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Tag Archives: prison

REFLECT: Convicts’ letters to their younger selves

Photo by Corey Desrochers

Trent Bell; Photo by Corey Desrochers

At Truth Be Told, we love hearing about other prison projects and are particularly pleased when they validate our efforts and experiences. Photographer Trent Bell was moved to create a prison photo project in response to one of his friends receiving a thirty-six-year sentence.

His friend, who was in his twenties, was an educated professional with a family and Trent couldn’t stop thinking about him. In the introduction to REFLECT: Convicts’ letters to their younger selves, Trent says:

“Our bad choices can contain untold loss, remorse, and regret, but the positive value of these choices might be immeasurable if we can face them, admit to them, learn from them and find the strength to share.”

We couldn’t agree more! Our Talk To Me classes lead women through the process of understanding and then sharing their stories.

Trent photographed twelve convicts against a background of the letter each one wrote to his younger self. During the photo shoot, filmmaker Joe Carter produced REFLECT, video interviews with the men sharing what brought them to prison, what they miss the most, and how they have changed.

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Click photo to see a video of this project in a new window

In Donna Sapolin’s nextavenue article, 5 Things Older Prisoners Want You to Know, she shares how the stunning REFLECT photo project mines critical wisdom from regret.

If you see an inspirational prison project that might be appropriate for this blog, please share it with us at office@truth-be-told.org.

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Reading and Writing as a Ticket Out of Solitary Confinement — and Prison

This week, Huffington Post published an essay by a young man who left prison at 27 after being incarcerated for 10 years. The story is part of their What’s Working series that came out of the Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform. Phil Mosby credits a book club and writing workshop with changing his perspective and introducing him creative self-expression.

In our weekly sessions, I felt comfortable enough to take off the hard mask I wore and show my true feelings. Our small group became a brotherhood as we left the street beefs behind to discuss books. The authors were people that looked and acted like us. I will never forget the first book that really hit me, “Makes Me Wanna Holler,” by Nathan McCall. He was a young guy who was incarcerated and became a journalist at the Washington Post. I thought, “If he can do it, then maybe I can.”

His story of a small nonprofit program that set him on the first steps of a winding path to change sounds so much like the graduates of our Truth Be Told classes. Read Mosby’s inspiring story: Reading and Writing as Ticket Out of Solitary Confinement — and Prison

Why Your Worst Deeds Don’t Define You

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In 1991, Shaka Senghor shot and killed a man. In this 12 minute TED Talk he says he was “a drug dealer with a quick temper and a semi-automatic pistol.” Jailed for second degree murder, that could very well have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t. Instead, it was the beginning of a years-long journey to redemption, one with humbling and sobering lessons.

He describes the four things that aided his personal transformation: mentors, literature, family and writing. This journey led him to understand the three things he needed to do, the things he now shares with other former offenders: acknowledging the hurt he had caused and that which he suffered, apologizing to the people he harmed with no expectation of acceptance, and atoning through service work. The beauty of this brief talk is surely an act of atonement.

Watch the full TED Talk video here

Living Deeper and Freer: New class at Lane Murray Unit, Gatesville

by Carol Waid

We are grateful and humbled by the 225 people who contributed to Truth Be Told during Amplify Austin. You contributed more than $24,000 to delivering programs to incarcerated women who are hungry for change. Your participation supports our belief about community helping to change the world.

Community. Connection. Empathy. Compassion. Respect.

These nouns bring a community of women together, seeking a safe place to bring forth the TRUTH of who we really are. We meet in a sacred space each Thursday night, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., for a class called “Living Deeper & Freer.” Most of the women in this community have been in prison for over 10 years.

I have been going into prison for 15 years. I have never been incarcerated, but I have lived much of my life being incarcerated by my fears, stuck in stories of loss and tragedy, searching for a place that I felt like I fit.   I have met hundreds of women, who like me, were seeking a different way of living their lives, seeking a way to fit in, seeking a way to belong.

We find each other in our sacred space. How can a prison classroom become sacred, you may ask? You begin slowly with the idea. You set the intention, and the silence is held as we are serenaded by Karen Drucker’s song “Gentle With Myself.”   Closing your eyes and letting your walls soften is palpable. I often hear sniffles, because the gentleness of the music releases the tension of everyday life in prison.

We slowly, ever so gently, open our eyes, and the connectedness sets in, deeper each week. Each week we begin our community together in this way. This is much like the community that I belong to on Tuesdays in the “free world.” I consider the Tuesday space sacred too.

 

I feel the earth move in my weekly classes. Two weeks ago a woman shared about how in the last 16 years she had become desensitized. She shared an experience of seeing herself being unable to feel empathy. She knew what was missing, and she is readying herself to come back into the world this June. In three months she will walk out of the barbed wire world, she will step back into the “free world,” and she wants to not be desensitized.

This was exciting to me, because in the moment of her being aware of this, she was reconnecting with the true self.

Her discovery also was the story of the other 18 women, who said, “Girl, you are telling it.” They were so grateful that she was able to so beautifully articulate their own knowing from the years of their own incarceration. This caused a beautiful ripple of connection and a stronger community. That day was no different than the weeks that I have gone behind bars to be real with women.

Today I called a young woman who has been out of prison for 126 days. This is not her first time to be released to the free world, but it’s this time that is important. This time she really wants to be an active parent, and in the short time of her reentering she has had the same job. She has her daughter living with her and the son that she hadn’t seen in six years is spending weekends with her.

When we checked in she got real very quickly, because this is our practice in our classroom. We moved the small talk aside, and she shared what was really going on.

I talked to her for 10 minutes, and in that time I heard important truths. We ended connected, even though when we got off the phone she was weeping, because she was reminded of who she is.

Within three minutes, she texted this message,

“Thank u Ms. Carol. It’s almost spooky how right on time u were calling me. LOL. I luv u lots.”

What I believe is that in that 10 minutes she was reminded of the community that she built for herself behind bars, but it’s hard out here to stay connected. She works 12-hour shifts at her job, is raising a daughter, paying bills, and continuing to live her life in integrity.

As I said, I feel the earth move, and my heart responds in gratitude as I say thank you to Truth Be Told and how my life has changed because of it. I have found important work that I belong to – it is a purpose and it is a passion.

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Amplifying the Voices of Truth Be Told

When the women in our programs find their voices, they are so powerful that they spread throughout the community. All Saints Church wanted to learn more about Truth Be Told, so we showed up there in force on Sunday and had a wonderful reception. An All Saints women’s group has been supporting Brenda, one of our program graduates, since she was released from prison last year. We showed our video and described our programs, but the highlight was when our two graduates, Brenda and Kimberly, spoke.

Brenda talked about how finding Truth Be Told classes changed her life, and how those blessings multiplied when the All Saints women began helping with her reentry. Brenda was determined not to return to the area where she had been at her lowest before going to prison and starting over with no resources in a new city would have been an enormous challenge on her own.

Sue Ellen Crossfield, Kimberly and Donna Snyder

Sue Ellen, Kimberly and Donna

Kimberly walked out of prison just three months ago and she is already focused on how she can give back and help other women. When Kimberly took the Talk To Me – Speaking class, her classmates chose her to be one of the graduation speakers. On Sunday, she once again courageously shared her life story with the empathetic audience.

The facilitators who worked with Kimberly and Brenda behind bars already knew they were stars. Donna, Sue Ellen, Katie, Joanne, and Carol came to reconnect with the women they were anxious to see outside of prison dressed in something other prison garb.

If you are a member of an organization that would like to learn more about Truth Be Told and the women we serve, contact us about making a presentation at office@truth-be-told.org.

Kimberly, Katie Ford and Brenda

Kimberly, Katie and Brenda

Graduates’ Amplify Austin Fundraising Pages

The work the women in our classes do is inspiring. We get to witness the power of their journeys even more when they are released. Some of our graduates have created personal fundraising pages for our Amplify Austin effort. Consider donating to one of their pages to support their desire for Truth Be Told to reach more women behind bars.

Cara is a leader in our Beyond Bars activities. Visit Cara’s Amplify Austin page.

cara“I am one of those Women! I went into prison a girl, lost, afraid and without my voice. I didn’t have any idea who I was or how I got to into the mess I was in. One day I chose to get out of my prison cell and go to a class. Having no clue that I was walking into a classroom that would forever change ME! I don’t think I even knew how to tell the truth, let alone MY TRUTH. The facilitator gave me a journal, a tool to let it all out. A tool that I could use to tell my truth. I quickly found that I HAD A LOT TO LET OUT! I started writing and hardly stopped! I learned to use my body to express feelings I could not name. Through the tools of journaling, moving, trusting my community, vulnerability (yes that’s a tool) and truth telling I learned all about me.”

Dara graduated from ACC in December. She had a 3.8 GPA, received the ACC Presidential Student Achievement Award, and spoke at graduation at the Erwin Center. Visit Dara’s Amplify Austin page.

dara2014graduation“HATE, CHAOS and ANGER that was my truth for 32 years. TRUTH BE TOLD created a place for me to admit that truth…admitting that part of me that wasn’t so pretty helped me to get underneath all that and realize I really didn’t hate, I HURT. Being vulnerable, exposing ALL those secrets, telling MY TRUTH about everything…started the process of RENOVATING my life…TRUTH BE TOLD helped start that process.”

PRISON doesn’t teach telling the truth; in fact PRISON enforces “silence”.

PRISON doesn’t renovate lives; in fact PRISON tears down lives.

PRISON doesn’t give tools on how to stay out; in fact PRISON wants you to come back.

TRUTH BE TOLD helps break the silence by telling your truth.

TRUTH BE TOLD says you never have to come back…here’s how…

TRUTH BE TOLD gives you tools and teaches you how to really use them.

TRUTH BE TOLD says you are worth it.

TRUTH BE TOLD says we believe in you.

HURTING PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE…HEALING PEOPLE HEAL PEOPLE

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.”

 

 

 

The Sweet Spot, a film about a TBT graduate’s story

University of Texas/Austin student filmmaker Shelby Hadden made a film about Truth Be Told graduate Liz. Read Shelby’s blog post and watch the video below.

By Shelby Hadden

ShelbyHaden

Shelby Hadden

I pulled in the driveway of the rundown blue shack on the side of Highway 290, wondering if I was making the wrong decision jumping into the car of a total stranger — let alone into the car of a convicted felon. I had just moved to Austin, and it’s not like anyone would be checking in on me.

Earlier that summer from the comfort of my bedroom in Nashville, I scoured Austin newspapers and websites searching for a story. I knew I’d be making a documentary my first semester in the Film and Media Production program at the University of Texas. When I found Truth Be Told, I knew I had come across something special. I had just finished a documentary about an art therapy program for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia, so I was very aware of the healing power of creative expression.

I contacted Truth Be Told and had a long conversation with co-founder Carol Waid. I instantly felt a connection through our shared passion for storytelling. As soon as my Austin apartment was unpacked, I met Carol for coffee. She got me in touch with a few Truth Be Told graduates as possible subjects for my film. Liz was one of them.

The night before we were supposed to meet, Liz called me with a change of plans. The only way we could talk was if I joined her for the drive to San Marcos to visit her parole officer. I was wary of this plan, but having seen how protective Carol was of her Truth Be Told students and graduates, I thought I could trust Liz.

The next morning, Liz greeted me with her beautiful, perfect smile and instantly put me at ease. There wasn’t a moment of silence during that car ride. She told me her entire story — what drove her to prison, her experience behind bars, and her hopes and dreams for the future. I was blown away by her honesty and vulnerability. I knew that I had to tell her story.

I packed my trunk with video equipment and drove to Dripping Springs at least twice a week from September to November. I was with Liz when she woke up her three children and drove them to school. I went to orthodontist appointments and lunches in elementary school cafeterias. I was back at that blue shack when the siding was re-done, the shelves lacquered, and the candy bins filled. I was there opening day to see Liz’s vision of The Sweet Spot become a reality.

The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot, before

I am so grateful for Liz and her family for opening up their lives to me. I will always look up to Liz for her strength and courage. She is living proof that each of us is more than just one decision or event, and that everyone has the ability to become a better person. I am proud and honored to call her my friend.

View more of Shelby’s work on her website, http://www.shelbyhadden.com/.