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Free since August 2019
Arianna graduated from Truth Be Told’s “healing through storytelling” program called Talk to Me at Bryan Federal Prison Camp. Just last month, she celebrated one year of freedom from incarceration. In that short time, she completed a city health department community reentry network program and received special recognition among her peers at graduation. She now works as a youth peer specialist at a mental health services center and began school this month to become a licensed chemical dependency counselor.
Of her peer specialist role, Arianna says: “I work with youth, ages 10 to 20, drawing upon my own experience to help them navigate the behavioral health system by building trust, support and validation. The goal is to enhance wellness and create strategies for self-empowerment.”
Arianna also serves on the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition’s Statewide Leadership Council, a group of men and women who have been personally affected by the criminal justice system and are working to end mass incarceration.
In all of its programs, Truth Be Told espouses a set of tools called the 4 Cs: Communication, Community Building, Creativity and Caring for self. In thinking about what she wanted to share about herself during this campaign, Arianna chose to use her Creativity to make a vision board that illustrates her personal journey with mental health before, during and after incarceration. Below, she walks us through each stage of her journey.
I had to dig deep on my thoughts of dealing with mental health, and the hardest was to think of my mental health before incarceration. I dug into the roots of where my mental health struggles originated from, and most of that was trauma — trauma of being witness to a lot of violence, the trauma of having a loved one incarcerated and causing separation, and the difficulties of dealing with dyslexia at an early age.
The dyslexia turned into a lot of negative self-talk, calling myself “dumb,” “not worthy” and “inadequate.” According to a 2003 study by Prison Fellowship, nearly 58 percent of women who were incarcerated had been abused in some form and were also twice as likely to have a major depressive episode. This statistic speaks to me as a person who has been through a childhood trauma, specifically assault. Today, I am able to use my experience to help the next person who also may have been an assault victim. Then they too know it is possible to overcome what they might be struggling with due to assault.
During my incarceration, I had to figure out how I could begin to heal and start my journey of recovery. It consisted of properly taking care of myself in every way. During my depressive times, I had stopped taking care of my body. I learned how to love myself by properly feeding my body. By feeding it, I was loving it and making sure it was healthy. I learned how to exercise. I learned to use exercise as a coping skill to get through the rough days. I also spent my days reading and learning how all those words I used to call myself were incorrect. One of the places I learned this was with Truth Be Told, where I explored life events that had led me to prison. While looking at those events, I looked back on some of the major trauma in my life, and I came to a conclusion that, while some things might have been done to me, if I held on to those events, all they did was make me bitter and angry.
One of the major topics I read about was self-care. During my incarceration, I was able to start medication that helped with the symptoms of my mental health diagnosis, and I made the decision I was going to stick with it as an act of self-care. Then, once I was in Truth Be Told, I could really start to work on my healing. It was in perfect timing, because I graduated right before my release from prison.
I realized I could do all that work, but it had to count for something. After leaving prison, I was housed in a halfway house where I heard about a few resources. One resource allowed me to continue to take care of myself by continuing my medication for free, based on my income. This freed me from stressing about how I was going to afford this part of my health care.
Another resource was choosing to be part of Truth Be Told’s Beyond Bars Program and having regular (virtual) access to a safe space of nothing but loving and kind women who had also gone through Truth Be Told programs. This is important to me because it is so inspiring to see all the women who have accomplished so much — women like myself who are battling the world’s ups and downs and can support me while I experience the downs that I identify I need help in and simply hearing that I’m not alone, I’m not unique and I have someone who identifies with me in what I am going through. Then, when I celebrate, they are celebrating with me. It’s a vital part of a community to be surrounded by others who have walked the same path but might have on different shoes. To have another person say generously they have been there and know they mean it, that is priceless.
My mother is also a part of that community because she is also a Truth Be Told graduate. She’s the reason I knew about Truth Be Told when I went to prison, and I was fortunate to go to a unit where Truth Be Told offered programs.
She and I both have a tattoo on our shoulders that says tabula rasa. It’s a Latin phrase that means an absence of preconceived ideas. In order to get to that state with another person — to basically have a clean slate between the two of you — you have to understand that we all have our own paths.
My mother’s path and mine include prison. And while many things about our paths are different, there are also similarities — one being Truth Be Told. We both experienced support and love as we were invited to explore our truth in a safe environment. It was an opportunity for me to connect with and heal from traumatic events in my past, but it also led me to reconnect with my mother.
Restoration with my mother was never something I was seeking, because restoration means to return to a former condition or state. If my mother and I were to do that, in my mind, I would be reverting to an old self, and that self wasn’t healthy for either of us. Today I am thankful for Truth Be Told and the four Cs they teach us: Communication, Community Building, Creativity and Caring for self.
Honor Arianna by helping Truth Be Told raise $40,000 in 7 Days between September 21-27. All gifts made during this 7-day campaign will DOUBLE in size, thanks to a dollar-for-dollar matching pledge of up to $40,000! Your gift will ensure that Truth Be Told continues to disrupt the cycle of trauma, abuse and incarceration among generations of women. Click on $40,000 in 7 Days to make your gift today!
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