It was/is the volunteers at Truth Be Told that drew me in just four short years ago. It is because I benefit from the work that I stay. I benefit from our 'What I want you to know about me right now."check ins we engage in before heading into the prison. I benefitted from my facilitator training in that I was asked to do the work that we are asking of every woman behind bars that attends our classes. My skills as a facilitator have developed as this work puts me into an unpredictable environment asking the women to share truths about the decisions they made and the circumstances beyond their control that put them behind bars. It never ceases to amaze just how much personal transformation can occur over the fourteen short weeks of our programming. When I recently asked a graduate (no high school education) which tool she'd chosen to use over the semester that had made the biggest difference, "Gwen" raised her hand and began to explain that she had chosen to use "I" style communication. She explained how she'd used it. I was blown away by her level of articulation...she'd obviously been using the tool! I asked her how choosing to use that tool for the past 13 weeks had benefitted her. She stood up and boldly used to fists to tap her chest saying "I feel better."
I got involved with Truth Be Told as a Toastmaster. My volunteer task was to evaluate the speeches given by the women as they learned to tell the story of what got them into prison. I was blown away. The stories were powerful, personal, honest to the bone and heartbreaking. Truth Be Told helped these women form a community in which they could be rigorously honest with themselves and others. I found that almost all of these women were victims of crime long before they committed crimes of their own. But I did not hear self pity, or excuses or blame. I heard women taking responsibility, and learning to make better choices. When the women of TBT speak, the sense of healing in the room is almost palpable. I have the sense that this level of honesty, responsibility for self, and commitment to respectful listening to each other can truly transform lives. It has for over ten years now. Truth Be Told is a non-profit that walks its talk. I'm honored to be one of their volunteers.
I was a happy middle class church lady, but fearful of those who had suffered hard lives. When I came to prison to teach women speaking skills, so they could help juveniles and other women not follow in their footprints, I experienced an entirely new level of community that changed my life. All women need tools of creativity to deal with emotions, so they don't get self-destructive or destructive to others ... and communication skills so others will be able to understand and hear them ... and community building skills so they can become safe for others who share their deeper values and choose others who will not play victim/persecutor/rescuer games with them when they are most vulnerable. Inmates or not, most of us have imprisoned ourselves or been imprisoned by unhealthy patterns from the past. I LOVE being a compassionate listener to their stories, their awakening and strengthening, and a respectful witness to this mostly invisible population of wounded women. Truth be Told is doing powerful and needed work.
As a volunteer facilitator for Truth Be Told, I help the incarcerated women of Hilltop Prison in Gatesville, TX learn to tell the truth about the choices and decisions that brought them to prison and how to use that truth to create better lives for themselves and their families. When I describe what we accomplish in a 16 week program in a prison classroom it sounds impossible, but we do it, time and time again. It begins with a group of women of every age, socioeconomic, and educational background who have one thing in common – they don’t trust anyone. They have good reason not to. But within a few weeks of learning to tell and listen to each others life stories, they realize that they are listening to their own stories and they begin to connect with each other. They form a trusting community, a sisterhood of women who begin to take care of each other. That is the only way the difficult work that they take on can succeed – they create their own support system. The results are stunning. I use the word “transformation” sparingly, but I witness it over and over again as voiceless, invisible, and fearful women become confident, compelling, and compassionate individuals.
As a professional storyteller, I get to coach them as they bring their stories to life. These are rough stories, and these are tenacious women. They are also fragile, complicated, and curious. Once they have spoken out loud to others what they have been afraid to admit silently to themselves, we guide them along a new path where they can take those first steps into finding out what comes next. Activities and exercises focus on discovering untapped sources of creative expression through essays, poetry, the visual arts, and movement.
To be able to share my lifetime of experience in the creative process with this community of women is an honor and a blessing. I receive from each of them more than I can possibly give. The truth is that the hours I spend with The Women of Hilltop are the most fulfilling hours of my week. When the 16 week program ends, I know that these women have learned valuable lessons - how to reach out to each other and get through the dark times by sharing their light, their joy, and their laughter. This is why Truth Be Told is my favorite non-profit.
I first learned about Truth Be Told back in 2002, and I did some volunteer work. After it became a nonprofit, I was on the board for a couple of years. I still volunteer with the blog and social media. I am \ hooked on volunteering with Truth Be Told because it touches the lives of people who are invisible and neglected in our society, who are so grateful for attention. Truth Be Told helps women in prison and after they get out. They learn to tell/write/move their stories and gain resources to create better futures for themselves. Respectful listening is a key skill they learn in the Truth Be Told classes, and many have never really been listened to before, and they begin to find their voices. I've been to numerous graduations in the prison and every single time, I am moved to tears by the stories they tell of how they got there, told straight up. It's raw and real. You make a huge difference volunteering with Truth Be Told, and there are many ways to help.
I volunteered to attend a graduation ceremony of Truth Be Told, at Lockhart prison. The display of talent, honest emotion, and comitment i witnessed was quite staggering. I have to believe this program makes a huge difference in the lives of these women, and sets them on a path for successful living upon their release. The program leader did a very impressive job of organizing the event.
Helping people "find their voice"is one of the empowering things any of us can do for another. That is especially true for people who have become marginalized from the main stream of society. Finding one's voice gives confidence, changes self-image, puts a person in touch with a purpose for living. I do not know of a better program than Truth Be Told for doing this uplifting and life-changing work. I am deeply impressed by the work being done; it is literally salvaging people's lives. More power to them!
You can read about Truth Be Told here: www.truth-be-told.org. I've been volunteering for Truth Be Told since 2009. It began with my attending a graduation at Lockhart prison, where I witnessed female inmates bravely sharing their stories (their truths) about what led them to prison -- not the crime, per say, but the much bigger, deeper picture that his nonprofit program asks incarcerated females to explore: Looking back on your entire life, what are the decisions you have made (that you are accountable for) and the experiences you have had (that you are not responsible for) that slowly, but steadily, led you to where you are today, which is behind bars? Their stories were raw, disturbing, heartbreaking, honest, humble, accountable, eye-opening and a game-changer for me. I no longer saw these women as criminals and inmates, but as broken human beings. To someone out there, these women were grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends -- and somewhere along the way, most all of them had suffered by the hands of others first and then chosen to make decisions that would cause suffering for themselves and for others. I heard somewhere that "Hurt people hurt people, and healed people heal people." I couldn't agree more. Truth Be Told offers programming to women behind bars that evokes healing, self-understanding and self-acceptance, so that this invisible and broken population can love and forgive themselves first and then learn to love, forgive and have compassion for others. Every class we offer in prison promotes the 4 Cs: Community building, Creativity, Caring for self and Communication skills. Through a variety of methods that include creative writing, public speaking and movement, we offer opportunities for self-discovery, self-expression, truth-telling and trust-building. We are not a religious organization; we embrace all walks of faith and even those who have little or no faith. One reoccurring theme that seems to come out of these classes every semester is the new awareness that "I am not alone." It's a simple thought, but it can feel like a tremendous burden has been lifted off one's shoulders when she has been walking through life feeling like no one could possibly ever understand her or care about her anymore. We operate on a shoestring budget like most nonprofits. All our classes are facilitated by volunteers. This work is not only transformational for the women behind bars, but the women beyond bars who are dedicating their time and energy to shine light on a population of women forgotten by many. Personally, I find it difficult to point the finger anymore at where the "evil" begins. I just know that I want the healing to begin so that the cycle of crime, suffering, violence and desperation can be broken.
I’ve been volunteering with Truth be Told for about two years now. I teach a curriculum designed for a jail setting where there is a lot of turnover. The women aren’t with us long enough to go through a full curriculum and graduate so we do what we can while the women are in class.
When friends and family ask how I feel about the women, I tell them I feel great compassion for them. Some wonder about this compassion, after all, these women have allegedly committed crimes, but I look at if differently. I think we should ask ourselves if we would have done any better if we had grown up in the same conditions as these women. Instead of looking down on them we should remind ourselves that most volunteers have not experienced the amount of sexual assault, rejection, violence, or seen the heavy drug use that they have. Consider for a moment that many were innocent children who have been through hell and had nowhere to turn but to drugs or to people who led them into crime. This is where my compassion comes from.
For compassion to become transformation we must step into these uncomfortable relationships where there is great suffering. Maybe the time we take to listen and provide some tools will make the difference for just one person in the class. What a gift it would be to that person and the world.
I have volunteered for Truth Be Told (a transformational prison program) many times and am delighted with what happens with the inmates and with the volunteers - deep connection. Whether we are making art, dancing, talking, or sharing stories, the women are eager to tell their truth, sometimes for the first time. Their faces beam! They are so eager to be heard and to learn, and we volunteers always learn from them as well. I come away feeling pleased with the excellence of the program and with spending my time well.