Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars

Katie Ford is a volunteer facilitator at the GEO Lockhart Prison. The following is a piece she wrote about Truth Be Told’s “Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars” program.

 It has become a tradition to end every semester with a special event called “Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars.” In this session, we invite a Truth Be Told graduate who lives on the outside to go behind bars once again to talk about her life since leaving prison.

This past fall, our guest speaker at Lockhart Prison was Dara Musick. Her story was particularly powerful. With her permission, I’ve written a summary of what she shared with our graduates behind bars so that those who read this blog can benefit from what she had to say.

Left to Right: Graduates Debra  and Dara ; Facilitators Carol and Katie photo taken by Linda Valencia at 2012 TBT Fundraiser

Left to Right:
Graduates Debra and Dara ; Facilitators Carol and Katie
photo taken by Linda Valencia at 2012 TBT Fundraiser

Dara’s story      

Dara grew up in a very dysfunctional, abusive home. At age 14, she escaped the chaos of her home life by running to the streets of Houston. At first, she thought she had found freedom, but it was on the streets that Dara was introduced to methamphetamines — a drug that would imprison her mind and body for 25 years. As a teen, she turned to prostitution and theft to support her drug habit, which led to multiple run-ins with the law. She ended up spending her entire 20s and half of her 30s in and out of the prison system, completely stuck in her addiction and placing drugs first over and over again.

In the early 2000s while at Lockhart prison, Dara participated in Truth Be Told classes, and — as she tells it — “a seed was planted,” though it would take several more years to germinate.

During her last incarceration, which ended in 2010, Dara knew deep down inside that she wanted to change her life — for real this time. So, when she was released, she applied for and was accepted to a transitional home for women in Austin. At this house, Dara met a woman who also had taken Truth Be Told classes at Lockhart. Dara began remembering the things she had learned in our classes. Specifically, she remembered the idea of having a safe community.

She knew that if she truly wanted to live differently, she would need to build a safe community that would support this change in her life. So, as a first step, Dara looked up Truth Be Told, and her relationship with our nonprofit organization was re-ignited.

In the three years since her release in 2010, Dara has built a new life, and it has required incredible determination and hard work on her part. Here are some fun, fast facts:

  •  She is clean and sober.
  • Even though she had just a sixth-grade education when she got out of prison, Dara got her GED, applied for financial aid and enrolled in community college. She is now one semester away from getting her associate’s degree in social work and she will be graduating with honors.
  •  She has multiple safe communities that encourage the best in her and emotionally support her when she is tempted to revert to old behaviors. Those communities include church, AA, Truth Be Told, another nonprofit called Conspire Theater that works with the incarcerated population, new safe friends she has met in recent years, and her professors and tutors at school.
  • She rents her own apartment and bought a car. Everything in her home was purchased, not stolen.
  • She is a trained Texas Department of Criminal Justice volunteer and she has regularly volunteered with Truth Be Told and Conspire Theater. Dara says that helping others through her volunteer work has been a lifesaver, as it reminds her of everything she has learned and how far she has come.

All of this wonderful stuff is true of Dara’s life today, but the following is also true and it’s equally important to know: Dara had a relapse in November. While she didn’t go back to using drugs, she started drinking again, which is just as dangerous to an addict.

It was extremely hard for Dara to share this recent chapter of her story with our graduates at Lockhart prison, and — truth be told — Carol and I almost canceled the Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars event because of it. However, we ended up proceeding as planned because Dara remained steadfast in her belief that the women needed to hear this side of her story too. In hindsight, we think she was right. The truth is – what Dara is going through right now is something that our graduates will likely face at some point, and perhaps hearing about Dara’s experience will help them.

Dara’s relapse

As Dara tells it, what started as a wine tasting at a grocery store turned into a glass here and a glass there, which turned into a bottle, and then a bottle every night to relax after having been at school all day. I think it was very interesting that Dara said her relapse actually began much earlier than when she took that first sip at the store. She said it really began when she made the decision to ask her mother to move in with her so she could take care of her. This had been a long-held dream of Dara’s — to have a close relationship with her mother and to take care of her. However, living with her mother again stirred up memories of what had happened to Dara when she was a little girl. She said she suddenly found herself dealing with a lot of hurt feelings and anger that she wanted to express to her mother, but couldn’t find the courage to do it. So instead, she ignored her feelings and began drinking to numb the pain.

The good news is that after a few weeks of denying her feelings and hiding her drinking from everyone, Dara decided enough was enough. She knew that if she didn’t turn herself around now, she was going to spiral and lose everything she had worked so hard to gain. She used her Truth Be Told tools of Caring for Self, Communication and Community Building and called upon those in her safe community. She told them everything that was going on and asked for their support as she took the necessary steps to get herself back on track. Since then, Dara has remained sober. She is in regular contact with her AA sponsor and she has picked up a Desire chip.

She is refusing to let herself spiral.

During the Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars session at Lockhart, Dara was able to share with our graduates that it is OK if you aren’t perfect, and that a safe community will help those who desire to help themselves. She showed that it is OK to take off the “Perfect Poster Child of Truth Be Told” mask and reveal the scared, vulnerable addict inside who still struggles, gets overwhelmed, slips back into old patterns, and needs safe community to remain strong.

But perhaps most significant is that in the face of adversity, Dara understands that her recovery, her sanity and her safety has — and always will — start with her.

Since first meeting Dara a few years ago, I have felt a tremendous amount of hope and inspiration for her, and I can honestly say that — even with this very real setback that she is still working to overcome — I continue to feel hope and inspiration for her. She is demonstrating resilience, humbleness, truth-telling, self-respect, and servant leadership (in that she was determined to share the story of her relapse with the women at Lockhart — no matter how scary or embarrassing — so they could hear the whole truth of what it feels like to rebuild your life).

I hope these words find you practicing Truth Be Told’s 4 Cs — Creativity, Communication skills, Community building and Caring for self — as we move into a new year.

Remember: Your happiness, your sanity, your safety always has — and always will — begin with you.

4 Responses to Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars

  1. I agree that sharing the real-life challenges that each of these ladies, and we with our own issues, gives the true picture of the constant challenges. I applaud Dara for wanting to share and for continuing to reach out to her support system. That’s so important, as usually we “tunnel” when we fall and don’t want anyone to know. That will be her best chance for success!!!

  2. Reading my story is always a lil painful but at the same time it’s empowering reading it reminds me of where I was and how far I have come….thank you Katie for sharing this…I really needed to read/hear this this morning…..I’m sooooo grateful for all of my TBT community

  3. Wonderful post, Katie! I was right inside that classroom with you. Dara, I am soooo proud of yup for having the courage to share about your slip. I also am touched by your wisdom that your slip started long before you took a drink. That reflects deep reflection – and deep truth telling. Gratitude from my heart to yours….

  4. Wow, this is one of the more incredible things I’ve read lately. I’m still taking it in. But a few thoughts: 1. I think that Dara’s continual ability to speak her truth is awe-inspiring. It’s much easier to speak your truth when things feel like they’re on the upswing and the bad is behind. It’s much, much more painful to acknowledge setbacks — especially as they’re happening.
    2. I have so much respect for Dara for reaching. Holy moly. If only all of us did that.
    3. I also respect deeply respect the decision to let her speak with TBT students about this. I am sure that what she told them will resonate a hundred times deeper b/c she shared her current vulnerability.
    I am blown away.
    Dara…you are such a real person in every aspect of the meaning. And that is my highest compliment.

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