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.


Teens Making a Difference – Bravo!

28 07 2009

Remember summers when you were a teenager? Going to the movies or the pool with friends, gossiping or talking to your boyfriend or girlfriend on the phone, hanging out at the mall, etc.? Three Houston siblings…Stephen (18), Melanie (17), and Dianna (14) Muldrow…have much bigger things on their mind this summer. They have organized a concert to be held at Houston’s Jones Hall on August 29th to benefit organizations that work to combat human trafficking.

The concert features renowned musicians: 3 pianists, a clarinetist, 2 violinists, and one viola player. You can find more information about the concert at

Houston is one of the major corridors of human trafficking. I wrote a blog post about cantina workers being trafficked there.

Muldrow Family

Muldrow Family - Credit:

The Muldrow children are home schooled and quite accomplished. Their parents have obviously instilled in their children a sense of compassion, caring, and desire to help others.

From their website:

“Part of a family of 10 children born and raised here in the Houston area, Stephen, Melanie, and Dianna encourage all young people to stand up and use this time in their lives to make a difference in the world around them!”

They have a Facebook page if you’d like to join their cause and be kept up to date. They also welcome donations and/or you can purchase tickets to the concert on their Broken Cords web page.

Bravo to Stephen, Melanie, and Dianna for the work you’re doing to help victims of trafficking! You are real heroes.

Land Me on the Moon

19 07 2009

July 20, 2009 is the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing and walk. Neil Armstrong uttered those famous words “One small step for man, one giant

Buzz Aldrin on Moon 7/20/69 - NASA Photo by Neil Armstrong

Buzz Aldrin on Moon 7/20/69 - NASA Photo by Neil Armstrong

leap for mankind” as he became the first person ever to set foot on the moon. Buzz Aldrin was right behind him…the second man to walk on the moon. I was out with friends and we rushed home to see what was one of the most exciting things that happened during my childhood.

I cried this morning as I remembered that day. As a nation we had lost our innocence and had been shaken by several traumas: the Vietnam War and the assassinations of President Kennedy in 1963 and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King in 1968. We needed hope and something to rally around and feel good about.

At 15, I was out on the streets of Knoxville, Tennessee shopping with my mother when we heard about Dr. King’s murder. Even though we were a 7-hour drive from Memphis, we went home immediately because she feared there could be rioting on the streets. I wept profusely as I watched Robert Kennedy’s funeral just about two months after Dr. King’s murder.

Even though I had experienced the collective pain of the nation, my life was relatively untouched personally by trauma at that age. I still had a youthful innocence and boundless energy and the whole world lay before me. In a way, the moon landing restored that kind of unjaded faith and energy to our country.

And now…40 years later…I find myself in personal need of that kind of restoration. Just as at that time our country had gone through many traumas, I…now 40 years later…have gone through many traumas. I long to be that 16-year-old girl again… to have boys chasing me, to be young and beautiful, to have so many opportunities, and to have utter confidence in myself. I…like our country in 1969… want to erase the stories from the past that have caused pain and sadness and heartbreak.

President Kennedy declared on May 25, 1961:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

When will I make such a radical declaration of an ambitious goal? What will that goal be? What steps do I need to take to engineer it? How can I rally others to support me to reach a seemingly unreachable goal? When will I experience a personal moon landing that will restore my enthusiasm and belief that anything is possible? Can you relate?

Happy 40th anniversary in remembrance of a remarkable achievement that lifted a country. As we raise a champagne glass to celebrate, here’s to us each discovering what will personally land us on the moon and lift us up individually and collectively.

Here’s that first moon landing:

Celebrating International Women’s Day March 8 with a 100th Post

7 03 2009

Did you know that 70% of people living under $1 a day are women? In celebration of  International Women’s Day, I am writing my 100th post and providing some important information about women globally. First observed in the United intl-womens-day-logoStates on February 28, 1909, it is now celebrated every year on March 8th. Wikipedia includes this information about it:

International Woman’s Day (IWD) is marked on March 8 every year. It is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women. In some celebrations, the day lost its political flavour, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love to the women around them in a way somewhat similar to Mother’s Day and St Valentine’s Day mixed together. In others, however, the political and human rights theme as designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.

This year the global United Nations theme, which changes each year, is Women and men united to end violence against women and girls. Here are some statistics on violence against women from the United Nations website:

  • Today, many women – in some countries as many as one in three – are beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetimes.
  • Worldwide, one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.
  • Half of the women who die from homicides are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.
  • For women aged 15 to 44 years, violence is a major cause of death and disability.
  • More than 80 percent of trafficking victims are women.
  • More than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation.
  • 4 out of every 10 births in the world are not attended by a doctor or healthcare professional, resulting in maternal mortality being the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age in developing countries.
  • On the basis of data collected from 24,000 women in 10 countries, between 55 percent and 95 percent of women who have been physically abused by their partners have never contacted NGOs, shelters or the police for help.

Here are some other interesting facts about women globally. All are sourced from  

  • 2/3 of the world’s illiterate adults are female and 2/3 of the world’s uneducated children are girls. Educating girls is considered the single most effective strategy for economic growth.
  • Women do 2/3 of the world’s work, but receive only 1/10 of the world’s income.
  • Females in developing countries on average carry 20 liters (5.3 gallons) of water per day over 6km (3.7 miles). 
  • Only 21% of all news subjects (people interviewed or whom the news is about) are female. 
  • The Global Gender Gap Report measures the size of the gender gap (the disparity in opportunities available for men and women) for 130 countries in four critical areas: economic participation and opportunity, health and survival, educational attainment, and political empowerment. Here are how some countries ranked, with 100% representing gender equality.
    • Norway, Finland, and Sweden – all around 82%
    • Iceland (80%)
    • New Zealand (79%)
    • Phillippines, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the U.K. – 74% – 76%
    • United States (72%) – 27th on the list
    • Chad, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Yemen (the worst at 47%) at the bottom of the list

We have a long way to go for women to realize the same rights as men, the same freedoms as men, the same education as men, the same freedom from violence as men, the same health care as men, the same pay as men, etc. etc. Take the time to appreciate the women in your life and all over the world.

Here’s a video about gender equality that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) put together to celebration International Women’s Day. As the video says, “It begins with me, it begins with you, it begins with us.” Take a look.


What the World Needs Now: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

10 12 2008

“It’s not my problem,” you say? Maybe you’d like to swap places even for a day with those with little or no basic human rights. We have lost respect for the basic human rights of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. We allow atrocities to continue or commit them against our fellow human beings: rape, slavery, human trafficking, starvation, torture, rendition, genocide, horrendous work conditions, refugee camps, battered women, child molestation, child abuse, less pay for women, “honor” killings of women, female genital mutilation, racism, sexual violence as an instrument of war, and so many more.

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the committee that drafted these rights and they were adopted in December, 1948 as a response to the brutality of World War II. Here she is addressing the United Nations on the ratification of the UDHR:

So many of us bury ourselves in busyness and complacency. We are quick to express anger, to battle, to go to war. We are slow – or unable – to express love, acceptance, compassion, inclusivity, and peacefulness. Remember Dionne Warwick singing “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love”? Take a listen and  remember that every person on the planet is deserving of basic human rights. Do your part to respect, care for, and love your brothers and sisters on the planet.

 And if that doesn’t do it for you, take a listen to Aretha singing her classic “RESPECT”…that and love are what we all need.

Pilgrims to a Deadly Hajj

7 12 2008

I lived in Jeddah during the violent 1979 Hajj. I’m reminded of it because the 2008 Hajj began on Friday and ends Wednesday. Muslims are fulfilling their command to do a pilgrimage to the holiest Islamic city of Mecca at least once during a lifetime. Jeddah is about 40-50 miles from Mecca and is the gateway to Mecca. Busloads of  Muslims with meager belongings wrapped in a blanket are transported out of Jeddah to Mecca to participate in the pilgrimage. The traffic at that time of year is just unbelievable with the influx of 3 million people, and there is an increased risk of disease.


One can imagine that 3 million people descending into Mecca this year on the heels of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai is a concern. Saudi Arabia has 100,000 security people in place during the Hajj to keep it peaceful.

The 1979 Hajj was far from peaceful. On November 20, 1979 the Grand Mosque was seized. The Grand Mosque surrounds the Kaaba, the place that Muslims turn toward as they do their 5-times-a-day prayer, and Muslims consider it the holiest place on Earth. Muslims circle the Kaaba seven times as part of the ritual of the Hajj.

Wikipedia says that the Grand Mosque seizure:

…was an attack and takeover by armed Islamic fundamentalist dissidents of the Al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest place in Islam. The insurgents declared that the Mahdi, or redeemer of Islam, had arrived in the form of one of the insurgents’ leaders, Abdullah Hamid Mohammed Al-Qahtani and called on Muslims to obey him.

The story of what happened would make a good thriller movie. Just as prayers were to start, about 500 insurgents took out guns from under their robes, chained the gates shut, took the 50,000 worshippers hostage, and killed several policemen. They released most of the hostages, but put snipers in the towers and held off attempts by security and the army to retake the Mosque. A special fatwa was issued so that the Ministry of Defense could use deadly force because the Qur’an forbids any violence within the Grand Mosque. The city of Mecca was evacuated.

The insurgents, who were anti-Western, broadcast messages constantly during the siege over the loud speakers and demanded that oil exports to the U.S. be cut off and that all foreign civilian and military experts from the Arabian peninsula be expelled.

Many attempts were made to storm the insurgents and finally, after two weeks, grenades were launched and the surviving insurgents surrendered.

Wikipedia gives these casualty numbers:

The battle officially left “255 pilgrims, troops and fanatics” killed “another 560 injured … although diplomats suggested the toll was higher.” Military casualties were 127 dead and 451 injured.

A half-brother of Osama bin Laden may have been involved in the siege and may have actually transported the guns in before the siege through trucks being used in the ongoing Mosque renovation.

It was a very tense time. Armed soldiers with machine guns stood guard about every 15 feet on every street in Jeddah. I was the music director for “The Princess and the Pea” and we were in rehearsals at that time. We were stopped while traveling the streets at nights, asked where we were going, and told to get off the streets.

The immediate aftermath of the siege continued to be violent, as described in Wikipedia:

Muslim anti-American demonstrations followed in the Philippines, Turkey, Bangladesh, India, eastern Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emigrates and Pakistan. Anger fueled by these rumors peaked within hours in Islamabad, Pakistan, and on November 21, 1979, the day following the takeover, the U.S. embassy in that city was overrun by a mob, who then burned the embassy to the ground. A week later, this anger swept to the streets of Tripoli, Libya, where a mob attacked and burned the U.S. embassy there on December 2, 1979.

Perhaps the most disturbing development to come out of the 1979 takeover of the Grand Mosque was the eventual revelation of prime organizer al-Utaibi’s connection to the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

The rebels’ leader, Juhayman, was captured, and he and 67 of his fellow rebels—”all the surviving males”—were tried secretly, convicted and publicly beheaded in the squares of four Saudi cities.

Wikipedia goes on to say that after this attack happened,  Saudi Arabia implemented stricter enforcement of Islamic code. Crackdowns were made on shopkeepers who didn’t close at prayer time, pictures of women in magazines, etc. I got caught in the back of a shop during prayer time when the store closed down. The owner didn’t know I was there and was very upset when he found me. He told me to get, with my children, down on the floor so he wouldn’t be found out. I also remember that if magazines showed a woman with a bare belly, the belly was blacked out with a marker. I could quote many more strict examples.

The Hajj of 1979 was very violent, perhaps the 9/11 for Muslims and Saudi Arabia. We hope for a peaceful pilgrimage this year.

WORLD AIDS DAY – December 1

30 11 2008

A gay friend of mine told me that in the 1980s he was going to a friend’s funeral every week, sometimes twice a week – all due to AIDS. We must keep AIDS and HIV at the forefront of our consciousness and thus we have World AIDS Day, which is about raising money, increasing awareness, fighting prejudice, and improving education.

Q. Why are bloggers involved?

A. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of HIV/AIDS Policy’s came to BloggersUnite to ask us to come together to share information about HIV/AIDS.

Q. How does AIDS differ from HIV?

A. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that “Having AIDS means that the virus has weakened the immune system to the point at which the body has a difficult time fighting infection. When someone has one or more specific infections, certain cancers, or a very low number of T cells, he or she is considered to have AIDS.”

Q. What are some basic numbers associated with AIDS/HIV?

A. 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV. 1 million people have HIV in U.S. Of new cases of HIV in the U.S. (either sex), 49% are African-Americans. Men having sex with men (MSM) account for 53% of new cases of HIV. 2.5 million children have AIDS. 25,000 Americans don’t know they are HIV positive. About half of people are infected with HIV before the age of 25 and are killed by AIDS before they are 35 years old. Around 15% to 20% of adults are infected with HIV in South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Q. What is being done?

A. Here are two of many positive things being done to help with HIV/AIDS:

  • AVERT is an international AIDS charity based in the UK. They have projects in areas where AIDS is rapidly spreading such as India and where there are high rates of infection such as sub-Saharan Africa.
  • NIDA has developed a Learn the Link: HIV + Drugs campaign to make American youth aware that using drugs and/or drinking can lead to HIV infection. Here is a video they put together to make this important point:

Q. What can you do?

A. Get tested. Urge your partner or friends to get tested. Use a condom. Don’t drink and have unprotected sex. Don’t think you’re invincible and that it won’t happen to you. It just could.

One in Three…ONE IN THREE

25 11 2008

One in three women have been affected. It has affected my family and probably yours, too. Violence against women. Nicole Kidman, Goodwill Ambassador for UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, joined others in participating in several events at the UN today as part of today’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which has been marked since 1981. She handed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon over 5 million signatures of people who have joined Say No to Violence against Women. The United Nations, under Ki-Moon’s leadership, has a campaign called Unite to End Violence Against Women. Here is a statement released today by the Secretary-General:

We need to do more to enforce laws and counter impunity. We need to combat attitudes and behaviour that condone, tolerate, excuse or ignore violence committed against women. And we need to increase funding for services for victims and survivors. I am determined to strengthen these efforts, including through my global campaign “UNiTE to end violence against women”, which aims to raise public awareness, increase political will and resources and create a supportive environment to make good on existing policy commitments.

Here is Nicole Kidman speaking about stopping gender violence:

Today also begins the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. This program is sponsored by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and began in 1991. This year’s theme is “Human Rights for Women <–> Human Rights for All.” The Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University “…develops and facilitates women’s leadership for women’s human rights and social justice worldwide.”

Here is an UNIFEM video well worth watching about what the UN Trust Fund is doing to help women:

If you’d like to know more about what you can do, visit the Stop Violence Against Women website. StopVAW is a project by The Advocates for Human Rights and has a newsletter, which you can sign up for. Amnesty International also has a Stop Violence Against Women program.

Here in Austin is the nationally-acclaimed Austin SafePlace, which “works to end sexual and domestic violence and abuse.” I went through their training and volunteered on their hotline years ago.

Lest you think that violence against women happens in other countries, Amnesty International reports that one woman in the U.S. is raped every 6 minutes and one woman is battered every 15 seconds.  Let’s work together to eliminate violence against women all over the world.

Remembering the Sacrifices of Many on Veterans Day

11 11 2008

Section 60 is where Iraq and Afghanistan casualties are buried in Arlington Cemetery. The “Section 60” documentary on HBO is a moving reminder that war comes with a huge cost. This special takes a quiet look at mothers, wives, children, and others who come to visit the graves of their deceased family members. CLICK HERE to keep reading