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Tag Archives: sharing stories

Beauty Behind the Fence

 

by Lindsey Lane

In January 2016, I travelled to the Gatesville Prison with Carol Waid to be a facilitator in training for Truth Be Told’s Talk To Me Writing Class. I was familiar with the prison system as I had gone behind the fence as a journalist and novelist, but this time, with TBT, I would be in service to the women of the Lane Murray Unit by helping them tell their stories. (In the classroom next to ours, Christina Wisdom and Julie Wylie were facilitating the Talk To Me Speaking class.)

Because I was completely new to TBT, Carol asked me to experience the class as a newcomer, like the women did: Doing the homework, telling my story, sharing my life. At first, I felt like I didn’t belong. I’m outside the fence. I have freedom. But I am also a woman an a mother and, just as I was hungry to hear their stories, they were eager for mine. We wanted to connect. We wanted to understand one another. We wanted to share. We wanted to heal through telling the truth about our lives, however different they are.

One of the most beautiful parts of the Talk To Me Writing and Speaking classes comes near the end of the eight weeks. Our homework is to write one or two sentences about each member of our class and how we see them. It is an opportunity to reflect on how each person has revealed their hearts over the last eight weeks.

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-11-23-19-pmThis is what I said about one class member named LaVerne:

I can imagine coming to Miss LaVerne’s home (that’s what I would call her: Miss LaVerne) and drinking slightly sweet tea with a hint of lavender, I think. I try to get her to tell me what the secret ingredient is but Miss LaVerne only smiles. We talk about the weather and other sweet things, “The Blessings,” she calls them. Miss LaVerne knows there is plenty of meanness in the world but she likes to talk about “the blessings that bind us.”

After the Speaking and Writing classes were complete, we joined the two communities together. In the first eight weeks we were looking into our pasts and focusing on how we got to our levels of incarceration. The next six weeks is called Discovery – discovering the women we want to become. Near the end of Discovery we began planning our graduation. Each of us would share something we created as a result of being in the classes. LaVerne was stumped about what to contribute. Someone in the class suggested she write a poem. LaVerne said, “Can it be about lavender? I like what you said about lavender.”

Here is what she wrote and shared with us at graduation on May 26, 2016.

Lavender

by LaVerne F.

True happiness only comes from fearing God and keeping His commandments. Our happiness depends upon the habit of mind that we cultivate. I say let’s practice happy thinking. Every Day. Again I say let’s practice happy thinking every day. Let’s cultivate the merry heart. Let’s develop the happiness habit, and I believe life will become a continual feast for us. Lavender, to most people, is a color. To me, Lavender is beautiful and fragrant, and it is widely known as an essential oil that brings about calming and restful energy as well as evoking a feeling of happiness…Lavender, again I say Lavender.

As a result of experiencing this work, I signed up to return to the Lane Murray Unit with Carol Waid to co-facilitate Living Deeper and Freer, which is a continuation of TTM Writing and Speaking classes. Twelve women from the original twenty-eight (some were released, some were transferred to other prisons, and others went to the faith-based dorm) continued on with us. We are a tightly woven community committed to exploring how to live deeper and freer on both sides of the fence.

There is so much beauty behind the fence. Truth Be Told allows the women to become more than the crime that put them there.

And the next time you smell Lavender, think of LaVerne and cultivate the happiness habit.

 

Truth Be Told’s message goes nationwide

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IMG_1976On Oct. 13, Truth Be Told program graduate Dara Musick and volunteer facilitator Katie Ford gave a presentation at the 16th Biannual Adult and Juvenile Female Offenders Conference in Hartford, Conn. It is the only conference in the nation that focuses exclusively on programs and policies tailored for women and girls involved in the criminal justice system. The conference addresses mothers and child care, financial stability and income, prostitution and human trafficking, domestic violence or intimate partner violence, trauma, and different pathways to criminal behavior.

In their presentation, Dara and Katie spoke about Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me Series and the tools we call the 4 Cs: Community building, Communication skills, Creativity and Caring for Self.

We invite you to visit Katie’s website to read a summary of their experience in Connecticut and what it was like to share their stories with a national audience.

We should never doubt the power of our stories!

Gatesville: A first-time visitor’s observations

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OgleHeadshot4GatesvilleBlog

 

Shelly Ogle, a retired editor, attended a Truth Be Told graduation at a women’s prison in Gatesville on November 20, 2014. These are her impressions as a first-time visitor to prison.

 

 

 

Gatesville: A first-time visitor’s observations

By Shelly Ogle
Austin, Texas

In lots of ways, my first visit to a Texas state prison was full of surprises. I’d thought we’d be driving to East Texas, but our van headed west out of Austin. I’d been ready for a lot of traffic and congestion, but the country roads we drove on were winding and open. A stormy day had been forecast; instead, the November skies were clear and sunny.

Within a couple of hours, under that gorgeous sky, our van turned into the prison’s entrance. All was flat. At our right was an empty guard’s shack and ahead was a big parking lot. There wasn’t any sort of main gate. Everything was ugly – fencing and razor wire and lights and cameras, big signs with commands and prohibitions, wire cages enclosing each of the chain-link gates.

I was among a group of 15 women visiting this women’s prison. We were there to applaud the graduation of 23 inmates who had just completed 18 weeks of Truth Be Told classes. The training teaches them to better understand themselves, to review their lives, and to write and speak the truth about what they know and remember and hope for. Of the prison’s 1,500 inmates, some 250 had signed up for the classes, but there was only room for less than a tenth of them.

11302014 TBT 1st Lane Murray Graduation_1

In groups of six, we were led through a caged gateway and into a lobby with a shiny linoleum floor. It was 5 p.m., and it seemed like a shift was changing. The lobby was busy with uniformed guards, almost all female. Some looked friendly and bright; some smiled, some frowned. After a short wait, we were led into a room with tables and chairs and greeted by the warden, who was another surprise. I’d expected someone military and harsh; instead, this warden was a friendly and perky blonde, in civilian clothes. She looked like a yoga instructor or a vitamin saleswoman.

From her, we learned that the state has 150,000 prisoners, and that 12,000 of them are women, mostly housed in Gatesville units. The prison we were at was medium-security, but it had a maximum-security unit. Maybe that’s the same one that she casually called “adseg”; when asked what it meant, she explained that prisoners who violate institutional rules are put into “administrative segregation.” Not being in good standing, they’re not eligible to sign up for programs such as Truth Be Told. We were warned to expect aggressive language from them, as we’d be passing them on our way to the prison chapel where the graduation ceremony would be held.

We were also told to not give anything to a prisoner, to not accept anything from one, and to not touch them in any way except for a handshake, and even that small contact was permissible only on this special occasion.

The warden then led us outdoors toward the chapel. We had to wait at yet another inner gate while a guard got the key to it.

A strip of concrete pavement, about 20 feet wide, led to the chapel, past a few grassy areas with high chain-link fences around them; one area had a sad-looking little rock-lined pond and fountain. The concrete had a yellow stripe on each edge, marking off narrow shoulders where the prisoners walked – guards accompanying them strolled in the wide center. “Hi there, ladies,” I said to a few guards and to a few prisoners. They all seemed a little startled to be addressed.

The metal-clad buildings we were passing – there were no stone walls in sight – looked like industrial-district warehouses for welding or plumbing equipment. Though wide and squat, some seemed to hold as many as four stories, as I saw three layers of tiny windows, most of them numbered on the outside, above a windowless ground floor. At the windows, I’d often see more than one face, so I guessed that those cells are shared.

None of the “adseg” prisoners yelled out much of anything to us. I noticed little showers of birdseed or breadcrumbs being tossed out of their windows for pigeons, and I waved at a few of the prisoners in the windows; they waved back.

The chapel was another squat metal building, again with a highly polished floor. Its bathroom had to be unlocked by a guard for me to use it. It was immaculate. Its door locked automatically behind me, so the next person to use it also had to ask the guard to let her in.

In front of the chapel’s low stage, we arranged two rows of chairs into a semicircle, with our 15 chairs on one side facing the prisoners’ 23 chairs on the other. A few women, probably trusties, set up a microphone and fiddled with a sound system. While we waited for the prisoners to arrive, I admired a beautiful quilted banner on the stage and took in the wall-sized painting behind it, kitschy but earnest, showing the gates of heaven, a garden, a rainbow, and lots of shafts of light. That was the background behind each of the graduates as they stood and shared their insights with us.

A group of guards led in the 23 women we’d been waiting for. The prisoners wore white, not orange. Their pants were what my family called “bumper stumpers” when I was a kid: thick, unattractive sweats with a bunchy elastic waist. Their white T-shirts had polo-style collars. I was surprised to see makeup and elaborate hairstyles on some of the women. Shoes showed some variety, but all were closed-toed and flat-soled.

I was excited to see the prisoners, and they seemed excited to see us. After they sat down, their guards gathered at the back door and the graduation ceremony started. It was about 6 p.m., so the prisoners must have had an early supper. Over the next 90 minutes or so, each of them went to the stage and gave a short talk. A few offered performances – one lady played guitar and sang a song she wrote; a couple of skits and dances were also done, some in pairs. We applauded everything heartily.

Women spoke of their childhoods, and it made me cry. One was abandoned at the age 5. Where was I when I was a 5-year-old? Not abandoned. Another ran away from home at 14, escaping abuse and hunger, and hung around the bus station when she arrived in a big city. No one came up to her to ask where her parents were or whether she needed any help – except, of course, a pimp. “He put a needle in my arm,” she recalled, “and I wasn’t hungry anymore.”

Not a single person said, “I was a victim” or “I was victimized,” but each one of them was. I was impressed by their avoidance of the word. I was horrified by their stories.

One lady spoke about how, as a child, she was abused by her family in numerous ways, starting with being fingered, as a toddler, by her uncles when she’d sit on their laps. That invasion of trust reminded me of how much I loved to sit, so comfy and secure, on my dad’s lap; one of my earliest memories is being fascinated by the golden hairs on his forearms. I loved sitting on my grandpa’s lap, too; it was the safest place ever, except when Gorgeous George did some fancy wrestling move on the TV and Grandpa would jump up out of his chair and cheer. It’s so sad that the lady in the prison chapel had never felt that same goodness and love.

Another lady spoke of being loved and safe for her first seven years, living with her grandparents, until her mother took her away from them, and a life of hell began. I thought, “Where would I be today if everything good for me had stopped when I was 7 years old?” That’s the age I was when John F. Kennedy was killed, and I was so innocent then that I assumed that Jackie would just be named queen. I had opinions and ideas, but I was basically an unformed blob, and if those had been my final memories before starting a life of suffering, I could have been turned into anything.

I was lucky. I could have been her, but instead, I was lucky.

And what became of that prisoner? She emerged from her years of pain with a defiant insight, only recently gained from her Truth Be Told experiences: “I am lovable for who I am.” That’s a big, bold idea for someone like her.

A thin woman with an impossibly thick braid proclaimed, perhaps metaphysically, “I am free.” Another woman, contradicting a widespread assumption that prisoners always protest their innocence, declared, “I am exactly where I belong.”

Only one lady, one of the last to speak, had anything specific to say about the crime that landed her in prison. Twenty years ago, she said, she shot her husband while he was throttling their baby and also threatening to kill her and himself.

“Good,” I thought.

“I called it self-defense,” she said, “but the state of Texas called it capital murder.” She got a 30-year sentence and has 10 years left to serve.

Put yourself in her place. Think of all the good things that have happened to you in the past 20 years, and erase them all. And then erase them for the next 10 years, too. Now try to be serene and brave.

After the last woman had spoken, we visitors were invited to go to the mike and let them know our reactions. I wasn’t brave enough to, although I’ve spoken in public in the past, yet each of those 23 women had been brave enough to get up there and speak.

So, I admired them all the more.

One visitor spoke for me, though, when she told the prisoners that she was impressed by their ability to bear the problems they do, compared with the minuscule worries we have. They have been through so much. They are survivors. They’re courageous, and in many cases heroic. They embody the best of the human spirit.

Well, I sure wasn’t expecting to ever have that thought.

My favorite part of the visit happened next, when the prisoners all lined up and we visitors went down the line, shaking each woman’s hand and briefly saying whatever we could think of. I thanked them and told them they were beautiful and brave. I said I admired their endurance, and I congratulated them on their self-awareness. I praised the two who had been signing throughout each performance for their abilities in American Sign Language. One woman “hugged” me in the permissible way: hugging herself while smiling at me. I “hugged” her right back.

She’s hoping to be paroled soon; the signs are good. She might be released in Houston. I asked if that’s where her family lives. “No,” she answered. “I hurt my family. They don’t speak to me.”

That’s right, I reminded myself, she’s a criminal, and she’s paying for it.

I worry about her.

Afterwards, dining at a long table at a restaurant in town, we visitors all reviewed the day. Many agreed that the women’s self-awareness gained through their Truth Be Told classes was all-important. “It heals their trauma,” said Nathalie, a Truth Be Told founder. “It works,” agreed Kathleen, the organization’s executive director. “And their new awareness isn’t going to go away,” added Louise who, like me, was a first-time visitor.

The drive home through the dark was mostly quiet. It had been a long day, and when I got into bed and stretched out between my fleecy sheets, I was filled with gratitude for the life I have. How exceptionally lucky I was to have been born into a stable family. As my mom used to murmur, whenever she’d pity someone, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

 

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If you would like to attend one of the TBT spring prison graduations, watch our website for Upcoming Events and email: office@truth-be-told.org . The next graduation at the GEO Lockhart Unit is April 17 and the Bryan Federal Prison Camp graduation is May 6. Other dates are pending.

 

 

TEDx Goes to Prison

By Kathleen Littlepage, Executive Director, Truth Be Told

Kathleen Littlepage

Kathleen Littlepage

By now, most of us have been inspired, educated, or just amazed by a TED talk. The short, powerful videos can start public conversations and even change lives. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment, and Design converged, and today talks cover almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.

Truth Be Told facilitators were fans of Brene Brown and her work on vulnerability and shame before her TED talks, The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame, went viral and catapulted her to the national stage.

At Truth Be Told, we know the transformational power of giving the women in our classes an opportunity to tell their story to an audience of respectful listeners. That is what happens at our prison graduations. When one of our graduates who participates in our Beyond Bars activities shared the link to a TEDx event in California’s Ironwood State Prison, my first reaction was a little flash of envy.When I watched the videos, I couldn’t imagine how they created this high quality production in a prison.

This Mother Jones magazine article, TEDx Goes to Prison, explains that the event was the brainchild of movie producer Scott Budnick, who has been volunteering in California prisons long before he became a celebrity. The article has some of the videos embedded and you can find more of them here.

As we find in our Truth Be Told programs, the voices of prisoners in these videos are inspiring, humbling, and surprising to the uninitiated.

If you would like to attend a Truth Be Told graduation and respectfully listen to participants in our Behind Bars programs telling their stories, the dates for fall graduations appear on the Truth Be Told website’s Events page. Three public graduations are scheduled: two at the Lockhart GEO unit and one at the Murray Unit in Gatesville.

Stay tuned to this blog for reminders!

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.

Truth Be Told Spring Graduations and Gone For Good

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By Kathleen Littlepage, Truth Be Told Interim Executive Director

There is no better way to learn more about Truth Be Told and our programs than attending a graduation.

Right now, we are filling spaces in the last two spring graduations: Talk To Me and Discovery at Hilltop Unit in Gatesville is May 16, and Discovery at GEO Lockhart Unit is May 23. We need about two weeks to process the prison paperwork for the attendees, so please let us know as soon as possible that you want to attend. For more information, contact Carol Waid at carol (at) truth-be-told.org or (512) 292-6200.

On Friday April 4, a group of about 20 from Austin met up at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, but it wasn’t all about the barbecue. After lunch and some visiting, Katie Ford, a Truth Be Told facilitator, prepared us for the short trip we were about to make to the GEO Lockhart Unit for a graduation. It was routine for the TBT facilitators but a completely new experience for a journalism graduate student, a school counselor, a psychiatric nurse, a stay-at-home mom, a former DPS officer, a UT professor, and the rest of the assembled. We listened carefully as Katie described how we would be processed into the prison and what the event would be like.

The three spring Talk To Me classes were ready to graduate 31 women. They had all spent eight weeks learning how to tell their life stories— not the stories of their convictions but the larger stories of how they became who they are.

The women had all chosen one of the three Talk To Me formats, speaking, writing, or movement. Many of the women had never participated in a graduation, although a few had some higher education, but the occasion marked completion of an intense personal journey of discovery for all. We were there to be respectful listeners to enlarge the safe communities they had built in class.

In the auditorium, the guests and graduates mingled and sat together while waiting for the ceremony to begin. This was my third graduation, but it had been several years since the last one. Ginger McGilvray’s movement class began with a group performance to a rendition of Motherless Child, and I remembered how deep these women go and that I was about to go on that journey with them. Three women from the speaking class and three from the writing class told their stories. I heard about a father who was a drug dealer, a mother who left, a brother who took her innocence, a girl who knew she was pretty, a child who died mysteriously, bad choices, and struggles with addiction. Pain, loss, mistakes, hopes, and redemption all tumbled out together. When Donna Snyder began calling the names of her 12 students in the speaking class, I was so thankful and ready for the upbeat mood of the women celebrating their accomplishments. After some guests chose to share their thoughts in the closing circle, we ended with laughter as we each said our name, a one word feeling, and a gesture that the entire group then repeated.

I agreed with the guest who said, “I am comforted to know that some of the people that we incarcerate have access to moments that will make a difference in their lives.” And I wanted to add, “…and make a difference in our lives.”

Kay Rosenkranz, who was released from prison in 2013, wrote about her experience with three Truth Be Told classes, “Graduation day was so special for me. I became an emotional basket case that day too. I was so surprised to see that people from the ‘free world’ were inspired to tears by what we did that day and the stories we shared. More surprising was learning how many other women had stories to tell and how those stories impacted their lives. I found hope in learning I had so much in common with these women. I remember thinking that if only we could harness this goodwill, this human commonality, and this energy, what a world we could then create!”

Gone For Good Supports Truth Be Told

On April 1, Gone For Good presented Truth Be Told with a $2,500 grant award at a lovely luncheon at Chez Nous. Kathleen Littlepage and Carol Waid were there to accept the check from the three founders, Retta Van Auken, Gail Miller, and Sandy Rotman. IMG_3049

Gone For Good is a nonprofit with a simple but clever model to help other nonprofits. Individuals donate items of value that they no longer want. Gone for Good sells the items and donates the proceeds, less a handling fee, to the charity chosen by the individual, who in turn gets a tax deduction. Gone For Good has a booth at the Antique Marketplace, and they sell items online. They also organize and manage estate sales.

Gone For Good was started three years ago by these three Austin women and has made over $150,000 in cash and in-kind donations. For the first time this year, Gone For Good used some accumulated funds to award grants to five small local nonprofits, and Truth Be Told is fortunate to be in that group. We are grateful to Gone For Good for their hard work and generosity and for choosing to support Truth Be Told.

Please keep Gone For Good in mind as new way to support Truth Be Told next time you want to give some items a new home. We love playing a part in their mission to sell worldly treasures to do a world of good.

“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.***