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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!


Back to the Classroom

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We have started our 2015 fall semester in the prisons, so it is a good time to answer questions we get asked frequently. “Are there differences in the prisons you go to?” “Are the women the same wherever you go?” “How is jail different from prison?”

Truth Be Told provides programs for women behind bars at five correctional facilities and each one has unique features and different offender populations. Even though the women we meet are living in different environments and facing diverse futures, from an upcoming release date to a 30 year sentence, they have similar needs. We all share the need to be seen, heard and loved. We strive to make meaning of our journeys through self-reflection and sharing our stories. We heal by being authentic and vulnerable in a safe community.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) gives every inmate a custody designation and each prison houses certain custody levels from the least restrictive at G1 to the most secure at G5 and then Administrative Segregation. The TDCJ Offender Orientation Handbook explains:

“On the unit of assignment, an offender is given a custody designation which indicates several things. It tells where and with whom he can live, how much supervision he will need, and what job he can be assigned to. An offender’s custody level depends on his current institutional behavior, his previous institutional behavior, and his current offense and sentence length. If the offender violates any rules, he may be placed in a more restrictive custody. If the offender complies with the rules, he may be assigned a less restrictive custody level.”

Lockhart Correctional Facility is the only privately run prison we work in. At the end of August, the Management and Training Corporation (MTC) will assume administration of the prison. In 2015, the Lockhart Unit was converted to an all-female facility that houses 1,000 inmates. We look forward to working with MTC because of their emphasis on education and training and the use of Gender Responsive practices. The Lockhart Unit is where Truth Be Told began fifteen years ago and where we have always offered the most programing. Lockhart houses the least restrictive, G1 and G2, custody level inmates and has an onsite prison work program in partnership with a private company. This is the only facility where we offer Let’s Get Real to help women with a release date of nine months or less prepare for returning to the community.

TDCJ Hilltop Unit is in Gatesville. This is a smaller facility with about 500 inmates with G1-3 custody levels. Our monthly Exploring Creativity Workshops are provided for the 28 women who are housed together in the Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP). These women really appreciate the creative aspects TBT brings to promote healing, such as writing, movement, and improvisation.

TDCJ psychologist, Anne Mooney, LCSW Program Supervisor, asserts, “Women who commit sexual offenses have a distorted understanding of emotional relationships. Within the therapeutic community, offenders have an opportunity to develop and practice healthier ways of interacting. Women gain the skills to identify and meet their emotional needs. The treatment requires tough honesty, but they agree that the healing is worth it.”

TDCJ Dr. Lane Murray Unit is another of the cluster of women’s prisons in Gatesville. It houses 1,341 women with G1-4 custody levels and is the only prison we go to that has Administrative Segregation or “Ad Seg” which the Handbook explains as:

“Administrative segregation, refers to offenders who must be separated from the general population because they are dangerous, either to other offenders or staff, or they are in danger from other offenders… These offenders leave their cells, for the most part, only for showers and limited recreation.”

Women in Ad Seg can’t attend our programs, but just walking by their building drives home the harsher realities of prisons; they call out from their windows and toss pieces of paper to get attention. The Murray Unit is where we have come to know more women with longer sentences, 20 years, 35 years, whose convictions are connected to more grievous crimes. The dynamics of working with women who are facing many years in prison are leading us to shape our programs to their unique needs.

The Lady Lifers: A moving song from women in prison for life is a video from TEDx at Muncy State Prison that expresses some of their emotions.

Lady Lifers

Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, a minimum security prison with 847 women, is the only federal-level facility we visit. It sits on a former community college campus that isn’t even completely fenced. The inmates are non-violent offenders with average sentences of five years. They know that if they left the grounds they would be moved to maximum security and have years added to their sentences. Even though the facility has an abundance of programs, the administration asked Truth Be Told to provide Talk To Me because it is unlike any other program. Facilitating at FPC Bryan feels a little like going to a community college to teach a class.

Travis County Jail in Del Valle houses about 2,500 men and women in a variety of stages with the criminal justice system. We work with women in two programs that the jail Social Services Director administers, PRIDE for the general population and PEACE for women in maximum security. Women get in the program because they expect to be there for at least a few weeks, but most are working their way through the court system and have not yet been sentenced. They are dealing with legal uncertainties (what their final charges will be, what court they will go to, and what type of plea bargain they will be offered) and emotional personal uncertainties (who will take care of their children, will their families stand by them). Because of these factors Making Connections is 20 stand-alone classes that help with emotional well being and self-management.


Thank You for Empowering More Voices

In 2014 you helped us serve women in four prisons and our county jail.  Our semester-long prison programs graduated 152 women.  More than 200 women participated in jail classes.  Hundreds more attended holiday performances of God in Human Form and monthly Exploring Creativity Workshops. We were able to employ an executive director; revamp our website; upgrade our database and case management software; and engage in a program evaluation.  We received four grants and were inspired by your support during Amply Austin, our 2014 Pledge Drive and #GivingTuesday.

Sara Hickman, Sarah Alarcon, Greg Downing, Lynn Kindler, & Simcha Reader’s Group lifted eighty-six hearts with song, slam poetry, laughter, and story telling at the
GEO Lockhart Facility 14th annual God in Human Form Performance.



Dara Musick graduated with honors from ACC and as the recipient of the Presidential Student Achievement Award, gave an inspiring speech at commencement.  Dara continues to give back by sharing her story behind bars, bringing hope to women who have walked her walk. Read more about Dara.




Conspirare & Ruthie Foster lifted hearts and released healing tears in a most moving performance at the Travis County Correctional Facility.  Ninety women along with volunteers and staff, including Sheriff Hamilton, were inspired and left with glistening cheeks and humbled hearts.



To hear more empowered voices of the women we serve,
listen to Teri and Donna.

Please remember Truth Be Told as you consider your end of giving.

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

Photo copyright by

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.”




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.

Ginger’s First Day

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Ginger is one of 4 new facilitators-in-training at the GEO Lockhart Unit this Spring Semester.  She shares with us about her experience of her very first day Behind Bars.

Ginger PhotoTruth Be Told orientation day was last week.  Five of us went into GEO Lockhart Prison to meet the women, introduce the Talk To Me classes, and go through a process of starting this truth-telling journey together.  As a facilitator-in-training, I was kind of straddling the two realms – I live in the “free world” and my work is to learn how to facilitate classes on my own in the future, and I am fully a class participant, along with the women who live in the prison, and my work is to tell my story.   

Every minute of the day was relevant and important.  It began as soon as I saw Katie at the front door of her house, and continued as we drove over to Callahan’s General Store and picked up Donna.  Katie facilitates the writing class that I’ll be doing, and Donna facilitates the speaking class.  The three of us drove out to Lockhart and the conversation in the car was alive and connected to the purpose, and fun.  We met up with my co-facilitators-in-training, Margarita and Jill, at Reyna’s Mexican Bakery and Café where we shared and listened and laughed and bonded as a group.  Then we drove over to the prison in the same car, strengthening our easy connection with conversation and togetherness.

 I started to feel my nerves upon entering the prison.  My expectations were stronger than I realized, causing some tension around protocol and rules.

The process of entry (checking in, getting badges, metal detector, pat-down, walking through several armored doors) was good to be doing in this group of new friends.

We arrived in the gym and it was essentially empty, just a few chairs, tables and a sound system set up for our presentation, and there were two women in their blue uniforms, smiling and greeting us as if we were old friends.  They had done the program before and were on the set-up crew.  I noticed my nerves were tweaked out though I really didn’t know why at this point.  After a while, women started to arrive, carrying their plastic chairs.  They came!  Something in me started to relax a bit.  We were actually going to do this thing.  A woman who I sat next to told me she is using this time in prison as an opportunity to know herself.  I felt humble in her presence.

Katie led the orientation and Donna spoke and the three facilitators-in-training were introduced.  At some point I looked back at one of the women who had greeted us at the door, because there was something about her specifically that touched something specific in me.  I looked back and was flooded with a painful memory.  She had reminded me of something from my past that I had not felt into, until that day.  I cried quietly as the presentation continued.

And I started to notice that actually most, if not all, women there felt like mirrors into something in me.  Though they are incarcerated for various crimes, I experienced myself with them, how common our human lives really are.  I felt connected, humbled, fairly disoriented from my usual mindset, and alive.

In my own healing years, I’ve at times looked for some sort of prison like this.  For a while there, I couldn’t face the world, knowing what I was discovering from my own past, about my own trauma.  I committed myself to silent meditation retreats instead of state penitentiaries.  These days I am learning how to live, for real, in the free world.  And the thing is, this journey is a continual diving back into the places in me that are still locked away.  I’m thankful for the wisdom of the Truth Be Told community, for knowing that we cannot facilitate that which we cannot be with in our own lives.  Tomorrow is the first Talk To Me Circle in which I get to fully participate as an inmate, and I get to learn about facilitating through Katie’s guidance.  Again, it is simply humbling to be walking around out here; free to live my life, and to also know I am incarcerated.


Ginger McGilvray grew up in Central Texas and lives in Austin.  She is a Licensed Massage Therapist and yoga/movement instructor and she is a Hakomi Practitioner-in-training (Hakomi is a mindfulness-based, body-centered form of psychotherapy).  She is a lifelong dancer and writer and she has an affinity for working with people who are in healing process in their lives, such as related to trauma, cancer and addiction. She also works with end of life care.  There is a popular quote by Howard Thurman that pretty much summarizes Ginger’s intention:  “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

A Co-Founder’s Journey: Nathalie Sorrell’s Story

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We thought that readers and supporters might like to know the story behind Truth Be Told, and that of its founders. Today we share with you a Q&A with Nathalie Sorrell, TBT co-founder and Behind Bars director.

How did you come to start Truth be Told?

Nathalie speaks at the 2011 annual TBT luncheon

My spiritual life has been important to me since I was 12 years old. Being honest with myself and others, and walking my talk has been a goal all my adult life Seeking personal and spiritual growth tools and passing them on has been my joy and passion. I loved being with church ladies like myself and nurtured and ministered to women friends and church ladies for the years from 35-52. But every spiritual person has to face at some point what they are willing to do that is outside their comfort zone, for the simple reason that it is spiritually unsound and inconsistent to always stay within the boundaries of what we are used to.

I was afraid of being face to face with people in great need.

I had a middle class, financially secure upbringing, with stable, strong and consistent role models in my parents. I did not identify with nor feel emotionally safe with people who were down and out, in poverty, or beyond the bounds of polite society. When I finally made the decision to do something about the shame I felt for having a life easier than others and for avoiding doing anything other than giving money from a distance – I chose to start with visiting women in prison. It was not a noble reason. I felt less guilt since I couldn’t be expected to take them home with me, than I felt when I fed the homeless and went home to my good house with extra rooms. So I got the TDCJ training required of any TDCJ volunteer. There I met a British, Jewish woman from Lockhart who wanted to do something to help women with their self-esteem. I learned Lockhart prison was the closest prison to Austin with female population.

When my new friend learned I was a Christian, she said “You have to go through a chaplain to volunteer. You can speak their language, I don’t. Will you go meet with the Chaplain and find out if there is something we can do together?” I was delighted at the idea of helping women with their self-esteem, and didn’t feel called toward doing anything evangelical – they already have many Bible-based programs and volunteers in prisons in Texas.

On the day I met the Chaplain- he told me there was nothing available for volunteers to do in the middle of the day, the middle of the week, which is when she and I could volunteer. I shook his hand and left – but when I got home that evening – he had called and invited me to call back right away. It turned out that a Warden had seen us talking just before I left the building, and asked him who I was and what I wanted. When he told her I was a writer/speaker who wanted to volunteer – she was ecstatic.

She had a strong desire to have a program that would teach the women to tell their stories of what brought them to prison to juveniles on probation, to keep the kids from following their footsteps to prison.

When the Chaplain said. “But we have Windham school programming and no room for volunteer programs during the day time hours” she also said, “Unbeknownst to you, I just fired the sex therapist. You can take his classroom and when we hire a new one – I will find a place.” That’s how we started, and met in the visitation room for the 1st year of our work at Lockhart prison. It was a joyous and fortuitous beginning for me and for the women, beginning in February of 2000. I invited Carol Waid, a writing friend, to come tell her story to our first graduating class. She fell in love with the women and they with her, and she settled in to help with this work. Carol invited her friend Suzanne Armistead, a dancer, to come to a graduation – and in the next 2 years, Suzanne and Carol started their own Talk to Me Classes – taking our program from one (telling your story through public speaking class called Talk to Me Speaking) to three, by adding Talk to Me Circle(Writing) and Talk to Me Movement classes. At the end of 2003, at Carol and Suzanne’s initiative, we become a nonprofit named Truth Be Told, and had our first board.

Nathalie Sorrell (far right) with Truth Be Told graduates

Why do you feel this work is so important?

Women in prison are an invisible part of our community. Most of us do not want to know or think about or see them. Most of us do not want them as neighbors. Most have been abused and been victims long before they became perpetrators of crimes.

Truth Be Told offers practical and creative tools (4 C’s – Communication Skills, Community Building, Creativity and Caring for Self) to these women to heal from their past, and choose a different path for themselves for their future. Most of them are mothers. IF they practice using these tools while they’re still in prison, then practice them when they are released into a society who mostly still doesn’t want to see them or hear from them or offer them housing or jobs … they may be able to break the pattern of abuse and neglect that brought them to prison before it’s too late to be a different kind of role model for their children.

In our classes, these traumatized women who’ve lived affected by family secrets for years, now tell their stories in a safe community. They learn the tools of communicating their truth and listening respectfully to others. They are building communities of women who share their values, and learning not to betray themselves and in most cases, each other. They experience the transformative power of expressing formerly destructive emotions through the arts. They learn that being themselves and doing every assignment in their unique way is a creative act. They are learning to care for themselves enough to value their way of being and doing things in the world, and they are learning techniques for self- comforting and self-care in a prison environment where it is against the rules to hug or have tender, nurturing physical contact with each other, officers or in many cases, volunteers.

They will come out, most of them, and be part of our world. We believe it is important to give them tools to heal and accept their past, and make it fertilizer for a future that is healthy. And that’s not even mentioning what it does for the volunteers. Every volunteer is expected to look at the prison she has experience and helped to create in her own life, through her decisions. And she uses the same tools (4 Cs) in all her interactions with the women we serve and with each other. There is not a prison facilitator who doesn’t feel that this work has changed her for the better. We mostly feel that we get more than we give. Our world is a better place for our doing this work and learning about ourselves in relationship to these women.

What is one major thing that YOU have received back from your work with TBT?

I was born a show-and-tell girl to parents who were not performers, nor even particularly valuing of spoken communication skills. (We all love good writers.) I am a personal and spiritual growth junkie, and I can’t get enough of meaningful relationships and spiritual adventures. These traits can cause me grief or joy, depending on how much time I spend around the people who would prefer I sit still and hush up, or who delight in what comes naturally to me. At the prison, there is a captive audience of women who choose my class. They seem to value every single thing I do – and think my willingness to share my experiences and tools and stories and life with them is GREAT! They love my undivided attention, ask for my guidance, follow it and come back to report how it turned out. What Mom and wife in our world wouldn’t love this opportunity! My own family is relieved I have this outlet for my relentless navel- gazing and intense love of these topics.

Co-founders Nathalie Sorrell (front right) and Carol Waid (front left) at the 2011 Facilitator Pilot Training

What are some of the most recent developments at TBT that you are excited about?

At the end of September 2011, we completed a pilot training project, and are learning how to prepare others to do this work with incarcerated women in prisons or jails near them.

In 2012, we need funding to complete and find a way through marketing and social media and word of mouth to offer this remarkable TBT Model Program Tool Kit, and offer trainings that combine online work, teleconference calls, and an on-site weekend training in Austin.

We need women with a heart for women whose lives have been messy, and ideally some leadership skills in facilitating groups, and ideally, some prison experience or experience with women in poverty to be able to step into this work and start it in prisons where we aren’t already doing it.

Our free annual lunch fundraiser is a guaranteed meaningful and interesting 1 hour where you’ll meet some of our graduates from around Texas, hear their stories and an incredibly voice singing about being CHANGED, see a film of the work in the prison, and be asked in a low key way in the last 8 minutes to consider contributing financially to our work. I may be a church lady – but this work is based on the idea of a higher power as defined by each person. We are spiritually free thinkers of every kind: Buddhist, Jewish, native American, 12 step practitioners.