How long has it been since you were released from prison?
I got out of prison on November 16, 2010 — almost eight years ago.
Describe your life today.
My life today is more than amazing and full of ‘awe-full’ moments. To think that my life almost eight years ago was a wreck. I only had a sixth grade education, a broken spirit and a death wish. Today, I have two degrees — an associate of applied sciences degree in general human services and a bachelor of science degree in social psychology. I have been sober for almost eight years after a 25-year dance with death and six felonies.
My life today is so full of beauty, even in the hard times. I never believed I would be where I am today. I recently ended a relationship with a person I love because I want to feel and have my own independence. Talk about scary. This is the first time in forever that I am totally independent. I get scared a lot and suffer from anxiety and I have a diagnosis of bipolar, but I still push through and I never give up.
What accomplishments are you most proud of since you’ve been free?
This is a hard question because I am proud of myself in a lot of ways. After being diagnosed with uterine cancer a few weeks after my release from prison and going through aggressive radiation and chemo treatments a month later, I pushed through and fought for my education. When I earned my associate’s degree, Austin Community College recognized me with its highest honor, the Presidential Student Achievement Award.
I now have a job I love. I was named Employee of the Year after being there for only a year! I have been part of several panel discussions that address the stigma attached to women who have been incarcerated. This past spring, I spoke at the Statewide Reentry Conference at the Texas Capitol. In 2015, I co-presented with Truth Be Told Executive Director Katie Ford at the Adult Juvenile Female Offenders Conference in Hartford, Conn., and at the Vision Summit Reentry Conference here in Austin. At these events, we talked about Truth Be Told’s 4 Cs: community building, communication skills, creativity and caring for self.
I am proud that I have been involved with Conspire Theater, an ensemble of formerly incarcerated women who tell their stories in hopes of reducing the stigma of incarceration. I am proud that I now go into the prisons with Truth Be Told to share my experience, strength and hope. I am proud of the community of “life breathers” I have built for myself. I am proud that I have fought and keep fighting to reclaim the woman who was lost for so many years. I am proud that I am still sober. The list could go on and on, but I will stop here.
Where do you work and what do you find most rewarding about your job?
For the past two years, I have worked at a sub-acute detox treatment facility in Bastrop. I am a licensed chemical dependency counselor-I, a full-time clinician and a group facilitator. The most rewarding thing about my job is seeing a client who has no hope and who is completely broken finally getting the light back in their eyes and the pep back in their step with their shoulders more straight and head held higher — and then hearing from them after they have gone home, saying they are doing the deal, staying sober and enjoying the life that God had for them this whole time.
What was your experience with Truth Be Told?
I took Talk to Me Speaking & Discovery in 2000 and again in 2001 when I was incarcerated at Lockhart women’s prison.
What did you gain through Truth Be Told?
Truth Be Told created a safe place for me to admit that for 32 years I had been living a life of hate, chaos and anger. Admitting this part of me that wasn’t so pretty helped me to get underneath all that and realize I really didn’t hate. I hurt.
Being vulnerable, exposing all those secrets and telling my truth about everything started the process of renovating my life. I learned how to find my voice, how to forgive myself from all the wreckage of my past, how to ask for forgiveness, how to have integrity and how to ask for help. I gained confidence in finding and recognizing my Wise Woman and my Recovery Self. I learned to embrace — and am still learning — all parts of me.
I learned that I am not alone and that there are so many other people who have had the same experiences in life I have had. It was comforting knowing that there was hope out there for me to change. I learned there are people who truly care. I learned that not all men are abusers or predators and not all women are weak and timid. I gained self-confidence and a positive self-image — again, something I am still working on.
Why is Truth Be Told worth supporting?
Prison doesn’t renovate lives. In fact, prison tears down lives. Prison doesn’t teach telling the truth. In fact, prison enforces silence. Prison doesn’t give tools on how to stay out. In fact, prison wants you to come back.
Truth Be Told helps break the silence by telling your truth. Truth Be Told says, “You never have to come back to prison and here’s how.” Truth Be Told gives you tools and teaches you how to really use them. Truth Be Told says, “You are worth it.” Truth Be Told says, “We believe in you.”
What do you feel is the biggest misconception people have about incarcerated people?
That we should have known better. I never knew better. I thought I was doing the best that I could with what I had — until Truth Be Told came into the picture and taught me there is a better way to live, and this is what I can do to get it and live it!
Honor Dara by helping Truth Be Told raise $30,000 in 10 Days between Sept. 15-24. All gifts made during this 10-day campaign will DOUBLE in size, thanks to a matching pledge of up to $30,000! Your gift will ensure that Truth Be Told continues to provide safe community and healing programs to nearly 1,000 justice-involved women every year! Click on $30,000 in 10 Days to make your gift today!
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