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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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“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.***

Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars

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Katie Ford is a volunteer facilitator at the GEO Lockhart Prison. The following is a piece she wrote about Truth Be Told’s “Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars” program.

 It has become a tradition to end every semester with a special event called “Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars.” In this session, we invite a Truth Be Told graduate who lives on the outside to go behind bars once again to talk about her life since leaving prison.

This past fall, our guest speaker at Lockhart Prison was Dara Musick. Her story was particularly powerful. With her permission, I’ve written a summary of what she shared with our graduates behind bars so that those who read this blog can benefit from what she had to say.

Left to Right: Graduates Debra  and Dara ; Facilitators Carol and Katie photo taken by Linda Valencia at 2012 TBT Fundraiser

Left to Right:
Graduates Debra and Dara ; Facilitators Carol and Katie
photo taken by Linda Valencia at 2012 TBT Fundraiser

Dara’s story      

Dara grew up in a very dysfunctional, abusive home. At age 14, she escaped the chaos of her home life by running to the streets of Houston. At first, she thought she had found freedom, but it was on the streets that Dara was introduced to methamphetamines — a drug that would imprison her mind and body for 25 years. As a teen, she turned to prostitution and theft to support her drug habit, which led to multiple run-ins with the law. She ended up spending her entire 20s and half of her 30s in and out of the prison system, completely stuck in her addiction and placing drugs first over and over again.

In the early 2000s while at Lockhart prison, Dara participated in Truth Be Told classes, and — as she tells it — “a seed was planted,” though it would take several more years to germinate.

During her last incarceration, which ended in 2010, Dara knew deep down inside that she wanted to change her life — for real this time. So, when she was released, she applied for and was accepted to a transitional home for women in Austin. At this house, Dara met a woman who also had taken Truth Be Told classes at Lockhart. Dara began remembering the things she had learned in our classes. Specifically, she remembered the idea of having a safe community.

She knew that if she truly wanted to live differently, she would need to build a safe community that would support this change in her life. So, as a first step, Dara looked up Truth Be Told, and her relationship with our nonprofit organization was re-ignited.

In the three years since her release in 2010, Dara has built a new life, and it has required incredible determination and hard work on her part. Here are some fun, fast facts:

  •  She is clean and sober.
  • Even though she had just a sixth-grade education when she got out of prison, Dara got her GED, applied for financial aid and enrolled in community college. She is now one semester away from getting her associate’s degree in social work and she will be graduating with honors.
  •  She has multiple safe communities that encourage the best in her and emotionally support her when she is tempted to revert to old behaviors. Those communities include church, AA, Truth Be Told, another nonprofit called Conspire Theater that works with the incarcerated population, new safe friends she has met in recent years, and her professors and tutors at school.
  • She rents her own apartment and bought a car. Everything in her home was purchased, not stolen.
  • She is a trained Texas Department of Criminal Justice volunteer and she has regularly volunteered with Truth Be Told and Conspire Theater. Dara says that helping others through her volunteer work has been a lifesaver, as it reminds her of everything she has learned and how far she has come.

All of this wonderful stuff is true of Dara’s life today, but the following is also true and it’s equally important to know: Dara had a relapse in November. While she didn’t go back to using drugs, she started drinking again, which is just as dangerous to an addict.

It was extremely hard for Dara to share this recent chapter of her story with our graduates at Lockhart prison, and — truth be told — Carol and I almost canceled the Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars event because of it. However, we ended up proceeding as planned because Dara remained steadfast in her belief that the women needed to hear this side of her story too. In hindsight, we think she was right. The truth is – what Dara is going through right now is something that our graduates will likely face at some point, and perhaps hearing about Dara’s experience will help them.

Dara’s relapse

As Dara tells it, what started as a wine tasting at a grocery store turned into a glass here and a glass there, which turned into a bottle, and then a bottle every night to relax after having been at school all day. I think it was very interesting that Dara said her relapse actually began much earlier than when she took that first sip at the store. She said it really began when she made the decision to ask her mother to move in with her so she could take care of her. This had been a long-held dream of Dara’s — to have a close relationship with her mother and to take care of her. However, living with her mother again stirred up memories of what had happened to Dara when she was a little girl. She said she suddenly found herself dealing with a lot of hurt feelings and anger that she wanted to express to her mother, but couldn’t find the courage to do it. So instead, she ignored her feelings and began drinking to numb the pain.

The good news is that after a few weeks of denying her feelings and hiding her drinking from everyone, Dara decided enough was enough. She knew that if she didn’t turn herself around now, she was going to spiral and lose everything she had worked so hard to gain. She used her Truth Be Told tools of Caring for Self, Communication and Community Building and called upon those in her safe community. She told them everything that was going on and asked for their support as she took the necessary steps to get herself back on track. Since then, Dara has remained sober. She is in regular contact with her AA sponsor and she has picked up a Desire chip.

She is refusing to let herself spiral.

During the Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars session at Lockhart, Dara was able to share with our graduates that it is OK if you aren’t perfect, and that a safe community will help those who desire to help themselves. She showed that it is OK to take off the “Perfect Poster Child of Truth Be Told” mask and reveal the scared, vulnerable addict inside who still struggles, gets overwhelmed, slips back into old patterns, and needs safe community to remain strong.

But perhaps most significant is that in the face of adversity, Dara understands that her recovery, her sanity and her safety has — and always will — start with her.

Since first meeting Dara a few years ago, I have felt a tremendous amount of hope and inspiration for her, and I can honestly say that — even with this very real setback that she is still working to overcome — I continue to feel hope and inspiration for her. She is demonstrating resilience, humbleness, truth-telling, self-respect, and servant leadership (in that she was determined to share the story of her relapse with the women at Lockhart — no matter how scary or embarrassing — so they could hear the whole truth of what it feels like to rebuild your life).

I hope these words find you practicing Truth Be Told’s 4 Cs — Creativity, Communication skills, Community building and Caring for self — as we move into a new year.

Remember: Your happiness, your sanity, your safety always has — and always will — begin with you.

A Truth Be Told Graduation

Today’s post is written by Holly Hurban, Truth Be Told Board Member

truthIt wasn’t until I had to turn over my keys that I felt the impact of being at Lockhart Prison.  I was there to volunteer as a Respectful Witness for the Spring 2013 Graduation of the Talk to Me participants.  Without my keys, a sudden rush of panic almost overcame me.  For this afternoon, while I was visiting Lockhart Prison, I would not have access to my car or my house.  Logically, I knew the graduation would be over in a few hours, my life would move forward, and I would drive home later that day, quite unlike the women I was there to support.  But emotionally, it was as if the things that represented my freedom and my safe place were suddenly gone.  This would likely be the only sliver of understanding I would have regarding what it might be like to be incarcerated.  Almost every piece of choice and refuge is just absent.

In fact, this moment of a remote, gut-level understanding of incarceration is probably not even close to what the experience really is.  Nevertheless, I was there to be present with these brave women as they told their stories. There is a term used in southern Africa called “Sawubona.” It literally translates to the phrase “I see you,” and it is used as a reverent way to greet someone.  That day at Lockhart Prison, I listened to these women I’d never met, and I saw them.  I truly saw them, and they were good and whole and beautiful.  Sawubona.  The truth that the woman told about themselves and their lives was one of the most courageous things I have ever witnessed.

As each woman performed or read her story, I started to wonder about my own truth.  A popular comedian named Steven Colbert coined the term “truthiness.”  Truthiness is essentially the outcome of each person’s system of denial.  It isn’t quite the truth, but it is a fluffier, nicer, sparkly version of what may be going on in someone’s life.

I find that most people walk around in this state of “truthiness,” just as I do most of the time, but today, I witnessed courage, creativity and real truth, the kind you see when a person finally surrenders to the God-given reality that they are worthy, they are beautiful, and they are good, regardless of what has happened to them in their life or what their own past regretful behavior may suggest.

Being a Respectful Witness at the TBT Graduation at Lockhart Prison has inspired me to be more authentic, more open, and more truthful.  I left the prison with my keys, got in my car, experienced that freedom, and went home to my safe place. I continue to feel pure gratitude towards those women, and although the women remained inside the prison that day, they were clearly taking the most important steps toward their own literal and personal freedom.

An Invitation for You

Have you ever wanted to attend a Truth Be Told graduation program, and see for yourself the incredible transformative effect of our programs?

You are invited to participate as a compassionate and supportive witness at a presentation and celebration of incarcerated women who have completed Truth Be Told’s TALK TO ME classes at Gatesville’s Hilltop Prison.

November 14, 2013 – Talk to Me Graduation at the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville, TX

November 22, 2013 – Talk to Me Discovery Graduation at the GEO Lockhart Unit

Please RSVP by sending an email to carol@truth-be-told.org. We will then contact you to gather additional information required by the prison for their pre-screening process. Please provide us with your home and cell phone numbers when you RSVP.

We will send an email to those who RSVP with further information about dress code, directions from Waco and Temple to Hilltop prison, and dinner afterward for those who want to attend and debrief.

Today’s post is written by Holly Hurban, Truth Be Told Board Member

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.

My Name is Katherine

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Katherine1My name is Katherine now, but before that I was Boyett #877299. Before that I was Kathy and before that I can’t remember. I’ll be turning fifty this year and almost all of those years have been marked, no matter my name, by a state of loss – loss of my innocence to a stepfather I loved and trusted – loss of my mother who chose him over me, loss of friends who never really were and of things that never really belonged to me, like my freedom. I’ve spent the whole time repeating the same mantra: “It’s ok. It will all work out. Chin up. Keep pushing forward. Just keep moving and nothing can get you.” Unfortunately what I’ve come to realize through years of soul searching and many, many groups and classes is that just isn’t true.

All the things we try to escape in life, all those little deaths load up onto a little wagon that we grudgingly tug along, sometimes without the actual knowledge that they are even there. And more often than not it is thru those things we see the world. I was twelve years old when my stepfather took my virginity. I was sixteen when my mom brought me to Texas and left me with an alcoholic uncle who promptly threw me out on the street. It’s funny the way your mind works. Here it is almost thirty years later and all those things in the wagon still have power, still color every picture.

By the time I went to prison I was tired of living. I had given up and was promptly punished for it. Walking into the state jail in chains not knowing what to expect and horrified by the reality that there would be no escaping – that no matter where I went there I was. They strip you bare in there. Literally. And every eye casts judgment. You’re kept in a constant state of imbalance, easier to control. Things you took for granted like clothes and food aren’t yours anymore. Now you don’t choose where or when you sleep, eat, shit or piss. Now you are a piece of meat in a warehouse and the only thing anybody’s responsible for is whether you live through it or not. Sometimes they cut their losses. After getting classified they tell you which prison you’re going to. I made the mistake of thinking it was like a job interview and tried to smile and be impressive. Surely they’d see I was a good girl in a bad situation. Nope, that’s not what happened – they sent me to Hobby. When the guard asked me as I came out of the room where I was going, I replied Hobby. He said “geez that’s the worst one. Maximum. Lots of hard timers.”

I didn’t know what that meant but I was going to find out in spades.

From that I remember walking down a long hallway to a kind of waiting room with metal tables and stools. I’d find out later it was called a day room. It was adjacent to small chain link cages with beds lined up, and inside – not animals but women. It was called the dog pound and those women were treated like rabid dogs and I think that’s all they had – to snarl, bare teeth and given the opportunity, bite.

The guard said “Don’t you talk to anybody and by god even if somebody falls down dead in front of you don’t you touch them. Don’t you help them, you just mind your own business” and I knew he didn’t mean the business of humanity. Nope we were less than human now. We were dogs in the pound and if you don’t get to go home from the pound you get dead. I looked in those cages at those other women and I prayed, not for the first time in my life but for the first time in a long time. “God please don’t let them put me in those cages.” I thought “I must be lucky. I am going to Hobby surely it won’t be like that.” And it wasn’t. It was just as bad if not worse. Prison was so surreal. I constantly had the feeling I’d stepped through the looking glass that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, that this couldn’t be!  But it was, and like all the other hurdles that presented themselves to me, I adapted. I became not an inmate but a convict – and by the time I left Hobby to go to Lockhart, I had become feral like the other women in the cage.

The sight of real violence no longer shocked me. This was the way life worked: if you wanted something you took it. If somebody hurt you, you hurt them worse. The guards were Nazis and the only thing you needed them for was to get over on, get out of cases and maybe get a stick of gum every once and a while or a special treat like food. They were them and I was us. If I had left from Hobby to go to the real world I would have come out a criminal. I had learned new behavior and it was dangerous. I was dangerous.

At Lockhart, I didn’t work on the hoe squad. I wasn’t run out the gates to work till I dropped in the heat and dirt. There was time to think… too much time… and deep inside me there was a glimmer, a small flicker of the girl I was before.  She started taking classes and she had a name not a number. And that’s when I became Katherine. She scrambled to find a way back; to become something more than what I had become. It was one of these classes that saved me. It was called Truth Be Told. They asked me “Who are you? Why are you here? Really, what’s your story?” The women who came to teach those classes were the first people in my life who didn’t want anything from me. They wanted to give me a way out – a way to truly be free. I walked those hallways as a human being and I knew it. Prison couldn’t take that from me.

When I left, prison gave me a set of clothes and a hundred dollars. I climbed on a bus, a bluebird carrying me into the great unknown. I’d chosen Austin as my new home. I’d studied its history and it was where Truth Be Told was. I wanted to start all over kind of like a do-over but it was my life, not a game.

Katherine2That first full day out before it hit me how much the world had moved on without me, one of my new friends (one of my angels) asked “what would you like to do?” Without a thought I said I’d like to go to the dog pound. She was so surprised! But off we went while I regaled her with the history of her town. Everything seemed wondrous and new and even though she had horrible dog hair allergies she walked right in there with me. It was clean and bright. There were lots of smiling people. Some worked there, some volunteered there and some were in prison. I walked from cage to cage looking inside and what I saw was Hobby and Lockhart. I saw the old lady in the cell next to mine who used to say she was so sick and tired of being sick and tired. I saw the young girl who’d been beaten by every stranger she’d ever come across and hated everybody for it. I saw wasted life after wasted life – young and old, ugly and beautiful – and I saw myself with my back to the wall afraid so fucking afraid. And then the sun shined on my face, the wind blew through my hair, and all the years of not caring about anything all shifted and I saw love and hope and promise…The very things that had been taken by that first dog pound… The lies that had become truths. None of that mattered now. I was free from the pound; life had adopted me and taken me home.

Katherine3I was free in a way only a dog saved from certain death is free. And even better – I began to see myself as a real human being who deserved no less than those who also hoped to become free.

An Amazing Opportunity

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Lauren J., a participant in the TCCC Del Valle Program shares her connection with Truth Be Told.

I had the amazing opportunity, and hopefully only the first of many, to go to prison today. Only this time I got to leave a short while later! I got released in March of 2011. Since then I have placed my hand into many different pots, a few causes and organizations. It doesn’t take up more time than I can give, and it has been a lot of great experiences!

One of the organizations that I have only recently become involved with is called Truth Be Told. I had been in the classes that they do in the Del Valle jail through the PRIDE program at the same time that I was in the Conspire class. If you had asked me even then, I would have told you that these two classes were my favorite! At the fundraiser kickoff for Conspire, I had the opportunity to reconnect with some of the people who provide programs out at the jail.

Kathleen, who facilitates for Truth Be Told approached me and as our conversation progressed she asked if I would be interested in working with them as well. The thought had occurred to me before. However, I assumed that since I hadn’t graduated from a more intensive course such as the ones they do at the prison, that I wouldn’t be a candidate for that. My assumption was incorrect and I went to an interview with Truth Be Told. We were a good fit for each other and I was invited to sit in on a meeting with them to help develop a curriculum for a class that they want to start doing with the women in the prison’s that have 90 days or less until their release. It was a great meeting that left me energized and excited!

Truth Be Told has been doing classes out at the prison in Lockhart for many years. The class that graduated today was broken down into three different groups, one group that was dubbed “movement”, one that was writing, and one for speaking.

As a part of the class the women have to examine things that happened in their lives that were beyond their control, as well as things that they actively chose that led them on the path to prison. At the end of the class each woman has to get up and share their story with their group. The group then picks three women to represent them at graduation and tell their story.

I went in today only having a vague idea of what the experience would be like. I made an effort to be present and in the moment throughout the experience at the same time making mental notes about what I was witnessing and feeling. Just before the movement group got up to do a performance of sorts, I thought to myself that if I had been there and had to choose I probably would have chosen the writing or speaking group since those are areas that I feel comfortable in. Then the women got up, and without saying a single word, a full range of emotions evoked in me.

Even though I tried not to, in the beginning, I decided that it would be better that I show that emotion and let the tears fall. The combination of music and movement expressed several very different experiences and each of them transcended beyond anything that words could have expressed.

The women got up and told their stories, some of them were articulate and well spoken leaving me with the thought that the stories they told should be published and shared with the world. Some of them were nervous and slightly introverted, but they exhibited courage as they got up and pressed beyond the fears they had and shared the truth of their stories anyway. These stories are stories that I could relate to in so many ways, and so many of the stories I had heard many times before, just with a few different details. I realized that the ways in which we are connected reach far beyond our histories. Although I had never met any of these women before, I felt as if I had known them and been on a part of their journey with them.

At the end we formed a circle of response where the participants and volunteers could get up and speak about how this impacted them. My mind was racing. I could have talked for an hour! There were so many things I wanted to say. I tried not to monopolize the time and kept a balance between expressing what I feel is most important to convey. I also try not to take much of the focus off of them by keeping it on me. I shared a small amount of information about my story, that I had been locked up, that like one of the women who spoke, I had my son in jail. I was blessed with opportunities to examine myself and explore who I was and wanted to be through programs like these.

I was happy to be a part of something so powerful, even if it was only a small part.

While I was there today, I remembered the ache that I felt when I was separated from my children. When I got home, I took a moment again to be present and hold my children extra tight, grateful for the chance to be able to do so. As I held them, I thought of those women and sent them my love.