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Back to the Classroom

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We have started our 2015 fall semester in the prisons, so it is a good time to answer questions we get asked frequently. “Are there differences in the prisons you go to?” “Are the women the same wherever you go?” “How is jail different from prison?”

Truth Be Told provides programs for women behind bars at five correctional facilities and each one has unique features and different offender populations. Even though the women we meet are living in different environments and facing diverse futures, from an upcoming release date to a 30 year sentence, they have similar needs. We all share the need to be seen, heard and loved. We strive to make meaning of our journeys through self-reflection and sharing our stories. We heal by being authentic and vulnerable in a safe community.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) gives every inmate a custody designation and each prison houses certain custody levels from the least restrictive at G1 to the most secure at G5 and then Administrative Segregation. The TDCJ Offender Orientation Handbook explains:

“On the unit of assignment, an offender is given a custody designation which indicates several things. It tells where and with whom he can live, how much supervision he will need, and what job he can be assigned to. An offender’s custody level depends on his current institutional behavior, his previous institutional behavior, and his current offense and sentence length. If the offender violates any rules, he may be placed in a more restrictive custody. If the offender complies with the rules, he may be assigned a less restrictive custody level.”

Lockhart Correctional Facility is the only privately run prison we work in. At the end of August, the Management and Training Corporation (MTC) will assume administration of the prison. In 2015, the Lockhart Unit was converted to an all-female facility that houses 1,000 inmates. We look forward to working with MTC because of their emphasis on education and training and the use of Gender Responsive practices. The Lockhart Unit is where Truth Be Told began fifteen years ago and where we have always offered the most programing. Lockhart houses the least restrictive, G1 and G2, custody level inmates and has an onsite prison work program in partnership with a private company. This is the only facility where we offer Let’s Get Real to help women with a release date of nine months or less prepare for returning to the community.

TDCJ Hilltop Unit is in Gatesville. This is a smaller facility with about 500 inmates with G1-3 custody levels. Our monthly Exploring Creativity Workshops are provided for the 28 women who are housed together in the Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP). These women really appreciate the creative aspects TBT brings to promote healing, such as writing, movement, and improvisation.

TDCJ psychologist, Anne Mooney, LCSW Program Supervisor, asserts, “Women who commit sexual offenses have a distorted understanding of emotional relationships. Within the therapeutic community, offenders have an opportunity to develop and practice healthier ways of interacting. Women gain the skills to identify and meet their emotional needs. The treatment requires tough honesty, but they agree that the healing is worth it.”

TDCJ Dr. Lane Murray Unit is another of the cluster of women’s prisons in Gatesville. It houses 1,341 women with G1-4 custody levels and is the only prison we go to that has Administrative Segregation or “Ad Seg” which the Handbook explains as:

“Administrative segregation, refers to offenders who must be separated from the general population because they are dangerous, either to other offenders or staff, or they are in danger from other offenders… These offenders leave their cells, for the most part, only for showers and limited recreation.”

Women in Ad Seg can’t attend our programs, but just walking by their building drives home the harsher realities of prisons; they call out from their windows and toss pieces of paper to get attention. The Murray Unit is where we have come to know more women with longer sentences, 20 years, 35 years, whose convictions are connected to more grievous crimes. The dynamics of working with women who are facing many years in prison are leading us to shape our programs to their unique needs.

The Lady Lifers: A moving song from women in prison for life is a video from TEDx at Muncy State Prison that expresses some of their emotions.

Lady Lifers

Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, a minimum security prison with 847 women, is the only federal-level facility we visit. It sits on a former community college campus that isn’t even completely fenced. The inmates are non-violent offenders with average sentences of five years. They know that if they left the grounds they would be moved to maximum security and have years added to their sentences. Even though the facility has an abundance of programs, the administration asked Truth Be Told to provide Talk To Me because it is unlike any other program. Facilitating at FPC Bryan feels a little like going to a community college to teach a class.

Travis County Jail in Del Valle houses about 2,500 men and women in a variety of stages with the criminal justice system. We work with women in two programs that the jail Social Services Director administers, PRIDE for the general population and PEACE for women in maximum security. Women get in the program because they expect to be there for at least a few weeks, but most are working their way through the court system and have not yet been sentenced. They are dealing with legal uncertainties (what their final charges will be, what court they will go to, and what type of plea bargain they will be offered) and emotional personal uncertainties (who will take care of their children, will their families stand by them). Because of these factors Making Connections is 20 stand-alone classes that help with emotional well being and self-management.

 

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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.

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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.

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

by Hannah Miller

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

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

Now I Become My Self

by Facilitator in Training Hannah Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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.

“Brother and Sister Go to Prison”

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Sarah Alarcon shares her story.

Truth be told, I thought I knew what I was doing when preparing to leave for Hilltop Prison for a God in Human Form performance. 

photo by artist Danielle Moir

“Sarah, is it ok if I wear shorts?” My brother asks.

“Yeah, I don’t see why not.”

I thought I was a seasoned prison-attendee, like I knew everything about doing the prison thing since I had been to a grand total of two other God in Human Form programs in Lockhart. Ha! Think again! We arrive and as soon as a guard sees my brother, they are all over it. No shorts allowed. So Nathalie and Cody run to Wal-Mart to get a pair of the tightest, most unattractive pants Cody will never wear again. This makes our team uncomfortable. What if they don’t make it back in time? Nathalie is our emcee and Cody and I are supposed to lead the women in songs together. I don’t want to do it alone!

We aren’t in Kansas anymore. This is prison. Where I can’t do whatever I want.

I feel like a fool. Wearing shorts that go below the knee didn’t seem like a big deal to me, but what I think doesn’t matter. I can’t stand being in prison for five minutes, and can’t imagine what it’s like to be here for years! We aren’t even inside yet!

It is my brother’s first time, so I want him to have a positive experience. But I didn’t know I didn’t have to worry about it. Cody reminds me that women in prison are the most hungry to hear our gifts. He always teaches me. Cody is a natural storyteller. He doesn’t try to be funny, he just is. He told a story about how he and his friend ran into a homeless couple at a gas station on their way back to school. The women laugh and shake their heads in agreement when Cody describes his friend as part “sweet lady ” and part “dragon lady.” Us women understand how we ooze sweetness and breathe fire at the same time.  During his story, he sings the song. “They Just Keep Moving the Line” to illustrate how the couple had had a lot of really bad luck, which lead them to where they were, needing a ride to a travel station so they could get to their destination. Cody belongs on stage. Even if he’s nervous he looks and sounds comfortable. I get to watch my little brother do what he does best. I get to hear him sing. Oh lord, those women loved hearing him sing! Cody’s story reminds us how alike we are. The homeless person, or woman in prison could have easily been me, whether attributed to bad luck, or a mistake.

We’re all the same, just trying to get through.

photo by Roxanne Milward

I share a poem I wrote after a friend of mine passed away last year. It meant a lot for my brother to be there because he had read it before, but hadn’t heard it out loud. One of my commandments is to “Love everyone as much as you love your little brother.” And in response to knowing how difficult that is, the next line is, “Try.” I get to look at Cody when I say this line I wrote with him in mind.

Going to prison is an amazing experience. So much so, that the word “experience” sounds cliché. It is incredibly spiritual and fulfilling to be surrounded by such abundant love. Sharing your gifts and helping the women realize there is no difference between us, and to help them try to better themselves so they will be prepared for life after prison is a tremendous blessing.

I suggest that everyone goes to prison…you know what I mean.

***GIHF (God in Human Form) is the only program that TBT (Truth Be Told) offers that is a performance. We have found that holidays are a lonely and difficult time for women in prison, so this creative and inspirational program is offered to the general population to evoke inspiration, encouragement and laughter. TBT is a service organization, based on Spiritual principles, offering tools of Creativity, Communication, and Community building in all our programs.  We encourage the 12-step idea of seeking/acknowledging a Higher Power of one’s choice. In this program, we do a creative exploration of the ancient idea of “Gods” appearing in the form of human beings. We invite performing artists to share their experience through their art form of “meeting God” in another human being or experience, or they themselves being “God with skin on” to someone else through their actions which turned out to be inspiring or healing.***

“I’m just like you”: a man shares his perspective with women in prison

Truth Be Told invites people from the “free” world to be respectful witnesses at our graduations. A gathering of graduates and witnesses is a perfect recipe for what Dr. Brené Brown says about healing shame in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead:

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”

Our experience has also shown us how important it is for healthy, kind men who are willing to be courageous with their vulnerability to attend our graduations. David attended the November 2013 graduation at the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville, Texas.

During the Circle of Response (the third part of the graduation, where respectful witnesses are invited to stand up and share how the graduation affected them), he walked humbly to the microphone. He stood tall and soft, wiped away his tears, and told the women that there were good men in the world and he was there to represent them. He fully and lovingly saw these women, who openly sobbed at his compassionate and empathetic response.

People Behind and Beyond Bars heal shame through experiences of connection like these. Please read what David wrote to the graduates of the 2013 Fall Talk to Me series at Hilltop.

By David

I have nothing to offer but this: I believe there are gentle men in the world, and we are available to do good works. We can show women who have been tortured physically, mentally, and emotionally by men that there are also men who are willing to show up and be good.

My name is David. My biological birthday is April 23, 1957. But my real birthday, my sober day, is December 16, 2010. Being three years old next week in a 56-year-old body offers me a lot of advantages. I look at life, like Joni Mitchell, from both sides now. I have looked at love, relationships, friends, and life from both angles, and I know I am a much better person on this side of my new birthday.

You might ask why I am saying that. It is my journey, and I have to be honest. So many times in my life, I let my family make decisions for me, and I did what I thought was expected of me. Now I am living the way I want to live. I am feeling the pain of not being numb, I am wrestling with the fact that my Catholic upbringing might not be exactly right for me, and I am in a relationship because I want to be.

Why is that important for you to hear from me? It’s important because I am just like you. Let me explain.

I didn’t know I was an alcoholic until I spent time helping a wonderful friend detox this year. I knew deep down that alcohol got me in trouble more than it helped me, so one day three years ago, after losing a $400 million construction project, I decided to stop drinking. But it wasn’t until I was helping my friend that I learned why I drank. I learned why psychologists put these labels on people, and I started reflecting and becoming honest with myself.

I had been hiding from my alcoholism. Yes, men hide things too. I did, and I am learning to stop.

My love’s name is Carol. No, you probably don’t know her, but she teaches me things I never thought I could understand. Carol has been sober longer than I have. I am drawn to her honesty. I love her deeply, and our relationship has taught me to seek out people who are similarly honest and open. Now, I am drawn to these kinds of people. You are learning about honesty, and so am I. I always heard the truth would set you free, but I didn’t know I was hiding until I started putting words to this process of ours — this seeking the truth, seeking goodness.

I visited a group of graduating TBT women last month. I sat next to my Carol, crying, boiling inside that there are not better ways to help people who have committed crimes. I cried for you, I asked God why for you, I reached deep into my soul to let me come up with a way to help you.

The best I could come up with is that I was there at that moment, you saw my tears, and you saw my struggle to talk to the group and to somehow connect. And you saw that instead of running and hiding, I looked at you and you looked at me and that was as honest and truth-filled as it could get at that moment, in that chapel, in that setting. And I am good for it. I am bettered for it, and I hope you were bettered for it too.

male and female hands in the shape of hearts with words kindness, caring, and love in the hearts

Hands of Love by Jeff Smallwood

So that brings me to this moment.

It is cold outside. I just rode my bike to the gym. I like to ride but not in the cold. I am contemplating dinner (I am a self-proclaimed chef). My Carol gets to try my experiments from the kitchen. Today, I think I am going to make homemade ravioli with a meatloaf filling. Yes, I love to cook and someday, I hope, you can try my world-famous homemade crackers. I would love to share them with you.

I want you to know this: I know men may have been a battleground for you. They may have hurt you and hated you. They may have brutalized your lives. Like you, we men do the best we can. I believe that about everyone.

Now the best in some cases is not good, but it is the best. You are taking steps forward to make your best even better. I am doing that too. When you talk about the men who did terrible things, I hope you can know that there are other men, men that are like you, and maybe in the future, men will help round out your life. I would like to think that there are many men like me.

So for now, near the holidays, be honest with yourself, be honest with others, and enjoy your newest birthday. I know I will.

I hope to see you soon.

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.