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Celebrating Strong Women, and the People Who Believe in Their Stories

On October 17, 2015 the board members, volunteers, and graduates of Truth Be Told came together in celebration of our community. Because no one can properly celebrate on an empty stomach, a light brunch was served — including coffee, juice, pastries, and breakfast tacos (in true Texan style).

The Journey Imperfect Faith Community graciously let us use their space for the event. It was just the perfect size for our little soiree, cozy but not crowded. As people milled in, the room filled with a positive energy that was palpable, and just as invigorating as the coffee.

Board Member and Facilitator Donna Snyder took on the additional role of MC for the affair. She kicked off the event with a warm introduction for the first speaker, the “heart and soul of our Beyond Bars program,” Director of Programs Carol Waid.

Carol told us about Karen, a Truth Be Told graduate that has written Carol enough letters from prison to fill a book. Literally. Karen plans for the letters to form the bulk of a book she’ll write called Against All Odds. The letters are especially beautiful, not only because of their written content but also because each is also a piece of original artwork. Karen drew incredible pictures on the backs of each page.

Karen was released from prison October 2014, and is still in touch with Carol. She jokes that she now has “high class problems,” like having to get up late at night to change her grandson’s diaper. Those are the kinds of problems we love for our graduates to have!

After Carol told Karen’s success story, Elizabeth, whom Donna called a “star graduate,” took to the podium to tell hers. Elizabeth signed up for the Truth Be Told public speaking class when a judge mandated she deliver speeches as part of the terms of her release.

Elizabeth said the class, “changed me, or it reminded me of who I’d always been. By the time I was done with their class, prison wasn’t a prison anymore. I was freer in my life than I’d ever been.”

Autumn Schwartz

Autumn Schwartz

Chair of the Board Autumn Schwartz then spoke about her introduction to Truth Be Told as an internal auditor. Autumn ended up falling in love with the organization, becoming a full time volunteer, and picking up the reins as passionate Chair of the Board in 2013. She expressed her excitement for the future of Truth Be Told and for those involved in the mission.

Following Autumn was graduate Sandra. Sandra’s been out of prison a little less than six months. She shared the story of how another graduate at the event, Rutanya, recently helped her find employment. How wonderful that our community could support Sandra in such a tangible way during her transition to life outside of prison!

Sandra

Sandra speaks to the audience

Next facilitators Sue Ellen Crossfield and Becky Deering spoke about how much they’ve gained from their experience teaching classes in prison. Becky told us teaching her classes each week gives her strength; the women inspire her. Sue said, “The women who have been inside tell us how much we give them, but it’s really them who give so much to us.”

Sue Ellen

Sue Ellen

Donor and Mentor Margaret Kahn was the last official speaker — though her mentee, Dara, jumped in with heartwarming words of love from the audience. Margaret talked about how she met Dara, and how their relationship has strengthened and changed them both over the years.

In summation Margaret said, “This is the most powerful thing I have ever done in my life.”

The event closed with a community circle honoring Co-Founder Nathalie Sorrell, who retires from facilitating this year. Nathalie will remain a strong advocate for the cause — and will always remain in the thoughts and our hearts of the people she’s touched within our community. Everyone held hands around Nathalie and shared impressions the days’ stories had left with them. There were smiles, some tears, and lots of laughter.

We said our goodbyes, and though we left in separate cars, we left as a strengthened community, excited to look down the road ahead.

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Now I Become My Self: A new facilitator shares her many selves

by Hannah Miller

During the spring semester of 2014, I became a volunteer facilitator in training for Truth Be Told. I joined Carol Waid’s Talk to Me Circle class at Hilltop Prison in Gatesville, Texas. In one of our classes, we explored the reality that each of us has many different identifies, roles, and faces we wear. Some of these faces have hurt ourselves and others. Some of these faces are healing faces of wholeness.

Through creative writing and storytelling, we shared with one another the faces that we hide and the faces we celebrate. In speaking our truth, we began to let go of our shame and embrace the wisdom that comes from knowing all of our many selves. The following piece was my entry in The Book of Wisdom, which includes writing from each of the women in the class. At graduation, each woman receives two copies of the publication.

Now I Become My Self

by Facilitator in Training Hannah Miller

HannahMillerI am a woman of many faces—a woman of many selves. You may try to call these faces my masks, but I know them each to be equally as true, each an essential part of me. Just because these selves at times contradict one another doesn’t make me a hypocrite. It makes me a tapestry. These selves, sometimes harmoniously and sometimes acrimoniously, coexist and intermingle inside of me.

If you know me, you may only know one of these selves. If so, you have only seen a sliver of the real me.

  • Maybe you first met me as the Adventurer—paddling among glaciers in Alaska, sleeping in a hammock on the border of Guatemala, or climbing the steps of a Hindu temple in Indonesia.
  • Or perhaps you know me as the Achiever. The disciplined one, always in competition with myself, whether running a cross-country race, studying for a biology exam, or learning to play the piano.
  • At a certain time, you would have encountered me as the Warrior. Fighting for the lives of the invisible and the powerless, those awaiting the gurney or the death chamber.
  • If I am your daughter, you see me as stubborn, outspoken, capable, responsible, sensitive, and loyal.
  • If you are my child, you know me as strong but affectionate, grounded yet playful, loving and present.
  • As a friend, you call me Truth-Teller, Justice-Seeker, Spirit-Keeper, Old Soul. You know I am openhearted, quick to cry, and ever eager for intimacy.
  • At work, I am the Peacemaker, Reconciler, Calm One. An attorney paid to argue and advocate but at core made to mediate, to see the gray, to find a middle way.
  • And then there are the faces of me I hope you never see. The selves I would prefer to keep hidden. The Critic. The Challenger. The Ferocious One. Explosive, sharp-tongued, demanding, relentless, unforgiving.

But if I had my way, I would rather tell this story. It is a story about the parts of me that remain unseen. Not because they do not exist but because they have not yet been fully realized. Some of these unborn faces have been present from my very beginning but were forgotten and must be recovered. Others do not come to me naturally and must be learned. All of them, however, are present, latent, and waiting to be born. These are the parts of me I claim today. It is only through them that I begin to fully become my self.

Courageous, free, trusting, fearless, slow to anger. Risk-Taker, Woman of Gentleness, Woman of Compassion, Kind and Merciful One. If you meet her along the way, tell her I believe in her. I can already see glimpses of her beauty and wisdom.

My Prison Classmates

By Cis Dickson

Traveling through Gatesville, Texas, you see hectares of razor wire. My classmates are not traveling through. My ladies are locked-in, locked up, and a few are locked-and-loaded for parole.

In Truth Be Told, I am a Facilitator-in-Training. Think F-I-T. That’s me: trying to FIT in; wearing new outFITs each week to show my ladies; trying to FIT the eight-hour day (which includes four hours of round-trip driving from Austin to Gatesville) into my FIT lifestyle.

Oddly enough and truth be told, I FIT. My classmates have grown to love me as much as I love them. Which came first I cannot tell. I call them my mates because I am doing the class with them; same homework; same amount of speaking; same drills; same hokey-pokey. And then we shake it all about. Good way to end class and relieve ourselves of a busload of tension and heartache. We do this for 16 weeks. I do this for 16 weeks. After that I get to have Thanksgiving with my family, my kids, my grandkids. Then I have Christmas. I cannot bear to think of what they have after our classes end.

When I say to someone, “Well, I’m off to prison tomorrow,” they stare blankly at me.

They don’t ask questions. Could be I’ve seemed strange to my friends and family for years.

I may FIT in at the Lane Murray Unit more than I realize and FIT in less with my circle of non-criminals. Hmm!

My mates and I started off strangers in late July. Now we can’t wait to see each other; we laugh; we dance; we tell stories; we do impromptu speaking and some rehearsed speeches, and we think of hugging each other. At Lane Murray Unit, you must remember at least two things: don’t touch and don’t climb the fence. I have bruises on my arms each week from squeezing myself because I can’t squeeze my mates. We jump up and down when we see each other coming down the hall to the classroom. Since I’m much older, I have tears running down my legs with the joy of their smiling faces.

So it works like this….you hear a heartbreaking story; you have secret thoughts about the son-a-bitch who harmed this girl, but then you remember this is about healing, not revenge; you wipe your nose on your sleeve because no one in Lane Murray ever has Kleenex. EVAH!

One of my mates said to me last week when I was sporting a new outFIT, “Girl, where do you shop?” Another of my mates said when she was on “the outside” her life got so bad, even though the money she made from selling drugs was good, that she just stopped and prayed to God to get her out of hell. The next morning she was arrested. She laughed at how fast her prayers were answered. She’s too young to be there.

I hope we’ll all stay on the straight and narrow with the TBT tools we’ve learned.

“Recognizing Our Wonderful Donors”

Posted on

Since 2000, the faithful support of individuals and a few churches has allowed Truth Be Told to bring programs to thousands of incarcerated women. We have always been a primarily volunteer organization; so, we are fortunate that it hasn’t taken much prodding to convince our network of friends that helping women heal their lives, strengthen their families, and build safer communities is a worthy cause. Recently, we added grants from local foundations to that mix of support. Please check out our new webpage that recognizes many (but sadly not every one) of these wonderful contributors.

This is an extraordinary time in the evolution of our humble and fiercely passionate nonprofit. Increasing numbers of prison administrators are recognizing the importance of our work as unique and powerful. We are a little overwhelmed by the current interest of federal and state correctional facilities. If we had the organizational capacity, we could be serving twice as many women next year!

Our Need: In order to grow efficiently and effectively, we need to improve our facilitator training materials to reach volunteers outside Austin; format our curriculum so it can be shared with a wider audience; enhance our database to keep better track of participants, volunteers, and donors; and retain sufficient staff to manage all of these tasks.

Watch Your Inbox: For the first time ever, we are having a pledge and volunteer campaign. We mailed Donation and Volunteer Forms this week. We don’t have mailing addresses for some contacts, so they will receive an email instead. If we missed you altogether, you can go to our webpage to donate or volunteer.

 

Thank You, Thank You Tom Bentley

Recently, Tom Bentley advised us on how to become a more sustainable nonprofit and then, he made a generous donation! Tom has been a hi-tech entrepreneur and was design manager for the teams that built the first generations of laptops for Apple and Dell. This is how Tom explained his interest in Truth Be Told:

“I look for the same things in a nonprofit that I look for when designing or investing in hi-tech:

  1. An enthusiasm for the mission.
  2. Transformational to their customers.
  3. Effective with very few people.
  4. Scalable to very large numbers.

Truth Be Told has the first three handled with aplomb. I believe with increased funding, they can build the organization to scale effectively. I am grateful to support them in their fantastic work.”

 

Creative Ways to Contribute

Amazon Smiles AmazonSmile

Amazon just started a new charitable giving program. If you buy an eligible product at AmazonSmile, 0.5% of the cost is donated to an organization of your choice. Truth Be Told is a registered organization, so please choose us when you make a purchase. There is no additional cost to you. To shop at AmazonSmile simply start your regular Amazon shopping at smile.amazon.com.

 

Gone For Good   gone for good

We just got our first check from a donation made to Gone For Good by Sarah Sibert who says, “I highly recommend Gone for Good. I wish I had known about them before I took five car loads to another place. I sold my house and downsized. It was so nice that Gone for Good came and looked at what I was donating and carted it away. I didn’t have to deliver anything. I was very excited that my donation turned into dollars for Truth Be Told.”

 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.

 

Thanks For All You Do

Thank you to our many wonderful donors, in-kind contributors, and volunteers, named and unnamed. Thank you for sharing this link and spreading the word about our mission whenever you can. You are both the foundation of Truth Be Told and the scaffolding for our future work. We can’t wait to meet the new folks who Donate and Get Involved.

 

“Going to prison saved my life.” I’ve come to understand what they mean.

IMG138-1Editor’s Note: Since 2010, Katie Ford has served as a volunteer facilitator for Truth Be Told at the Lockhart GEO unit in Lockhart, Texas. In March 2014, she was invited to present on her volunteer work at an Austin event called Pecha Kucha Night, which took place during South by Southwest. The format required 20 slides with 20 seconds of talk per slide. Katie worked hard on her presentation, which was very well received.

You can watch a video of her presentation below (please hang in there; the sound improves. Katie is the first presenter, so if you want to skip to just her section, it runs from 1:24 to 8:24).

You can also read Katie’s thoughts about the experience on her personal blog. Katie teaches writing in the prison, and it’s a good read, worth clicking over. (You’ll also meet Martha.)

Here are a few truths from Katie:

 Why is it so important to heal? Very simply put, healed people heal others, and hurt people hurt others.

These women who are locked away and invisible to most of us are also our neighbors. They are members of our communities. And one day, when their sentences max out or when they make parole, they will be back among us. Will they be safe, contributing members of our society, or will they continue in their old ways?

In a certain respect, going to prison, it saved my life too. In helping others to tell their stories, I’m learning the words to my own story. I’m discovering the power and the freedom in having a safe community, and I’m learning my role in helping to build that for others. And I’m helping to build that one story at a time.

Katie will also speak about her work with Truth Be Told on Creative Mornings Austin on Monday, May 16, at TOMS Cafe at 8 am. Click this link for details.

Thank you, Katie Ford!

The process of becoming new: hope in 2014

by Holly Hurban, Ph.D., TBT volunteer and former board member

“Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” ― Eckhart Tolle

 The post-holiday season, particular when we pass the new year, frequently entails a re-evaluation of where we’ve been and what we hope for, as well as hollow promises to somehow be different. I use the term “hollow” because the truth is that in every moment we can choose to be different or new. It simply doesn’t involve the turn of a new year, or any other symbolic gesture, or even spending significant time in thought, building up some limiting expectations of ourselves. We can just be new right now.

When we promise ourselves to suddenly change because a new year has passed, we frequently end up with the same old disappointment, regret, and self-deprecating thoughts when the old habit shows its ugly head, and we then beat ourselves up for failing to keep our promise to ourselves in the random time-frame that we’ve created. Being new is often a process, like everything else, and always takes a lot of practice. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. When I think of that saying, I believe it comes from the fact that carefully thought out plans don’t necessarily bring positive results; practice does.

Being someone new or doing something new in any given situation is the beginning of personal change, and proves absolutely that we can do it, whatever “it” is. When that one situation or moment becomes the next, and we again choose a “new way,” after awhile these moments string together and we honestly start to feel like a new person. The feeling comes after the practice. Moreover, if we are able to accept that behaving in a new way always feels uncomfortable, we can drop our storyline that these feelings of discomfort equals failure. In fact, this discomfort really resembles courage more than anything else.

The value inherent in the Truth Be Told programs is the fact that they introduce incarcerated women to the practice of being someone new and a window into the possibilities of a new way of life. Graduating from a TBT program means that a woman has the courage to take this opportunity while incarcerated to become something different or new, regardless of the cell she returns to or the unwavering voices that may be telling her it is not possible.

In fact, my guess is that after a graduation some women may feel like they can’t maintain this new way of being. But to that I say, “so what?” It is just a passing thought and just a passing feeling, nothing more. If change doesn’t happen immediately after a graduation, then maybe it will happen in a moment tomorrow or whenever another moment arises that they remember the courage to be new. When a person can say “so what?” to their internal negative dialogue or doubts, then true choice can take over, and practice can begin.

So, as you contemplate the beginning of 2014 and the changes you might want to make in your life, remember that change happens one decision and one action at a time.  Failure is not making another poor choice. Failure is allowing your emotions or negative stories to keep you from trying to make better choices in the moments that will come after the turn of the new year.

fresh start woman

Art by Karen C, Behind Bars graduate, Hilltop Unit, Gatesville, TX. “Thank you, TBT, for choosing to bring the captives precious treasures and unforgettable gifts. You have inspired me so many times to NEVER GIVE UP and to keep pressing on for excellence, truth, and freedom to break free from every chain that binds me.”