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Graduates inspire community members to reimagine justice for women

In early June, about 100 guests gathered to witness the change that is possible when justice is reimagined for women. At the second annual Community of Changemakers: An Evening of Hope and Transformation, dinner guests heard the stories and witnessed the creativity of Truth Be Told program graduates who are now free and bravely living out the change they wish to see in their lives.

The dinner program inspired many in attendance to follow the example of Truth Be Told graduates and become part of the change. Collectively, they doubled the size of Truth Be Told’s recurring monthly donor list and raised nearly $15,000 to support the Austin nonprofit in providing gender-responsive programs and safe community for women during and after incarceration.

Their Truth Being Told

Laurie Pherigo — a program graduate who also facilitates Truth Be Told’s Let’s Get Real reentry program at Lockhart Women’s Correctional Facility and serves as Truth Be Told’s administrative assistant — was the emcee for the evening.

Graduate Kathy* kicked off the program by sharing part of her personal journey to self-forgiveness and self-acceptance within the safe setting of a Truth Be Told classroom inside prison. Kathy graduated from four Truth Be Told programs while incarcerated, to include Talk to Me Speaking in 2011, Talk to Me Writing twice in 2012 and in 2014, Living Deeper & Freer in 2015, and several Exploring Creativity workshops in 2017. In her speech, titled “We Are More Than,” Kathy shared how she not only invested in herself while in prison, but she also began investing in Truth Be Told, sending modest donations to the Austin nonprofit from her prison account. A little more than two years free from incarceration, Kathy continues to regularly support Truth Be Told’s work.

“I want to give other women the opportunity to learn that what they have done or what has been done to them is not who they are,” she said, “the opportunity to learn their actions are based on their beliefs and they can — at any moment, beginning now — choose to change their unhealthy beliefs to healthy beliefs that will bring about positive actions — just as we all can. The opportunity to learn they are likable, acceptable, even lovable. The opportunity to accept and like themselves, even love themselves. And the opportunity to learn they can change the beliefs and behaviors they don’t like.”

Laurie next introduced Samantha LaPierre, a gifted poet, visual artist and public speaker. While incarcerated, Samantha graduated in 2017 from Dr. Stephanie Covington’s evidence-based Healing Trauma course, which is exclusively offered through Truth Be Told at Lockhart Women’s Correctional Facility. She also graduated from Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me Movement program in the spring of 2018 — returning in the fall as a classroom mentor. Samantha, who traveled all day via Greyhound bus to speak at the Community of Changemakers event, is one of the newest members of Truth Be Told’s “beyond bars” community of program graduates, having completed her sentence and returned home from prison in April. She told her Truth Be Told facilitators while still incarcerated that she “couldn’t wait to be a part of Truth Be Told beyond bars.” At the dinner program, Samantha shared how she learned in the Talk to Me class to connect with and listen to her “inner wise woman” — and how that self-awareness has fundamentally changed the way she shows up for herself, her children, her family and community. She closed by reciting a poem titled, “Bags,” which she had written prior to going to prison. The poem spoke of sorting through bags of clothes and noticing how every piece of clothing represented a life that no longer fit her. Sam told the audience that her inner wise woman has always been there; the difference is now she listens to her.

Laurie next introduced the keynote speaker, Dara Musick. At age 14, after surviving years of abuse in the family home, Dara ran away to the streets of Houston, where she began what she calls “a 25-year dance with death.” Succumbing to a methamphetamine addiction, Dara did whatever it took to support her habit. She shared how she cycled in and out of juvenile detention centers and ultimately served six prison sentences that took her into her 20s and spanned most of her 30s. It was during this time that Dara first walked into a Truth Be Told classroom and learned about a set of tools called the 4 Cs: Community, Communication, Creativity and Caring for Self.

She shared how, since leaving prison for the last time in 2010, practicing the 4 Cs in daily life has kept her free. Despite a sixth grade education, Dara earned two college degrees and now works as a licensed chemical dependency counselor. She spoke of how she now shares the 4 Cs with her clients in recovery.

“They’ve added a fifth C,” she said, “compassion.”

Dara is also a vocal advocate for criminal justice transformation and regularly returns to prison with Truth Be Told to inspire the women enrolled in our Talk to Me and Let’s Get Real programs.

The dinner program concluded with a movement piece titled, “Beat Again,” a concept developed by Samantha and originally performed by Samantha and her peers inside Lockhart Correctional Facility at the fall 2018  Talk to Me graduation. In the The beyond bars encore performance was performed by 10 Truth Be Told graduates who are free and living the change they want to see in their lives.

Truth Be Told would like to thank those who donated items for the Community of Changemakers auction: Wink Restaurant and Wine Bar, ASTI Trattoria, quilter Janice Sneed and graduate artist Kelly Nordick for a beautiful painting she titled “Dreaming On Your Feet.”

Also, a huge thank you to Kristina Schlegel for designing the printed programs and to Linda Valencia for capturing the inspirational evening in pictures. Last, but certainly not least, a deep bow of gratitude to our amazing co-hosts — a stellar team of “beyond bars” program graduates whose presence, grace and helping hands made the 2019 Community of Changemakers dinner an evening to remember: Barbara Ornelas, Chelsea Williams, Dara Musick, Kathy*, Kelly Nordick, Lauren Johnson, Laurie Pherigo, Margie O’Neal, Rutanya Mitchner, Samantha LaPierre and Sandra Roller.

*Only first name given to respect graduate’s wishes.

One Response to Graduates inspire community members to reimagine justice for women

  1. Thanks to all behind the scenes who make both events and news and photos available to show what Truth be Told is doing in what Carol and I called “beyond bars programs.” In 2000, when I met Rutanya and Kathy at another prison, I was grateful they both showed up and stayed connected to the offerings Carol & I participated in at a chaplains and a substance abuse coordinators request. As Lockhart’s wardens invited us to create the classes that became core curriculum, we never dreamed that women we’d already met at Hobby would show up. Reunions whether in or out of prison are powerful reminders that a power greater than ourselves is at work! Loved seeing the photos! Thank you!

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