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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.

Graduation Days by Christina Wisdom

Today we have a guest blog by Christina Wisdom:

Wisdom

Christina Wisdom

In my life, I have graduated four times.  In 1993, I graduated from high school in a packed coliseum where my parents and family could hardly pick me out of a crowd, much less really see me as I walked across the stage to get my diploma.  In 1997, I graduated from a prestigious, small liberal arts college in a more intimate setting, surrounded by my family and some of the best friends I had ever made.  In 2003, I graduated from law school and in 2004, was sworn in to practice law with my fellow graduates who had also passed the bar exam.  Once again, I was in a packed auditorium, but this ceremony had special meaning as I raised my right hand and pledged to uphold the laws and ethics of the State of Texas.  My father had passed away while I was in law school and my siblings were scattered around the country, so my mom witnessed my accomplishment and we had a wonderful lunch afterwards, followed by a big party thrown by some close friends.

In 2015, I graduated from the Truth Be Told (TBT) Speaking Class as a Facilitator in Training.  This time, my fellow classmates were female inmates serving time in a state penitentiary.  They were dressed in all white, and our ceremony was in a large prison gymnasium where we sat in plastic chairs, surrounded by warehouse equipment, with a spotty (at best) sound system that kept going in and out.  My family wasn’t there.  Most of the witnesses for my graduation were women I had never met who, like me, were interested in working with women in prison.  It was an emotional day, and I struggled to keep it together as our class-elected speakers told the stories of their lives.  We had been practicing for this; it had all been rehearsed and planned.  What I did not plan for was the feeling that this was the most important, meaningful graduation day of my life.

I became a TBT volunteer only a few short months ago.  I found TBT through a series of acquaintances that led me to meet the founders of the program, Carol and Nathalie.  After a few conversations, they invited me to join Nathalie’s TBT Speaking Class at the Lockhart facility as a Facilitator in Training.  It was explained to me that my role would be to help Nathalie in the classroom, but that above all else, I was a student.  I was there to learn along with the inmates who signed up for the class.  Nathalie was going to teach us how to write and tell our stories in just a few short minutes.  Having done a lot of professional speaking, in addition to sharing my story multiple times in my recovery program, I entered this experience thinking it would be a piece of cake.  I couldn’t imagine that I would learn much more about myself than I already knew.

Boy, was I wrong!  I can honestly say that the work I have done in the last nine weeks has been some of the most transformative in my recovery and in my life.  Doing the work was hard – going back in time and reliving things I did not want to face was tough enough – but to do it with complete strangers who had a much harder time in life than I had was extremely intimidating.  I often thought, “What do I have to complain about?  My life wasn’t hard compared to the lives these women had.  And, I get to do this work from the comfort of my cozy couch with a cup of hot tea in my hand.”  But what I learned in the process of doing this work astounded me.

I realized that we are all in prison, some of us literally, but all of us emotionally and spiritually to some degree.  Through the work, I was able to see patterns of behavior in my own life that have kept me locked up inside, and my classmates surrounded and supported me through my journey.  When it was my turn to tell my story, I saw nods of encouragement and big smiles, and when I was done, I received enthusiastic applause.  We were all in this work together, and I felt a sense of community and solidarity that I have rarely found in the free world.

The eight women that I graduated with on October 2, 2015 in Lockhart prison will always hold a very special place in my heart.  They are some of the bravest, strongest, kindest women I have ever, and will ever meet.  They are not different from me.  We have all made bad choices; their choices have just had different consequences than mine.  I think of them often and pray for them constantly, as I believe they are doing for me.  Because of this work we did together, we will always be united.  And, hopefully, at some point, we will all be free.

From Behind Bars to Beyond Bars: Dream Big

Introduction: Truth Be Told facilitators met Karen in 2010 at the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville. She enrolled in the two classes Truth Be Told offered at that prison, Talk to Me–Circle and Talk to Me–Speaking, multiple times, and then she served as an excellent class mentor.

Karen used to say how much she loved the women in white [the uniform at Gatesville], and she was the mother wisdom of love, acceptance, and appreciation for her classmates.

Karen was released in October 2014 and has stayed in touch through our Beyond Bars program. She loves to express herself and her big dreams through writing and drawing.

By Karen

Truth Be Told came to me by way of a huge miracle against all odds. I came into the prison system desperate and broken. Fear, bad choices, and booze trapped me long before a prison cell. Little did I know that God had already forged a plan, and that faith, hope, and love would set me free.

The TBT facilitators, Carol and Nathalie, taught me to never give up, that I had my own story to tell, and that I had a vision and a special purpose on this earth. I had to let go of the idea that I could have had a different past. I began to believe that what the enemy meant for harm, God was causing to work out for my good.

TBT is a safe and trusted community that taught us to use our voices and experiences to inspire a healing power of restoration in body, mind, and spirit. I am convinced that we overcome by telling and owning our own stories; the good and the bad are interwoven to make us who we are. TBT is living out loud: building integrity and character with expression of genuine heartfelt experiences using words, body language, respectful listening, arts, music, and dance, but most of all our voices.

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 1.34.08 PM

Daring to be true, to speak and believe the truth, says it all for me. Life and Death are in the power of the tongue. TBT has taught me a better way of making decisions and to use my talents and abilities to bless others, to make a difference in our world today. I especially love when we combine our creative gifts to inspire and encourage and set a standard of excellence that states that the little things are big things. Both behind and beyond bars, the moments are unforgettable!

There are no limits or boundaries to what we can accomplish together. TBT brought light and love into a dark place, and the light shone so vividly and gloriously that it changed my life forever. I knew for the first time that there was still good in the world and that I should prepare to win because I was in the midst of winners! God put the perfect people in my life.

I am determined to make the most of the opportunities I’ve been given and to capture the dream that the Lord planted in my mind and heart. TBT pays it forward by letting us know that are not forgotten with the most profound love and generosity. The untamed gratitude I feel spills over into every area of my world, making the destination well worth the journey. The transforming truth we tell allows us to savor life’s sweet moments and to rise above the bitter ones with grace and power. We embrace this new beginning as brave and courageous Princess Warriors with a fearless passion that is bold and beautiful.

It’s your day to do something powerful! To Connect, To Relax, To Learn, To Experience, To Grow, To Create, To Enjoy, To Celebrate, To Love! The extraordinary inspiration and TBT are very good medicine.

A Graduation Gift from the Amazing Flying Kūpuna

 By Emily Harris, Facilitator for Talk to Me Speaking and Discovery Classes

I Am the Amazing Flying Kūpuna!  Okay, then. What’s a kūpuna and how did I become one? Kūpuna is the Hawaiian term for a respected elder. The Hawaiian culture is based on strong communities, and I lived in one on the Big Island this past summer. Being of a certain age and a certain hair color earned me the “elder” part. Conquering several lifelong fears and serving my community with appreciation, participation, enthusiasm, great love, and joy earned me the respected part.

But I got to be amazing from the gifts that I received from each of the valiant women of Truth Be Told whom I have served for the past two years. Those gifts include acceptance, acknowledgement, wisdom, love, support, encouragement, generosity of spirit, and a joy in each moment of life I only dreamed of experiencing.

I flew to Hawaii on an airplane. I flew back on wings of my own. And here I am, amazing, and loving every minute of it. With my newfound wings I dance and laugh and play and recognize miracles large and small each day.

I'm flying!

Because of you, I can fly to the farthest reaches of my imagination where I find you waiting for me.

Time for take-off.

Let’s fly!

The part below was written for the women at the Hilltop Unit and is going to be in The Book of Wisdom along with all of the women’s writing to commemorate their graduation from Truth Be Told classes.

 

A Graduation Gift from the Amazing Flying Kapūna!

Congratulations! Another feather in your cap! By now you have enough feathers to build a set of wings and fly! And not just fly — SOAR!

There is a belief in some cultures that every living thing on earth — down to the most delicate blade of grass — has an angel by its side whispering “Grow, grow.”

You are each an angel to me, repeating that message over and over. For the past two years, I’ve watched and listened as you have grown into, around, and through your personal stories. You have graciously included me on those journeys of discovery and liberation.

In return, I took you on mine. And this past summer your whispers became the wind beneath emerging wings that made it possible for me to fly! In that moment I conquered a lifelong fear of being lifted off the ground.

I don’t know why I had such a fear in the first place, why I held on to it for such a long time, and why it was so transformational for me to conquer it, but it was and I flew and I am proud of myself for doing it. And it was really fun!

I offer this gift of inspiration to you in recognition of your courage, determination, and wisdom in seeking your truth and speaking it loud and clear! Rachel Naomi Remen has inspired me for many years. She is a medical doctor who uses healing storytelling and respectful listening in her practice. May her words whisper to each of you as you continue on your journey of recognizing and sharing your many gifts:

A single act of kindness may have a long trajectory and touch those we will never meet or see. Something that we casually offer may move through a web of connection far beyond ourselves to have effects that we may have never imagined.

~ From the book My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen

Flying may have its limits, but my thanks to each of you is without limits.  To that I add heaps of love and light.

Emily

November 14, 2013

Karen, twice a mentor at Hilltop Unit, shares her art and her truth

by Nathalie Sorrell, Truth Be Told co-founder and facilitator

Karen has taken every Truth Be Told offering at Hilltop prison, starting with our first Talk to Me Circle class in fall 2010. She is now a Mentor in the Talk to Me Speaking class. When she began, she was 22. Now she is 25. When she began she could have been any cute girl with a blond ponytail — alternately shy and bold. Easily distracted. Excited about every creative exercise. A little unwilling to look straight into anyone’s eyes for more than a few seconds. She’s a talented artist and includes her fantastical images and drawings in every homework assignment.

In our core Talk to Me classes, all students must create a life-line from birth to the time they arrived in prison, noting the experiences that happened to them and the decisions they made that they believe ultimately brought them to prison.

So when Karen first attended TTM Circle, she wrote her story based on her understanding of those events. Then when she took TTM Speaking, she used the same life-line but wrote her story into a speech, containing some deeper self-awareness and also the emerging memories of her past. When she became a Mentor, she did the Mentor homework — which requires creating her life-line and speech from the time she arrived in prison to the present day: what experiences happened to her in prison, and what decisions has she made in prison that brought her to this present moment.

Can you see how powerful this work is? Can you imagine yourself, willing to first look at the most horrifying and shameful experiences of your lifetime, and then to write your story or speech that you would read/speak aloud to a room of 10-18 “strangers”? And owning the decisions you yourself have made that have brought you to your present imprisonment, however it manifests itself?

The courage of these women is profound, and it changes us, who are their facilitators and witnesses. We cannot ask them to do what we are unwilling to do ourselves. But, like them, sometimes we don’t even realize how much we are still imprisoning ourselves, often because of the secrets we haven’t told on ourselves.

This semester, with Karen being a mentor for the second time, I asked her to do her life-line on the time she’s been in the Truth Be Told classes. She wrote and drew pictures that illustrated what experiences she’d had in prison during the times she attended the classes, and the decisions she was making that caused her to keep growing and at the same time, the decisions that imprisoned her (some of which kept her from being allowed to continue with us for a semester).

I’m glad to share Karen’s limelight on this blog so you can envision the person behind the art and feel the impact a young woman willing to speak the truth both to herself and to others has on her facilitators, as well as other students.  It’s an honor to introduce Karen as you look at her art, and read her own words about what the art represents.

Beauty Disturbed

Karen I.

Hilltop Unit

“Beauty Disturbed”

This picture represents the beauty within my disturbance.

The masked woman is the way I, at times, view myself.  I may have a mask on to distract you, but my eyes always give me away.

The moth represents all the things that once scared me, but now carry no weight.  The roses are morals I hold closest to my heart:

—honesty/loyalty are yellow orange;

—courage/strength blue & black;

—love/passion red, pink, and purple.

The music notes are always coming out of me as well as running through me.

The key is everything: wisdom, love, courage, and freedom.

I always have viewed the inside of my heart to be flames with bright colors with my faith that has both saved me, and continues to guide me.

The eye tearing through is old demons that tend to rise up and cast me down, threatening to destroy me.

The dragon I once saw as bad isn’t at all.

The dragon is the fight and passion to never give up.

The ghosts are sorrow, hatred, and fear that always call my name.

The face in the shadows is fear of the unknown.

13 is the day of my birth and a symbol of changing my luck.

Keep on talking! A volunteer’s inspiration to do more helps women beyond bars adjust

thankyoucoffeeheartWhat can happen over a cup of coffee?

Pam Maulding, a long-time member of the Get Up and Go Toastmasters club, has been volunteering as a Toastmaster evaluator for Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me Speaking Class since early 2000. After attending a one-hour informational gathering called a BABB (Behind and Beyond Bars), Pam was inspired to do more, and she and Carol Waid spent an hour over coffee brainstorming some ways to help grow the Beyond Bars program.

One idea led to another and then an “aha” appeared: Pam saw how she could involve her Toastmaster community by asking them to share their talents with women who have been released from prison.

Pam said:

My mind whirled. How could I, with my current skills and experiences, best contribute to this facet of the program? You see, every time I go to the prisons to help the women grow as communicators, I have the intense desire to do something to help them never be in this place again! I truly believe that it is but by the grace of God that I am not one of them. Granted, life is about choices and decisions, and thus there are consequences. However, sometimes, people have no power (no skills and no community) in their lives to guide them to make correct decisions. So their lives take a very different path, one of no self-worth, one that is very destructive to themselves and anyone they come in contact with. And this can go on for generations!

What came out of that coffee conversation between Pam and Carol was a new Beyond Bars program called Keep on Talking Empowerment.

The vision for this new program is for the women to continue to grow and connect to the tools that they learned in Truth Be Told programs: the 4 Cs, which are Community Building, Communication Skills, Creativity, and Caring for Self.

Keep on Talking Empowerment helps women who are adjusting to life out of prison. Every week, women gather by conference call to help one another stay in community and to continue learning and practicing skills. A guest speaker talks for 7-10 minutes every other week, and there’s time to discuss the topic and work on goals and movement in the women’s lives.

One woman expressed her gratitude for the program, noting what a culture shock it is to be released. She said that it was like being thrown from a ship with no life raft and treading water alone in the ocean. She said setting goals could be overwhelming because there are so many things to do, such as parole visits, getting clothes, and even deciding where to live.

She said:

I learned a lot with y’all, but it seemed to dissipate when I got out because of the culture shock.

Keep on Talking hopes to help women stay connected and to continue to provide them with much needed support.

We will have our sixth call tonight.  In the last five weeks, we have had two guest speakers, and we will have our third speaker tonight.

Our first speaker, Sonya, shared Five Steps to Success. Her topic was inspirational and helpful.  We each shared the step that we had the greatest strength in and then shared about the one that we wanted to grow in.

The Five Steps to Success

  1. Become a superb communicator
  2. Honor your commitments
  3. Become an expert at what you do
  4. Have a great attitude
  5. Be a great teammate

Our second speaker, Nigel, shared the Five Characteristics of a Leader.  His topic was equally inspirational. He shared the following quote by Zig Ziglar:

You are what you are and you are where you are because of what has gone into your mind. You change what you are and you change where you are by changing what goes into your mind.

The Five Characteristics of a Leader

  1. Vision
  2. Passion
  3. Critical thinking
  4. Listening
  5. Commitment

Nigel ended his speech with this quote from Robert Greenleaf:

Good leaders must first become good servants.

If you are asking yourself how you can be involved with Truth Be Told, please email office@truth-be-told.org. We would love to hear your ideas. You never know what can happen over a cup of coffee!