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Formerly incarcerated women inspire a community of Changemakers

What made your heart sing at the Community of Changemakers dinner?

“My heart sang when everyone stood up after I spoke my truth, the freedom and overwhelming sense that I had shown my true self and again was set free — like a second release from my heart’s prison. I feel so much honor and commitment to a program that I wholeheartedly believe in.” — Melissa Baker, program graduate

“What made my heart sing was the knowledge that I am a part of this community of changemakers. I am so committed to the work that Truth Be Told is doing, and being a part of this community gives me hope for the future of all women who are or have been incarcerated, and the bright futures that are ahead for them.” — Colette Marshall Pratt, program graduate

“My heart sang from the first call I got from Carol (Waid) asking about hotel accommodations for Colette. The intonation and pitch came during the auction of (Truth Be Told graduate) Kelly’s painting. The symphony in my heart came together when I realized we, the graduates, weren’t looked at through eyes of pity or sympathy, but through the proud eyes of honor and success.” — Rutanya Mitchner, program graduate

“I felt so uplifted and embraced by a wonderful houseful of eager-to-learn, respectful listeners. Amazing!” — Sandra Roller, program graduate

“What made my heart sing was the sense of community in the room, the graduates who spoke and the love that filled the air.” — Lauren Johnson, program graduate

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In May, a little more than 100 guests — including nine Truth Be Told graduates — gathered for an evening of hope and transformation at the Community of Changemakers dinner, benefiting Truth Be Told. Hosted at Chateau Bellevue in downtown Austin, the program highlighted the voices and stories of formerly incarcerated women who graduated from Truth Be Told programs and have now become the change they want to see in the world.

Graduate Colette Marshall Pratt flew in from Greensboro, N.C., to deliver the keynote speech. Ms. Marshall Pratt graduated from Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me Writing, Talk to Me Speaking and Let’s Get Real programs while incarcerated at Lockhart Women’s Correctional Facility. Since her release from prison in 2012, she has rebuilt her relationships with her children and grandchildren, earned her bachelor’s degree in English and published a novel.

Sisters and Truth Be Told graduates Kimberly Davis and Lisa Davis-Bell performed a skit titled, “Internal Duet.” The piece was written by a 2017 Talk to Me Speaking graduate named Bella, who remains incarcerated at Bryan Federal Prison Camp. Ms. Davis is a 2014 Talk to Me Speaking graduate, and Ms. Davis-Bell graduated from Talk to Me Movement in 2014 and Talk to Me Writing in 2015.

Also sharing her powerful story that evening was Melissa Baker, who spoke of how, since leaving prison in 2015, she continues to use Truth Be Told’s “4 Cs” to keep her free: Caring for Self, Communication, Community Building and Creativity. Ms. Baker is a 2014 Talk to Me Speaking graduate.

Another highlight of the evening was a lively bidding war for a painting created by 2017 Talk to Me Writing graduate Kelly Nordick, who is now free. Audrey Schmidt claimed the painting for $1,000 and then promptly gave the artwork to her friend Donna Snyder, who has invested heavily in Truth Be Told over the years as a volunteer facilitator, major donor and current board co-chair.

Schmidt’s loving gesture set the tone as Executive Director Katie Ford invited all guests to become changemakers for Truth Be Told by making a financial gift. That evening, Truth Be Told tripled its roster of recurring monthly donors which includes program graduates.

Truth Be Told was honored to host several distinguished guests at the Community of Changemakers dinner. Those guests included Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez; Cathy McClaugherty and Kirsha Haverlah of the Travis County Justice Planning Division; Travis County Assistant District Attorney Craig Moore; and three representatives from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice — Marvin Dunbar, deputy director of Rehabilitation Programs; April Zamora, director of Reentry and Integration; and Jacquelyn Shair, deputy director of Female Initiatives, a brand-new position at the state agency.

Thank you, Brian Birzer, for capturing the evening in pictures.