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Donna learns to tell her story

“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we will ever do.” ~ Brené Brown

Thank you for being a part of our Truth Be Told family! Your commitment to our work enables us to change the lives of incarcerated women, their families and their communities. We thank you for your generous contribution and encourage you to read the powerful statement of one of our graduates, so you can feel first-hand how your support impacts these women.

by Donna Norman

Almost five years ago, I was lost and broken. I was facing my freedom, and it was coming fast. I was so hurt and so angry with everyone and everything, but most of all myself. The choices I made cost me my freedom and the loss of everything that meant anything to me – including and most importantly, my children. I wasn’t ready for my freedom or to face the memories I had to go home to, memories I ran from for seven years. What if I made the same mistakes? What was my purpose going to be now? What did I really have to live for anymore?


Then I saw the posters for the Truth Be Told class. I even knew some of the people who had taken the previous class. Everyone loved it and talked about how it made them feel. I didn’t want to open up to strangers, but I was still facing going home with no answers and a broken heart. I thought that this might be my last chance, so I signed up.

I was touched by how loving the women of Truth Be Told were; I just wasn’t ready to let them in. I was in Ms. Nathalie’s class, so I had to give a speech on my story. I was dreading it and even thought about dropping out, but that would leave me with my broken heart.

I asked myself, “What did I really have to lose by telling my story?” So I started working on it, piece by piece. Surprisingly, I started understanding myself by looking in from a third party perspective.

Then the day came for my speech. Ms Nathalie brought some Toastmasters in to critique our speeches, and one of them happened to be her husband [Jim Walsh]. I wasn’t comfortable with a man being there while I was so vulnerable, but I had already come this far. I stood up and started telling my story, although it took every piece of strength I had.

Ms. Nathalie’s husband then had the honor of judging my speech, but I feared he was really judging me. I could feel the defiance boiling up inside me, not wanting to hear a man tell me I’m not good enough after hearing me talk about all the other men who have hurt me in every way possible.

But to my utter disbelief, he stood up in front of me, looked me dead in my eyes, and apologized for everything those other men had done.

Hearing that touched me deep down in my soul. The wall I built so strong to keep everyone else out shattered and the tears wouldn’t stop. I wasn’t being judged… I was being heard.

donnaquiltThat was when the healing began. Truth Be Told gave me my life back. They helped me understand why I made the decisions I made, not blaming others but understanding them. They helped me change my thinking and be a better, stronger person.

I have been home for four years now. I use the tools I learned from Truth Be Told in my everyday life. Although things are hard at times, I haven’t failed or given up, because of what the women of Truth Be Told have given me…my truth. We are a true community of women. In my times of weakness I reach out to them, and they never let me down. I keep my three-year quilt close. Anytime that I need to feel supported I wrap it around me and I see all their smiling faces.

The world needs more selfless people like the facilitators with Truth Be Told. They are my angels.


Thank you so much, Donna, for sharing your beautiful story, and thank you, Jim Walsh, for being the kind and loving man that you are.

Readers, we thought you might want to see a poster that Truth Be Told used to invite women in prison to learn about and sign up for Talk To Me classes.

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Making a Difference from the Inside – Out

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This week’s post is from Karen C., a Behind Bars graduate. Following Karen’s post is a piece written by Nathalie about Karen.

 TBT came to me as an extravagant gift when I was at the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville.  It has been the miracle that brought freedom and liberty in creative writing, public speaking, respectful listening, but more so with my own expression through words and art.  I have a new confidence in knowing that I can leave a lasting impression with a contribution to my community in so many different areas, even behind bars.  TBT has created the unity that we share, through breaking bars of steel to forge a lasting bond in the free world that ignites phenomenal transformation and change.

I’m always blown away when I witness and become a part of the virtual powerhouse of the women in white when we meet the women in color, our clothes being the only distinction.  It has refreshed my desires and given me a huge vision to make a difference and inspire positive change that radiates light with a healing brilliance that wraps us with love and light.

It is amazing what you can do just by telling and owning your own story.  I am convinced that we overcome by sharing our stories with one another.  The condemnation and shame under any circumstances pushes grief and depression into dangerous blackouts, making us hide our tragedies, leaving us feeling alone and unsupported. Ultimately it was my road to death, destruction, and prison.  If I have learned anything from the ordeal, other than what it feels like to be driven insane with grief, it’s that we need to support each other, talk openly about our secret topics, and have fearless faith that the Lord’s forgiveness and freedom is bringing us to a new peace of deliverance.  Letting go of the idea that I could have had a different past, TBT has led me to embrace this journey.  I have fallen completely in love with this class and the events, inspiration, and talents are unforgettable.  

When we are invited with power and ability to face our obstacles and issues together, I believe that we can rise above any hurdle and be victorious. Every assignment and exercise, designed by faith, hope and love, lays a foundation where anything is possible. From exploring  the many “Masks” we wear to becoming “The Older but Wiser Woman” we are, we’re encouraged to use the gifts and abilities we’ve been given to make the world a better place.  I’m so excited and honored to be a part of this and I don’t want to miss a thing!  Please save a front row seat for me. We will make a difference from the inside out! 

Nathalie’s post on Karen:

Through the years of Truth Be Told work, there have been several women in our classes that have stood out in my memory because of their amazing positive attitudes. Frequently, they have become mentors the next semester. These are students who have completed a Talk to Me class but wish to retake the class with a different level of homework assignments, and an agreement to serve as helpers to the facilitator and role model/guides to the newer class members.

Not one has moved and surprised me more than Karen C. She was in Carol’s first Talk to Me Circle class at Hilltop prison in Gatesville in 2010. The next semester, she attended my Talk to Me Speaking class. Then in fall of 2011, she became a mentor in Carol’s class. And last semester, spring of 2012, she was a mentor in my class.  Since she’d already done the Mentor homework, we created a special Mentor of Mentors homework assignment for her—leaning heavily on the arts, since Karen is a passionately joyful and playful artist. My favorite thing about her is the radiant smile that lights up her cheeks and makes her eyes sparkle like sunlight on rippling water, and her bountiful regard for the women who are her classmates.

It is always welcome but not very unusual for our class members to love and respect their facilitators. It is unusual for class members to deeply delight in and show respect for each and every member of every class. Karen, who is shy, but has emerged from that shyness each semester to a greater degree, simply beams when she’s asked if there’s anything she’d like to say after class members have spoken their speeches or drawn their illustrations or shared their thoughts in class. She then pours forth her respect and gratitude for being in the company of such amazingly courageous women in white.

Every semester, she evokes all the class members to sign something that she has painted to give to her facilitator and any facilitators in training, demonstrating their gratitude for the volunteers who come in to serve them.  She has been struggling with illness and back and forth several times in last year to the Carole Young Unit—a medical prison. Truly, the room seemed dimmer when her smile was missing. But when she has returned from medical leave, cheeks hollower than before, tanned skin a bit wan under her white uniform, ponytail skinned back—her face sends out the warmth of the sun to greet us all.

The two classes she mentioned, Masks and Wise Woman, come in the Discovery Level 2, which she has now done four times.  In those classes, the Talk to Me Circle and Speaking classes join into one community and do more creativity (artwork, movement, guided imagery, writing in response to poetry and photos) as they go deeper into the life of someone no longer running from family secrets and past misdeeds. In the Masks class, the women often end up on the floor with their crayons, craypas, colored pencils, and markers as they color the masks of the self they were and the self they want to be. Karen’s masks are differently illustrated every time—and in spring 2012, her mysterious wide open eyes illustrated the cover of the Book of Wisdom of Hilltop Women.

The other exercise she mentioned in her letter from Carole Young Unit refers to a class where after a guided imagery where the women meet their older but wiser selves on a quiet beach, they return to write a letter to themselves from the Older but Wiser woman within, who is now available to guide them on the rest of their journey through prison and in the outside world. We are attempting to help them see that the woman they long to “grow up to be” is already planted within them, and the more they listen to “her” instead of to the discouraging and demeaning voices around them, the more they will become her, in reality and in the eyes of their families and friends, a contributing citizen of any community of which they are part. This is true already of Karen C.  She is a blessing to every person who knows her, deeply loved by her children and parents as well as her class members and TBT facilitators.

Thanks for letting me write about her —I am lit from within, each time I think of her radiance.