This past Thursday, the women enrolled in Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me program at Lockhart Correctional circled their plastic chairs in Classroom 11 for the final session of the semester. The volunteer facilitators opened the class with a check-in prompt: What made your heart sing at graduation?
For the next 20 minutes, each woman shared a moment that stood out in her mind about the night she received her certificate of completion in front of an audience of volunteer Respectful Witnesses who had gathered under the auspices of Truth Be Told to serve as the audience and celebrate the special occasion. At the graduation, each woman in Talk to Me was invited to use her tools of Communication and Creativity to express what she had discovered while practicing truth-telling and Caring for Self in the safe Community of her Talk to Me class over the past 15 weeks.
“When the people who came to our graduation shared back what it was like to hear our truth and watch us graduate,” said one woman. “I didn’t think people out there cared about us.”
“When I gave one of my books to the woman who was sitting next to me,” said another, referring to her Books of Wisdom. Every semester, the women in Talk to Me contribute original writing and artwork for a book they publish together as a class. Every woman receives two copies of the book at graduation. “She was so surprised and grateful. I could tell it really meant something to her.”
“Just all of it,” said another. “I felt free.”
After every woman shared, the facilitators introduced the guest speaker for the closing session. In this class, known as “Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars,” a Talk to Me graduate from outside returns to prison to share about her life after incarceration — the struggles, the victories, and how she stays free. Dara Musick, who walked into freedom for the last time in 2010, was the guest speaker, and she decided in the moment to “be raw” with the women. She wanted them to know that — despite her college degrees and all the accolades she has earned over the past nine years — it’s still hard. She still struggles. She still wrestles with self-doubt. She still gets overwhelmed and wonders if she’ll make it through whatever she is facing.
Yet, in spite of everything, she is able to stay clean and sober and free. She remembers that she has a choice, and she chooses paths that “breathe life” into her. Oftentimes, that means choosing to practice Truth Be Told’s 4 Cs of Communication, Community, Creativity and Caring for Self, which she first learned in a Talk to Me classroom almost 20 years ago.
In response to Dara’s sharing, the graduates asked so many pointed questions that evoked more truth-telling, wisdom, connection and healing. The hope, the unity, the heart of these women circled up in a prison classroom were palpable. Before dismissing for the evening, the women were handed index cards with the Truth Be Told logo printed across the top.
“There’s a growing community of people out there who want to see you succeed; they want you to have access to healing spaces like these,” the facilitator told them. “If you feel inspired to share with the Truth Be Told community outside what this experience has meant to you, write it on these cards. Your words will be heard.”
The room fell silent as their pens moved swiftly across paper. Above are some of their sentiments, their Truth Being Told.