Karen, twice a mentor at Hilltop Unit, shares her art and her truth

by Nathalie Sorrell, Truth Be Told co-founder and facilitator

Karen has taken every Truth Be Told offering at Hilltop prison, starting with our first Talk to Me Circle class in fall 2010. She is now a Mentor in the Talk to Me Speaking class. When she began, she was 22. Now she is 25. When she began she could have been any cute girl with a blond ponytail — alternately shy and bold. Easily distracted. Excited about every creative exercise. A little unwilling to look straight into anyone’s eyes for more than a few seconds. She’s a talented artist and includes her fantastical images and drawings in every homework assignment.

In our core Talk to Me classes, all students must create a life-line from birth to the time they arrived in prison, noting the experiences that happened to them and the decisions they made that they believe ultimately brought them to prison.

So when Karen first attended TTM Circle, she wrote her story based on her understanding of those events. Then when she took TTM Speaking, she used the same life-line but wrote her story into a speech, containing some deeper self-awareness and also the emerging memories of her past. When she became a Mentor, she did the Mentor homework — which requires creating her life-line and speech from the time she arrived in prison to the present day: what experiences happened to her in prison, and what decisions has she made in prison that brought her to this present moment.

Can you see how powerful this work is? Can you imagine yourself, willing to first look at the most horrifying and shameful experiences of your lifetime, and then to write your story or speech that you would read/speak aloud to a room of 10-18 “strangers”? And owning the decisions you yourself have made that have brought you to your present imprisonment, however it manifests itself?

The courage of these women is profound, and it changes us, who are their facilitators and witnesses. We cannot ask them to do what we are unwilling to do ourselves. But, like them, sometimes we don’t even realize how much we are still imprisoning ourselves, often because of the secrets we haven’t told on ourselves.

This semester, with Karen being a mentor for the second time, I asked her to do her life-line on the time she’s been in the Truth Be Told classes. She wrote and drew pictures that illustrated what experiences she’d had in prison during the times she attended the classes, and the decisions she was making that caused her to keep growing and at the same time, the decisions that imprisoned her (some of which kept her from being allowed to continue with us for a semester).

I’m glad to share Karen’s limelight on this blog so you can envision the person behind the art and feel the impact a young woman willing to speak the truth both to herself and to others has on her facilitators, as well as other students.  It’s an honor to introduce Karen as you look at her art, and read her own words about what the art represents.

Beauty Disturbed

Karen I.

Hilltop Unit

“Beauty Disturbed”

This picture represents the beauty within my disturbance.

The masked woman is the way I, at times, view myself.  I may have a mask on to distract you, but my eyes always give me away.

The moth represents all the things that once scared me, but now carry no weight.  The roses are morals I hold closest to my heart:

—honesty/loyalty are yellow orange;

—courage/strength blue & black;

—love/passion red, pink, and purple.

The music notes are always coming out of me as well as running through me.

The key is everything: wisdom, love, courage, and freedom.

I always have viewed the inside of my heart to be flames with bright colors with my faith that has both saved me, and continues to guide me.

The eye tearing through is old demons that tend to rise up and cast me down, threatening to destroy me.

The dragon I once saw as bad isn’t at all.

The dragon is the fight and passion to never give up.

The ghosts are sorrow, hatred, and fear that always call my name.

The face in the shadows is fear of the unknown.

13 is the day of my birth and a symbol of changing my luck.

4 Responses to Karen, twice a mentor at Hilltop Unit, shares her art and her truth

  1. Thank you Karen and Nathalie for modeling courage in vulnerability. I think one of the biggest epiphanies is that there are so many people imprisoned that have never been to jail. I’m so thankful that stories like these are shared and play a role in helping to set the captives free.

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