Congratulations to the New Graduates…in Prison

28 09 2009

A letter to the women in the Lockhart, Texas prison who just graduated from the Truth be Told program

You had no choice but to wear matching dull blue v-neck formless pullover tops and pants, white t-shirts, and tennis shoes. I had the freedom to choose to wear a peridot-green peasant blouse, black capri pants, and close-toed (a requirement) black heels. I wore jewelry. You did not. I freely came in from the outside, handed over my driver’s license, and was escorted into the gymnasium with 17 other women and 2 men who chose (and were pre-screened) to attend your graduation. You, too, were escorted there, but after graduation, you stayed in the prison. I went home.

Despite our marked differences in freedom, we came together to celebrate your graduation from the Truth Be Told program. I recognized the 10 of you in the Talk to Me Speaking Class from when I had the privilege of evaluating five of your this-is-my-life speeches. Many of you ran to me, hugged me, and said how happy you were that I was there. I felt real joy in seeing you and delight in sitting between two of you. Three of you spoke and my heart filled with pride that you so openly and skillfully shared the story of what came before that led to you being in prison.

Three of the nine women from the Talk to Me Circle Class also spoke and shared your stories and three women from the Talk to Me Movement Class delighted us with your expressiveness and impressive moves in the Michael Jackson “Beat It” number. Charlotte leaned over and told me it was the first time she’d heard music (from a loud speaker) in three years.

Walking through History - Purchased from iStockPhotoYou told us stories of being sexually abused as a child, a mother who allowed such abuse toward you and even toward your children, a father who beat your mother, using drugs to dim emotional pain, being forced to sell drugs or to prostitute yourself to support your children, being beaten by men who you thought loved you, never feeling loved, joining a gang to find a sense of belonging, having to give up children, being in and out of prison, and more.

Your stories touched everyone who attended. We gathered afterward to name our feelings: grateful, joyful, amazed at your courage and honesty, a sense of sisterhood with you, pride, recognition and acknowledgment of your pain and what you’ve been through, and honored to have had the opportunity to bear witness to your stories.

The Truth be Told volunteers who facilitate the classes are amazing: Peggy Lamb, Julie Wylie, Natalie Weinstein, Katie Ford, Mary Gifford, and co-founders Carol Waid and Nathalie Sorrell. You are fortunate to have women who are so passionate, so talented, so intelligent, so giving, and so caring guide you in walking your life toward making healthy choices and feeling hopeful for a better tomorrow.

As amazing as your facilitators are, I wonder if you ladies in the Truth be Told program realize how much you give to those who work with you. We feel your humanness, that you are our sisters, and that but for different life choices and circumstances, the roles could be reversed…we could be in prison and you could be on the outside. We see your courage, your vulnerability, your willingness to be open and honest, your admission of bad choices, and your desire to turn your lives around. We admire you, we are Truth Be Told Logoin awe of you, we are touched by you, and we take you with us as we leave.

The experience of being in prison with you and hearing your stories lasts long after we leave the facility.  We share our experience with those we care about and they share it with still others. Something changes in us. We develop an even deeper understanding that we are all one and must do what we can to lift each other up.

Thank you, dear Truth be Told graduates. Take in all the applause we gave you at the graduation and continue to give you every time we think of you. You are changing your lives…and ours…for the better. And that’s the truth.

Become a fan of Truth be Told on Facebook.

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5 responses

29 09 2009
sidhe

Totally awesome, I became a fan on FB.

5 10 2009
Nathalie Sorrell

Diane- beautifully written; you paint the picture… I am so delighted that you have found this work inspiring and rewarding, as I also do. These women are so hungry for creativity, inspiration, valuable work and most especially, respectful listening and witnessing. We all want that, and most haven’t had enough — but audience members like yourself can bring about a remarkable amount of healing in one evening. Prison can be a place of transition and renewal when folks like you come in – and share the overflow of the gifts we all take for granted out here! I’m GRATEFUL! Nathalie

6 10 2009
Jennifer Denton

As a former prison inmate at Lockhart who graduated TBT classes, I appreciated the women who not only taught us the inspirational gifts that they did but the women who did take the time to come back to our graduation and listen to our stories. Since I have left Lockhart I have even done television interviews about my experiences. My firm belief in life is that “my mess… is my message” So the message that I give I am glad to have even one listener. If I change 1 persons life with my message I will be complete. Thank you to Diane for such a well written piece and to Carol and Nathalie, you 2 women changed my life for the better by your gifts.

12 10 2009
conspiretheatre

Hi Diane – I stumbled across your site while reading about Lockhart Prison. I’m starting a company called Conspire Theatre that works with incarcerated women. Check out my site – http://www.conspiretheatre.org. I’d love to talk to you more.

You may recognize the WordPress layout!

17 12 2009
Shaquana Robinson

I just wanted to say that ive been home for 2years i was at lochart prison for 4years and i was a part of truth be tokd also i still have my certificate it was a blessing to have ladies that didnt know me took their time to be with the women i was the first to start the class so im glad its still going on i have been on the right track you can go to prison and change thank you

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