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April 16 workshop to benefit Truth Be Told

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April 16 workshop to benefit Truth Be Told
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Katie Ford

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

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

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

Ginger

Ginger McGilvray

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

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

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

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Hands make the world each day

writinghandsby Katie Ford

The image of his slender, ebony fingers writing words of support to Brenda brought the hot sting of tears to my eyes.

How different these hands are from the ones that used to touch Brenda.

I first met Brenda in prison in the fall of 2013 when she enrolled in the Talk to Me Writing class I was volunteer facilitating for Truth Be Told. She spoke very little and mostly kept to herself. I remember finding small joy in the moments she would make eye contact with me or offer a quick smile. Over eight weeks in Talk to Me, she and the other women in her class learned how to write and share the story of what they believe led them to prison.

In those same eight weeks, I was also learning.

I learned how hands can break bones and the human spirit.

I learned how hands can violate and reduce.

I learned how hands can leave scars undetectable to the eye.

I learned how hands can erect walls around the heart.

I learned how hands can pave roads to very dark places.

I learned how hands can self-inflict pain, because pain is most familiar.

I also learned — with certainty during that semester — that my hands are capable of holding space for sharing difficult truths. My hands can build a foundation for safe community. My hands can plant seeds of hope in soil long left unattended.

I witnessed Brenda and her fellow classmates using their hands to remove the masks that no longer felt true in their hearts and to unearth the wisdom in their stories. I witnessed Brenda letting go of what haunted her and gathering the courage to write new chapters in her life story.

At graduation, she took my breath away. In an unscripted moment, Brenda stepped up to the microphone and read a thank-you letter she had written to her classmates and me. I remember my heart knocking against my ribcage as she spoke. Here stood a woman who, only eight weeks before, admitted to me that she was learning to read and write and wasn’t sure she could participate in the class. Here stood a woman who, only eight weeks before, did not speak unless spoken to.

Here stood a woman who, only eight weeks before, was invisible to me but now stood before me as one of my greatest teachers.

Brenda helped me to see what I am capable of evoking in others. She ignited in me a fire that continues to burn. Through witnessing her journey, I gained clarity about the path I am to walk in my life.

So, last week, when I saw the image of those slender, ebony fingers writing words of support to Brenda, I broke down and cried.

Those hands belong to Edwin Medearis, a Truth Be Told board member. Edwin is one of many in Truth Be Told’s “beyond bars” community who signed a quilt made especially for Brenda, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in October and started chemotherapy in November.

Because of the choices she has made since being released from prison in 2014, Brenda has a very different kind of community surrounding her now. She is not alone as she fights the cancer that has spread to her lymph nodes. She has her Truth Be Told community, her church community, and her school community. She has people who uplift her, who remind her of how far she has come, who support her sobriety, and encourage the changes she wants to see in her life. She has people who will hold her hand, pray with her, laugh with her, and listen.

Yes, these are very different hands that touch Brenda’s life today, and she is the one who made it happen. She used the tools that were offered to her to create a life worth living … and now worth fighting for.

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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!

A Singular Grief: Losing a Parent While in Prison

Our most recent post on this blog, A Day In My Life in Prison, dated June 15, was written by Lori, a participant in Talk To Me – Circle. Katie Ford was the facilitator for Lori’s class.

During a classroom exercise, Katie learned that she and Lori shared a bond in the loss of a parent. Lori’s father had died just two days before. Losing a loved one under any circumstances breaks us open with grief, but the incarcerated women we serve have the added challenge of facing a loss while separated from their families and others who would be most supportive of their grieving process.

In Movement Piece No. 5, The Reunion, Katie describes her experience in class with Lori and reconnects with her own grief.

“Lori. My dad. Tuesday.” 

It is Thursday.

Her words hang in the air and, for a moment, we are all like statues. Then the woman to Lori’s right places a hand on Lori’s back and rubs a slow circle. It undoes something inside, and a sob escapes Lori before her hands can cover her mouth.

We Are Changed by the Change

By Kathleen Littlepage, Executive Director

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I always understood that quote to mean that if you want the world to be more peaceful, start by cultivating your inner peace. I have come to understand that saying in another way. I suspect that Gandhi knew something that I have discovered through my work with Truth Be Told — that when you work towards change, that work changes you. You will be the change.

For fifteen years, volunteers have facilitated all of our programs. Recently, a wise woman who started several nonprofits told me that she believes having all volunteer facilitators ensures a level of passion in our programs. For a lot of us, that passion or commitment is engendered by how much we learn from being with incarcerated women, how much we are changed.

A few years ago, Katie Ford, one of our long-time dedicated facilitators, spoke at a fundraiser about how working with the women in prison altered the course of her life. A guest at the event became involved with Truth Be Told and a donor because he looks for organizations that promote personal growth for the people doing the work while they also serve a cause.

Even after years of facilitating, the insights of women in my classes surprise me and stretch my perspective on topics I thought I had exhausted. Training new facilitators also makes me see through “fresh eyes”. Once when I was leaving the jail with a new volunteer, she asked, “Do you ever tell people how much fun it is to do these classes?” I laughed because I’ve thought it often but never expressed it that way — probably anticipating the looks I would get.

Two of our facilitators-in-training created personal fundraising pages for Amplify Austin that express how this work has affected them. Please consider supporting this work that serves all of us by donating to one of them.

Lauren King is co-facilitating Talk To Me – Circle at the GEO Lockhart Unit. Lauren wrote:

laurenkingThe Truth Hurts. I always took this sentence to mean that the truth can sting on a very superficial level. After months of volunteering at Truth Be Told it means the headache I get after two hours of difficult, emotionally draining activities. It’s the full body ache I get the next day that I call my ‘emotional hangover’. It’s the pain I see in women’s eyes from years of living with truths they could never say because it wasn’t acceptable. It’s the silence of abuse and the shame of living in hiding. The truth can hurt to hear, sure. But truth does the most damage to lives when it is never spoken.

Every week I go to prison knowing it will be intensely emotional and powerful to hear women tell their story, yet I leave staggered by how extremely powerful it is. I’m grateful for every headache and body ache, because I get to witness and be a part of the very human experience of connection. I get to watch as that connection transforms women’s lives. It’s an experience that changes my life just as much as the women in prison. Best of all, I leave with hope and a better understanding of forgiveness and a full picture of what compassion truly is.

Rebecca Deering co-facilitates a weekly class at the Travis County Jail in Del Valle. She writes:

rebeccadeeringA year and a half ago, I was desperate to change my life, the way I felt about myself and where I fit in the world. I set out on a journey that required me to see the hard truth about my life, and pushed me to take the steps to regain my mental freedom. Eventually, I was ready to share the idea that I am the one that can bring a positive change in my life by seeking the truth and using simple tools to live a better life.

When we sit down with the women at the Del Valle correctional facility, we present a topic and then we discuss: How can this particular tool, be it love, compassion, or forgiveness, help you today? How will it help you when you go home? How will this tool make your life a bit easier, a bit more peaceful, a bit more joyful?

Please help me help “my ladies” by supporting my work facilitating on behalf of Truth Be Told. I so look forward to seeing them every week. They encourage me to continue my journey while they begin theirs. This program is one of love, of hope, of truth, of beauty, and the possibility of a better life. Please donate today so that I may continue to empower myself and help these women empower themselves.

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.