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Save the Date ~ The Power of our Story: Do I Matter?

Have you ever asked the question, “Do I matter?”

These thoughts roamed fiercely through Shana, a participant in our class at the Lane Murray Facility.  Shana  joined the Talk to Me Speaking class in 2013 and is currently participating in her 5th class with us.  She has been a Mentor for 3 of these classes and through these last 2 ½ years she has grown more comfortable with a deep knowing that she matters.

Here is her poem:

Yesteryear
by Shana H., Mentor

Shana BOW artWay back when, in Yesteryear

I lost all the things I held dear

Full of hate and lies and fear

Pushed all back, not one came near

 

Holding both my fists real tight

I’d scream, I’d yell

“Can’t break me, not tonight!”

 

I ran from you and I ran from me

My pain running deep

But you never would see

 

So all alone, I was running scared

Didn’t realize people still cared

Little did I know

the things we all shared

Low self-esteem, low self-worth

thinking I’m nobody,

ever since birth

 

After all was said and done

Thinking my wrecked life was no fun

 

Took a life to save my own

Could not understand

Could never have known;

The torn part of my heart inside

That fought so hard, had also died

 

Received a term behind bars

No more moon, no more stars

Tell me,

How do I live inside this place?

You see,

I cannot stand my very own face

 

Oh look,

something I’ve not seen before

Right over there,

on the board, by the door

 

I know that signing up is

What I need to do

Change my life and

Become brand new

 

It’s Good. It’s Real. It’s Bold!

Yep, you guessed, it’s Truth Be Told

How awesome it is to know it’s true

I can change and so can you!

 

Give it a chance and you will see

Forgiveness, love and community

Growing strong with new friends here

Showing me what’s real

Teaching me what’s dear

 

I can live in the now

Not scared and alone

Not stuck anymore in

My Yesteryear.

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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.

How Tears can Water your Soul

Like the rivers of our earth that flow from the highest mountains and forge their way through the deepest valleys, our tears cut a path through the highs and lows of our emotional life.” ~Paula Becker

 

Today’s guest post is by Jane Smith

Jane Smith

Jane Smith

Carol Waid, one of the founders of Truth Be Told, who has been teaching classes at Hilltop and Lockhart women’s prisons for many years, uses tears as a subject for her students in her Talk To Me writing class. She shares Paula Becker’s article, “The Healing Power of Tears” that talks about how important it is to physically release tears and emotions. Carol’s experience has been that most women apologize for tears or try to laugh them off. She feels successful when everyone can hold a space for a woman’s tears to flow and then experience how their own empathy and compassion become engaged.

After the discussion of tears, the homework assignment is for the women to write about their own experience with tears. Below are writings done by two of Carol’s students.

HAVE A GOOD CRY – by Robin

Photo copyright by Milad Gheisari

Photo copyright by Milad Gheisari

When I was growing up, I was told not to cry, “to be strong.” I guess you could say that I was taught that ignoring your feelings was best. Don’t get me wrong, did I cry? Yes I did, but it was somewhere by myself, alone. I mostly cried when my weight was talked about. As a child, I was told, “you’re too fat” or “girls your size shouldn’t wear that.”

As I got older, my tears became anger, and this led to many enraged decisions. For so long I’ve struggled to swallow the humiliation of crying in front of other people, the feeling of being embarrassed, or made fun of. As of today, I absolutely feel that if you don’t allow yourself to cry, you will become emotionally furious, and this can become very serious behavior whether you know it or not. So what do I say to having a good cry? Get to the best place where you feel safe, and cry until you can’t cry no more.

HAVE A GOOD CRY – by Natasha

Photo copyright by flickr.com/volver-avanzar

Photo copyright by flickr.com/volver-avanzar

Before I read this, in my mind, crying was a sign of weakness and grieving. I never really went into deep thought about crying, and how it makes you feel better. Growing up, I only cried when I hurt myself, got a spanking and at my great-grandparents’ funerals. Other than that I didn’t cry too much. Now I cry in church when I have been touched by the Holy Spirit. Sitting here in jail, I cry thinking about how I messed up my life or became a disappointment to my family. I cry when I’m sad, but never just because.

After reading the handout, it makes me cry more just to feel the relief, but sometimes I still see it as a sign of weakness. But that’s just from growing up. I met people who told me a little about their past, and they would bust out into tears, and it makes me think about mine, and I feel like I’m gonna cry, but I stop myself until I’m by myself. I feel better, but every time I feel that, I have to be by myself to truly let it all out.

Hopefully with this class, I can learn to let go and get more in touch with my emotional side. Since learning that crying is healthy for you and helps relieve stress, I try and cry more.


These emotionally honest writings demonstrate how very important the Truth Be Told Classes are to these women. For what may be the first time, they are given permission to feel and permission to express those feelings in a healthy way.

Brene Brown says:

I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”

 

 

 

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.

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.

For The Music

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Today’s guest post is from Kay R. a Behind Bars participant in Peggy Lamb’s Exploring Creativity Workshop .

For Peggy Lamb and Truth Be Told
Creative Writing by Kay R.

For The Music

Thank you for the music
Thank you for the celebration

I felt the drumbeat of Native Americans
My feet danced as if on the US plains
My sister felt drums beating in Africa
Her feet danced as if in the jungle
Another felt the salsa beat of Mexico
Her feet danced as in “fiesta” or “carnival”
Yet another felt the beat of a waterfall
Her feet danced as if on shore
We all danced to the pulse of life

It’s been so long since I danced
So long since my heart soared

Thank you for the spark of creativity

We danced heartfelt stories of life
We wrote stories of life
We spoke stories of life
We shared in celebration of life

Thank you for the energy
Thank you for the music

Please, oh please, more music
Please, oh please, more dancing
Please, oh please, more celebration

Kay’s Bio:

“I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as I what direction we are moving.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

In an attempt to share some of me with you, I ask myself if I could live my life over what would I change? Oh, if only I could run away and escape from this and start all over again!

I’ve learned, with a smidgen of wisdom and a smile, that a fresh beginning could never solve anything. GET REAL! Stating I wouldn’t make the same mistakes, yet again, is a fantasy! I can’t run away from myself. My troubles are self-created. In wondrous maturity I’ve learned that I can only change my point of view and evolve. Yay! Little by little, I can change myself and my world. I’m making a new me out of the old one and I’m loving the new me!

Geez folks! Where to start? I am 60 years old and I can honestly shout out, “I am experienced.” I have lived a lot of life. A child of the 60’s, a flower in my hair, I enrolled in University of Texas at Austin in the fall of 1969, I was seventeen! I jumped right in to the anti-establishment movement. Submerged in idealism and hope I was all about protest, determined to change the world. Philosophy was my major and my passion.

Of course, I embraced the Austin live music scene. I wasn’t one to watch and listen from the sidelines. I started out at Armadillo World Headquarters as a waitress and morphed into music scene savvy doing concert security, promo booking! What fun! Yup, I was there, all the time, everywhere.

Drugs flowed freely. Mind expansion I thoroughly nourished. The LSD, Psilocybin, and Mescaline triggered magical experiences. We were living an essence of spiritual purity for a moment.

Fast forward to 2006, I’m lost and screaming out to God asking him to show me something more. “There’s got to be something more; God if you’re really there and listening then help me,” I wailed each night, alone in bed.

I had eventually earned a degree in Social Work, but remaining a non-conformist, I found myself working as a server in a fine dining restaurant in beautiful Marble Falls, while working on my MBA. Was academic pursuit another escape? “Growing up” was a concept I thoroughly and successfully avoided, Rock and Roll forever. Get the surfboard out and hang ten!

Medicated with all kinds of MHMR “solutions,” I had a wreck and hurt someone – BAD. Sirens. Life flight. Oh my! Put on the brakes. Don’t pass go. Go straight to prison.

I’ve been incarcerated just short of three years. I’ve enrolled in every self-help and faith-based class available for me. Truth Be Told’s self-discovery class, Let’s Get Real, really inspired me to connect with my inner essence. To keep connected with my goals. I attend weekly Al-Anon meetings, journal, and study Siddha Yoga by correspondence. I am in the Paws in Prison program learning the language of dogs and how to socialize and train shelter dogs for adoption.

I have a view to engage in service for m community upon release. I plan to work with Search and Rescue Operations and develop my own do therapy organization. I feel ready for the challenges ahead. I know that continued contact with Truth Be Told will help keep me grounded. I’m all about peace, harmony, spirituality, and service.

Thank you gracious ladies of Truth Be Told.