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Tag Archives: Let’s Get Real

A Road to Recovery

252128_2110746080709_1007330243_32397622_730538_nCarol Waid is one of the founders of Truth Be Told and serves as our Director of Programs. She says that connecting with our graduates when they are released and participating in our Beyond Bars Program is the work reward that makes her heart sing. After an early morning check-in call with a graduate, she shared what determination and success look like.

Seven months ago, Tara was released from the Lockhart Unit. This morning she set her alarm so that she could check in with me before 8:00 a.m. When she was in our prison classes, she was loyal, dedicated, enthusiastic, willing, hard-working and determined. She graduated from both Let’s Get Real and TTM Writing. In Let’s Get Real, I give certificates for perfect attendance and Tara set her mind to getting that certificate. One day, she came to class with a fever (which I don’t recommend) and another day, with her jaw bulging from a tooth ache when she wasn’t able to say much more than, “I am here.” My heart aches and my tummy rolls when I think about how she did that.

Before being released, Tara made the decision to set boundaries with her abusive husband. He was also incarcerated and she let him know she would not stay in her violent marriage. Her poem below, Letter From My Wise Self, that she wrote as one of the TTM Discovery exercises expresses that she came to know who she is and what she wants out of life. Tara’s soon to be ex-husband has been released and she has continued to keep her boundaries. This is so huge!

photo 2Since her release, Tara has been living with a woman who gave her a safe place until she can go back to her home state. She hasn’t seen her mother and son since 2010, but her parole officer just gave her permission to go home for five days at Thanksgiving. She is so excited! She talks to her mom several times a day and she always reminds Tara to connect with her support system. At the end of our conversation she said, “I will talk to mom later and tell her that I checked in with you.” This made me smile and it’s one of the reasons that TBT’s Beyond Bars is important to all of us.

Tara’s personal transformation was internal but she is demonstrating it by her accomplishments:

  • She has been working at McDonald’s since June and got a raise after three days.
  • She was employee of the month and was given a $25 gift certificate.
  • She likes working long hours because she has made enough to pay rent and still send some to her son.
  • Tara is active in her Narcotics Anonymous group.
  • Her parole officer has removed her “high-risk” status and is considering her for early release. He says she is the “poster child” for how to be a parolee.

Tara has checked in with me six times to fill me in on how she is doing and fulfill her commitment to our Beyond Bars Program. Just like her perfect attendance, she now has her sight on the quilt that she will receive after three years of being released, not reoffending, and staying in touch.

I asked her how it felt to be the employee of month. “It felt deserved. I have worked hard to prove myself. The other employees, well they can find jobs a dime a dozen, but with my background I have to prove myself. I love my job, where I work the night shift.”

My morning has been blessed by Tara. I love it when these calls come in to remind me of the importance of our work, but also how important it is for our graduates to have beyond bars emotional support. Cheerleading is awesome!

Letter From My Wise Self

You have come a long way from where you use to be.

You know now not to let men abuse you.

You have come very wise to this.

So you know not to go back.

You know now you can be a leader, not a follower.

You have come wise to this.

You know things are going to be different for you now.

You have come wise to this.

You know you will be accepted in life.

You have come wise to this.

In all in all, you are a very wise lady.

Don’t ever forget that.

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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.

 

Celebrate Our Community and Radical Transformations

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Celebrate our Amplify Austin success! Okay, it hasn’t happened yet, but we are already planning a party. Thursday, March 5, 5:30-8:30, All Saints Church, 209 W. 27th St., Austin. Our Truth Be Told community will share in the fun of watching our hard work pay off when donations start to roll in as Amplify starts. We’ll have food and most importantly, a chance to build community with the people who make our work possible. Come meet our board, founders, facilitators, donors, and graduates. If you are on social media, you can help spread updates and reminders since the 24-hours of fundraising will just be getting underway.

Personal Fundraising Campaigns. We have 28 fundraising pages! Some are still “under construction” but check them out.  More than half way to our goal of 50 and we still have 24 days before the event. Creating a fundraising page can be challenging, but we are here to help. Just contact Carol (carol@truth-be-told.org) or Kathleen (kathleen@truth-be-told.org). Once you have a page, you just spread the word to your network: email, Facebook, twitter, whatever. Or you can just talk to your friends.

Radical Transformations

Who I Want to Be. The Mask Exercise guides the women to a deeper understanding about themselves and the way they hide their vulnerabilities. They discover masks that cover up who they want to be and masks that conceal who they are. These two fabulous drawings were created during the exercise by Michelle M., a graduate of the Talk to Me and Discovery classes at the Lane Murray Unit in Gatesville, TX.

 

Who I’m Afraid To Reveal. In Michelle’s writing she expressed feeling like a “broken vessel” and “screaming to be free”.Mask 300 dpi_1

Empowering Voices

Kathryn S. found her voice in three classes at the GEO Lockhart Unit, Talk To Me, Discovery, and Let’s Get Real. She was released on December 10, 2014 and got in touch right away to connect with our Beyond Bars activities. Kathryn already has a job, has reunited with her family, and is falling in love with her grandchild. Her poem, My Wall of Masks, is her creative expression from the Mask Exercise and is printed in the Discovery class Book of Wisdom.

My Wall of Mask

I have discovered that hidden beneath my mask,

I am still me.

I am every mask that I put on.

I am every mask that you might see.

Each mask has a different face,

every moment, every time at each and every place.

They are all unique, but they are the same.

I don’t remember them all,

but they do have their own name.

My mask of laughter, my mask of tears.

My mask of courage, and, yes,

my mask of fears.

My mask of failure, my mask of shame,

my mask of accomplishment,

My mask of fame.

My mask of success. But,

what does that really show?

My mask of right now

is the only one I truly know.

My mask that I hide behind,

my mask that I embrace.

My masks are all a part of me.

I wear them upon my face.

I could go on and on about

the many masks I wear.

But right now at this moment,

this is the woman I want to share.

So when I put my mask on

for you and the world to see,

it doesn’t really matter what it looks like.

They are all and each

A part of me.

The Journey Home

Kay started her physical journey home when she was released from prison on July 5, 2013, but her spiritual journey was already well underway because of her commitment to seek out healing experiences while incarcerated. Kay enrolled in the Truth Be Told (TBT) Talk To Me – Movement class and then Discovery, where she wrote the poem below.

She attended every one of the TBT Exploring Creativity Workshops that she could and had a powerful opening experience when Sherry Gingras and the Djembabes brought drumming to the women in prison (described in this November 2013 post).

Kay_reduced imageWhen Kay was close to being released, she joined the TBT Let’s Get Real class for two semesters.

Our programs weren’t her only resource: her love of dogs made her the perfect match for PAWS in Prison.

Since being released, Kay has been active in our Beyond Bars Program, connecting and supporting other women, in spite of a busy life with a new job, new dog, new car, new home, and renewed life.

We love that Kay took the time to create a personal fundraising page for Truth Be Told during Amplify Austin 2014 and raised $500!

Kay, thank you for sharing your grace, your wisdom, and your story.

 

The Journey

By Kay R.

 

For so long, I’ve had this absolute longing to go home…

Even when I was home.

Did that mean I felt lost?

Did that mean I sought death?

Did that mean I yearned to be embraced by God?

Did that mean I slumped over in weariness and confusion?

Yep! You betcha!

 

Oh, I’m not talking about going home from this cell, the walls, and the razor wire —

the oppression.

Oh yea, I want out of here.

BUT – which way is home from here?

I’ve been searching; I’m still searching.

 

Could that path over yonder lead me back to home?

I wonder.

I’ll have to remove some of the many masks I’ve worn.

Some I’ll toss away forever.

Ah! Look! The core of me.

Wow! The spirit of all that I am lives.

 

The spark of my spirit flickers…just a little.

I’m shedding layers now.

I’m digging through the pain.

Whew! That really, really hurts.

I’m not sure I want to do this.

Now I’m shrinking, crumbling – fearful.

I scream: I can do this, determined.

Tumble down the walls and barriers

Courage, please take hold

 

There’s the hand of God

For once I grab it and hold on tight.

Look at me. I feel innocent and pure

Even in the midst of all my experience

I’m feeling my spirit begin to shine now

The glow heals me.

Smiling, I embrace the hearts of my circle of friends, boldly.

 

I am still growing, eager to evolve

I encompass resolution and acceptance

I am rejoicing in being me

I am celebrating being me

Dancing, twirling, laughing

I’ve found home. Hello, self! Welcome home.

Let’s Get Real! Truth Be Told program prepares women for release from prison

Did you know…

  • Truth Be Told has been offering programs in prison for 14 years!
  • We offer eight classes a week in two prisons and one jail.
  • We have 14 certified facilitators that are traveling to Lockhart, Gatesville, and Del Valle, Texas, in efforts to fulfill our mission:  transformational programs for women who are or have been incarcerated.
  • We have weekly Keep on Talking Empowerment Group conference calls for formerly incarcerated women.  The purpose of these calls: to inspire hope, empower the spirit, and connect with others who are committed to personal growth.   Local Toastmaster members offer their time to share an inspirational speech twice a month.

This week we will highlight our Let’s Get Real program.

Judy graduated with the fall 2013 Let’s Get Real class, and she wrote this piece in honor of her community for their graduation ceremony.  Judy grew to trust her community and grew faith in finding her voice and courage by trusting her community while being vulnerable.  Her vulnerability helped her to share painful parts of her story, and that helped her to release grief.  This process brought forth a freedom in her creativity and a sense of belonging.

Here’s what she wrote for graduation:

Let’s Get Real

by Judy (graduate of fall 2013 Let’s Get Real program)

 

From day one,

I didn’t know how to feel,

Wasn’t sure what to think

About this “Let’s Get Real.”

 

To feel the pain and fear in my heart

I knew that soon I would take part,

In the questions, standing tall,

Get back to life beyond these walls.

 

For them to know how I feel

Truth be told, let’s get real,

They refused to see the tears that were cried

The sorrow so deep, I have slowly died.

 

The pain that my loved ones feel,

Didn’t think we would ever heal –

But in this class, I’ve learned a few things,

That the ladies in Truth Be Told bring:

 

Think positive, set boundaries,

Build a support group in the community.

My life has now begun to heal,

Begun to love, to even feel.

 

The brokenness in my heart,

My life is sealed

My life has taken part.

Truth be told?

Yeah, Let’s Get Real!

 

Photo credit: Free Grunge Textures

Photo credit: Free Grunge Textures

This 14-week program was created in 2002 because of a request from an assistant warden at the Lockhart unit. She witnessed the phenomenon that is called “short timing”: It is common that when inmates are on their way out of prison that they began to show reactionary behaviors that are often self-destructive, due to the reality of being released, even when they’ve been model prisoners for years. There is fear of the unknown, and many prisoners know they will return to the same environment they left with little opportunity, support, or financial possibilities for a new lifestyle. There is the reality that many will be returning to older children who’ve been living without their parenting for a number of years. These realities can heighten emotions of panic, confusion, and depression.

The objectives of our program are:

  • Provide a safe community to express the roller coaster of thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
  • Gather each week, practicing honesty and integrity, with the willingness to stretch their comfort zones.
  • Practice meditation, journaling, and stillness, so that the heightened emotions can settle down and they can gain clarity in decision-making.
  • Identify and practice completing short-term goals.
  • Express a detailed creative writing project to employ a strong manifestation of their long-term goals.
  • Identify red flags, which are triggers, and make a plan for this occurrence.
  • Role-play scenarios that engage the confused and angry self versus the wise and balanced self, with the intention that this will set a memory in place for the times when over-reaction can be detrimental.
  • Introduce and identify how shame destroys, gaining insight to begin building shame resiliency

The bottom line is for these women to find love and respect for themselves and each other, with the ultimate goal to be a woman that makes a difference in the world for good and does not walk out of prison as a number and a statistic, but rather as a woman that is proud of herself.

Colette writes Truth Be Told from beyond bars

by Carol Waid

Colette graduated from several of Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me classes (part of the Behind Bars program), as well as the Let’s Get Real program designed for women whose date for re-entry to the world is less than nine months. Colette let us know she was not coming back to prison. She was a sponge and attended every class, graduating with perfect attendance. In our programs she shared her awareness of why she repeatedly fell back into the revolving door of addiction and prison; therefore, she took our classes seriously.

I spoke to Colette when she had been released eighteen days. She said, “I got out focused and with a plan.” She was already enrolled in college and reconnecting with her family. The only thing missing was being with her pregnant daughter. She said, “I don’t know how, but I am going to get to North Carolina to be there when my grandson is born. I missed my other grandchildren’s births because of being in prison, but I am not going to miss this one.”

When women are released from prison, we ask them to participate in our Beyond Bars program. We want them to Keep on Talking with us and with their families, to continue speaking their truth. We have a three-year plan for the women to continue their connection with us. We ask them to remain committed to the dates of contact.

At the three-year mark, we send them a handmade quilt as a special thank you from Truth Be Told. This honors their special day of remaining free. Each quilt is created by my parents—my mom believes every quilt should be unique just as the women they are gifted to.

And the good news is that Colette has followed this commitment to the very day—just like she did in her program participation.

colettefamilyOn March 13, 2013, her fifth month after prison release, Colette called to say she had relocated to North Carolina and that she was, in fact, there when her grandbaby Carson was born. “TBT has helped rebuild my relationship because I listen more. I give suggestions, rather than advice. It helped me to realize that I am a mother of an adult child. I sit each morning and reflect on keeping focused on living a better life: staying clean and productive.”

Below is a letter that Colette recently sent:

My name is Colette Pratt and I am a graduate of the Truth be Told program at the Lockhart facility in Lockhart, Texas. I am also a repeat offender, who in the past had not been able to stay clean, or free, for more than a few months at a time. My trip to Lockhart had been my second time on the unit. I have been to prison five times, have eleven felony convictions and several misdemeanors. I am not proud of my past criminal activities; however, I am extremely happy about where those incidents took me.

coletteI first learned of the Truth Be Told program in July of 2012, shortly after arriving at the Lockhart facility. During my first experience on the unit, there were so many programs, classes, and activities to participate in, I was sure I would have any number of things to choose from to occupy my time. I had no idea things had changed so much due to budget cuts, that there was little or nothing to do, not even work, as is mandatory in the prison system, and on other units. When I saw the poster announcing the Truth Be Told program, I signed up because I wanted to do something constructive, and like all offenders, I wanted to show the parole board that I was using my time wisely and striving to find tools for change. I found that, and so much more.

In the first program, I had the option of participating in the movement class or the writing class. I chose writing, because I am an aspiring novelist who started writing during my sentence. It wasn’t what I expected, but that was a good thing. I was encouraged to look within and purge myself of all the past mistakes and issues that may have been keeping me bound to the life I was living. I am a recovering addict who had tried for years to overcome my habit but always found myself going back to the very thing I was desperate to get away from. There were many things in my past that very few people knew about, and I was initially uncomfortable with the idea of revealing some of those things. Then I started to write, and as I wrote, I remembered the things my facilitator, Natalie Weinstein, had shared with the class. I was mindful of the exercises we did during our too short time together, and when I finished the paper, I was not only pleased with what I wrote, I was free from the burden of not being able to talk about it.

I have participated in every program offered by Truth be Told, including the Let’s Get Real program, which helped me take a look at myself and my flaws, character defects, and shortcomings. What I have learned is to take all the information and suggestions and apply them to my daily life. I am still a work in progress; however, I know that I would not be where I am had it not been for the Truth Be Told program.

Where am I, you ask? I am presently in Greensboro, NC, caring for my grandsons, while my daughter is in Dallas looking for a job. It probably isn’t such a big deal to others, but it is a very big deal to me. Had I not participated in the Truth Be Told program, I would not have had the courage or the determination to come here to help and support my child. I would not have known what “respectful listening” is, or how to implement it. I may not have had the self-assurance to acknowledge the fact that my past is not my future. I surely would not have been strong enough to reinvent myself.

I am currently enrolled in the English degree program at Ashford University online, with a 3.53 GPA, writing a novel, caring for my grandchildren in my daughter’s absence, and living a life free of drugs and criminal activity. All these things are a direct reflection of what I learned while participating in the Truth Be Told program. For an individual who has never had an addiction or been to prison, these things may seem like things everyone does, but for me, they are dreams I used to have that have become realities. I know without a doubt that the Truth Be Told program and its facilitators are in large part responsible for the transformation that has taken place in my life, and my ability to renovate myself.

Sincerely, 

Colette Marshall Pratt

2012 Graduate of Truth Be Told Programs

Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars, a journey shared by Elizabeth

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Elizabeth W. is a Behind Bars Graduate of the Talk to Me Speaking class. She marked her 4 year anniversary of living Beyond Bars by going back into the Lockhart Unit to share her experience, strength, and hope.  We call this program, “Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars,” and it was designed for our graduates  to be able to continue sharing their stories and their new experiences; and most importantly to bring in hope and inspiration to their sisters.  
Elizabeth made a decision, over 4 years ago, in her Talk to Me class, that she wanted to continue participating in the Truth Be Told organization and programs, she has done this so eloquently for us.  She has courageously shared her story at 3 of our fundraisers and has helped with hours of organizational administrative duties, created beautiful TRUTH bracelets, and has entered back into the prison system to bless her sisters for the last two years.  We invite you to read more about her experience….

On Monday, May 20, 2013 I was graciously able to return to the Lockhart Women’s Prison on behalf of Truth Be Told. I went in for a Let’s Get Real class to tell my story and the truth about re-integration back into society and the community I belong to. What worked for me and what doesn’t work for me. What life is like now…after my release.

I know this sounds unfamiliar to some, but since I was once an inmate at Lockhart, it was truly amazing to walk back through those doors to tell the beautiful women there that they are loved and appreciated. Since my release in 2009, not a day has gone by that I do not think of the women inside those walls. When I speak in public…I try to be a voice for them and as I live my daily life, I try to set a good example for them and of them. It’s nice to put faces to some of the women that I think about.

As they entered the room that Carol, Tracy and I were in, I was in awe. I saw myself in every lady there. I remembered the prison uniform and it was as if I felt I was wearing it again. I saw their shoes and remembered mine and how at the time I longed for a pair of Nikes or flip-flops. They all had come to class prepared, excited, and ready to learn and listen. I was there not too long ago and this time I felt very comfortable. It was an unexplainable feeling. I was at ease and I wanted God to speak through me and tell them everything they needed to know. I wanted to tell them that they are valuable and precious and there is a place for them.

I hope that they got as much out of it than I did. Those beautiful women made my year. I got so much joy out of being there and being able to spend time with them and talk with them. Honestly, I didn’t want to leave. I could’ve spent the night. In truth, they are so pure now and practicing and using the tools of this program that when they are released…they will be assets to themselves, their family, and their communities. They had many questions and comments that I hope I answered completely and clearly enough.

Time flew by and before I knew it, it was time to go. Like I said about spending the night, I had to play the whole picture out. It’s rather easy to make a comment like that when you’re free. However, all I wanted when I was in there doing my sentence was to spend a night at home. I grew up within those walls….I know everything was and is exactly as it should’ve been and should be.

I always had a fear that I’d return to prison. That fear is gone…I have returned to prison, it just wasn’t the way I feared. I have walked in their shoes, I have worn the uniform, and I have taken the classes. I have returned and I will forever be a/the voice for those whose voice cannot be heard, whose hearts cannot be read,and whose path and journey is only getting better. I thank Truth Be Told…but I thank the wonderful and strong women more, that embrace the program and embrace change. Those that show up for the classes. Those that are showing up for life. They and they alone are my inspiration and foundation that people can and do change. That we can return to our communities and be assets to them and all those around us. Our lives…our story is truly a gift.

In closing, I am so grateful that I was fully present that day…and that I was respectfully listened to and that they shared their time with me.

Elizabeth W.