart and Gatesville.

I do my best to be a good Toastmaster—focusing on the speech rather than the speaker.But it is impossible not to be moved by the power of the stories that most of the women tell. The most striking aspect of the stories, for me, is the raw fact that almost all of these incarcerated women were victims of crime long before they committed crimes of their own. I am usually the only man in the room, which is embarrassing as they tell of fathers, boyfriends and husbands who abused them. Over and over I have been struck by the courage it takes to tell the story of shame and guilt that led to a crime that brought them to prison.

And yet, I have not heard these women make excuses for their crimes. In the ten years in which I have volunteered at the prison I have yet to hear any woman blame her crime on anyone but herself. But I have heard of the circumstances and conditions that preceded the crime.

What I see in that sterile prison room classroom is the beginning of a community. These women listen respectfully to each other. They support each other as each one musters the courage to stand before the group and tell the truth. For many of them, this is a brand new experience—the experience of being listened to, not shouted down to, cared about, and not judged.

The women in the Truth Be Told classes have hit bottom and they know it. They are teachable, eager to grasp the hand of anyone willing to help Jim 2them to a better life. Truth Be Told provides that helping hand.

I believe that Truth Be Told is helping transform women behind and beyond bars from shame and guilt to freedom and integrity. I am proud to be a small part of that process.

Truth Be Told Graduations and Annual Fundraiser

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens
can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
~Margaret Mead

Brené Brown

We have exciting invitations to share with YOU and we hope you will join us in the spirit of this inspirational quote. In our work with incarcerated women, we experience and witness changes in ourselves and in the women we guide through a transformative process of story telling and creative expression. Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, who studies include vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame says:

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change…. If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive…. We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.”

So, won’t you please join Truth Be Told in being a part of changing the world by attending a graduation inside the prison, and attending our 8th annual fundraiser on December 3, 2012.  YOUR presence, by being a respectful witness, will help to heal the corrosion of shame and shine light on love.

Please read below for more details and please note that the graduations in the prison have a quickly approaching deadline.

8th Annual Fundraiser

Monday, December 3, 2012
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Frank Fickett Center in Austin, TX

We invite you to join us at our 8th annual fundraiser.
This event is a free dinner, where you will hear stories from our Truth Be Told graduates sharing with you about how their lives Beyond Bars have been changed and affected by the tools that they experienced and learned Behind Bars in the Truth Be Told programs. You will also watch a powerful 8-minute video that was primarily filmed inside the Lockhart Prison.

Be inspired and informed by reading about last year’s fundraiser, from the voice of Katie Ford, TBT Facilitator and Behind Bars Coordinator:

“It awakens the good stuff in people. It breaks down the walls, casts aside the doubts, looks directly in the face of denial and awakens the best in us.”

RSVP now for this evening of inspiration, connection and growing of community AND let us know if you would like to be a Table Captain – we need 25 Table Captains, read below for more details.

We want YOU as a Table Captain !!!

Table Captains are crucial to the success of our annual fundraising event.
What does a Table Captain do?  ~ GREAT QUESTION!
You invite your friends and family and everyone you meet to come and join us on December 3rd, 2012 for dinner.   Your guests will sit with you at your table and you will share dinner together and you will also share an evening of inspiration and building community with TBT graduates, facilitators, board members, and founders.
What does a Table Captain not do? ~ Another GREAT QUESTION!
You will not ever be put in a position to ask for money.
We will guide you through this process, so let us know if you are interested and we will send you information on how to invite your guests, how to keep them motivated, and how to keep us informed on who will be joining you at your table/s.

GEO Lockhart Facility, Lockhart,TX
Friday, November 9, 2012, 2 – 4 p.m.

We only have 9 spots left for this event that is filled with creativity, self-expression, and authentic story telling.
Please RSVP by end of day Tuesday, October 23rd.

This graduation celebrates the inmates’ completion of a 14-week series of classes. The past 6 weeks they have been in the level 2 of community, called the Discovery Class: Having developed a deeper sense of trust, graduates shift their focus from the past to the present, engaging in writing, impromptu speaking and creative play to increase their discovery and understanding of themselves, others, and the world outside. They continue to improve their communication skills and deepen the network of support they began developing in the Talk To Me classes.

Prepare to be moved by their extraordinary creativity and courage, as they take you through two hours of what they have experienced in the last 14 weeks.

If you are interested in attending a graduation but can’t make this one, we have another graduation coming up on Thursday, November 29th, 2012, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m, at the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville, TX. Please contact us for more details.

Making art at Gatesville: Peg Runnels teaches Exploring Creativity

Painter, photographer, mixed media artist, and Truth Be Told supporter Peg Runnels describes her experience teaching an Exploring Creativity class to Gatesville inmates:

Although I’d volunteered at Lockhart many times, when Peggy Lamb asked me to do art with the Gatesville inmates for Exploring Creativity, I said yes. Immediately I felt apprehension. This was for the sex offender unit: Would I be able to be with them without judgment? Could I even like them?

As the time approached, I grew anxious. What if I in my ignorance said or did something offensive? What might happen? Not knowing anything about them caused me fear.

I wondered what I might have to offer to inspire their art. The phrase came to me, What Do You Dare to Dream? I let that play in my mind, wondering how to make that come alive. And then What Do I Dare to Dream? became the next question. One thing I’m afraid of is dancing in front of others, so I decided that is what I would do.

Arriving at Gatesville, I was nearly quaking. When it was time, Peggy had the women form a circle, introduced me, and without saying a word I began to dance in the circle, a dance of fear and nervousness. I looked each woman in the eye. Their eyes showed confusion as they glanced at each other. What is she doing, they seemed to say. Then as my vulnerability dance began to change into acceptance, I saw their faces soften and grow warm. We had connection.

Describing why I danced for them — to dare to dream and to face my fears — I told them to consider what they might dare to dream and to bring into reality. I suggested they paint that question. Eagerly they jumped in and silently made paintings and collage.

Facing my fears helped them face theirs.

At the end we formed another circle, this time with each woman holding her art in front of her. In silence, we looked around at each unique work of art, amazed at the quality and depth.

Then an amazing thing happened. I said, We only have 15 minutes before cleanup so there isn’t time for everyone to speak, but if you don’t talk too much a few of you can share about your art. One woman quickly jumped in and said a couple of things about hers and as she walked around inside the circle showing it, someone else began telling about her piece, and while she was showing another began to speak. This pattern continued, and every woman who wanted to speak got her turn. Only one out of the 27 declined. This was a group-think solution that worked better than anything I could have planned.

In this morning at the prison, I came away deeply satisfied and fulfilled. I’m sure I learned more than anyone there.

Peg’s Bio

I have always been introspective. A high school English teacher assigned an autobiography paper and while other students groaned, I secretly rejoiced. We were to include our personal credo, and I remember writing values that are still true for me today:

  • I agree with Socrates, An unexamined life is not worth living;
  • I choose to seek and find beauty in simple everyday things;
  • I seek to be authentic.

Peg Runnels maskMy masks reflect those values.

I was 28 when my mom died. Afterwards I longed to read anything that might tell me more about her — diaries, journals, letters — but there was nothing. My children will know me, I resolved, and began keeping personal journals and finding expression in art, writing, photography, and now personal masks. The masks tell my life.  Each one has her story; each one is a part of me. My masks are part of a larger plan to know myself and to share who I am.

A native of Dallas, I married and moved to Austin. My husband Jim went to UT and I stayed home with children. At 42, my children grown, I attended St. Edward’s University. For several years I photographed homes for builders, pursued art photography, and had a few photo exhibits. Now I lead creativity retreats and workshops where we write, create art, or make masks.

My art pursuits are very diverse. For example, in 2004, this is what I did:  curated and exhibited in a group nature photography show at Mayfield Park; exhibited my photography series titled Home at the Carr America building; created a piece named Mardi Bra  for Firehouse Gallery’s breast cancer awareness show in Fort Worth; led several weekend creativity retreats; gave two talks on Staying True to Yourself at Lockhart Women’s Prison including showing masks; had a month-long solo exhibit at Tarrytown Baptist Church, including artist’s talk; exhibited at The Driskill Hotel with art opening celebration; and exhibited at Norwood Towers (Seventh and Lavaca) for six weeks.

All of the things I do support my life values: to examine my life and live it consciously; to seek and show beauty; to live as authentically as I can. I try to be the change I hope for the world.