Life today is beautiful. When I was incarcerated, I began a transformation of my heart, mind and spirit. Thanks to Truth Be Told, that is still flowing since my release in November 2008.
Before September 1, I was a nurse at a drug rehabilitation center in Dallas, which was very rewarding because I was helping in an area that was my core problem — drug addiction. Drug addiction was the underlying reason for my incarceration.
However, on September 1, I transitioned into my new job as the executive director of Girls Embracing Mothers (GEM), a Dallas-based nonprofit organization founded by my daughter, Brittany K. Barnett, to empower girls with mothers in prison to break the cycle of incarceration and lead successful lives with vision and purpose. We partner with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for enhanced visits between our girls and their mothers to help break the cycle and build the bond.
Today, I work for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas as the criminal justice outreach coordinator. Earlier this year, I became a published author, and I have been chosen for fellowships with local and national leadership organizations. I am also really proud of a summer cooking “program” that I started with my kids. They are tasked with going through our recipe books and choosing something to cook for a family dinner, writing the ingredients down so I can shop for them, and then — with help — cooking the meal. They love it because they get to choose a dessert, and I love the time we get to spend together doing something that is fun and teaches them to be independent.
I do a lot for the transitional women’s ministry, New Beginnings-Big Country (NBBC), which supports women coming out of jail and prison here in Abilene. I volunteer many hours doing mostly administrative and behind-the-scenes stuff. I write letters that women need for any number of reasons, handle housing paperwork, print acceptance letters for incarcerated women and do a newsletter for the organization. I built and maintain frameworks for tracking women from prison to NBBC to beyond. There’s a lot more, but it’s difficult to list it all. It just comes naturally. While I prefer many times to build capacity versus perform direct services, direct service is part of the package too.
I recently wrote and received a grant for United Way catalyst funding for NBBC and conducted a campaign for our local AbileneGives. The total just from those two efforts was almost $20,000. I’m super happy about that!
My life today is completely different than the life that sent me to prison. I have been clean and sober for 9-plus years. I have an associate’s degree in applied sciences with an emphasis in chemical dependency. I am one class from completing a bachelor’s degree in addiction psychology. My life is a testimony about how a woman can change her life and become a servant leader to society. I spend a lot of time with family, especially my granddaughters. My life is very busy but very fruitful.
I am a volunteer program facilitator with Truth Be Told. I go into the prison once a week to facilitate the Talk to Me Speaking class, where the women create a 5- to 7-minute speech about their life experiences and choices that led to their incarceration. I do this work because I know all too well what prison feels like because my story has several chapters of incarceration in it. I want to be a beacon of hope and light to any woman who has a desire to change.