Lee Thorsness, board vice chair, shares what makes Truth Be Told so special

My name is Lee Thorsness, and I am the Vice Chair for the Truth Be Told board. Someone asked me how I got involved with Truth Be Told, and I reflected back to when this all started for me.

In 2011 Greenlights hosted a nonprofit summit at the Bob Bullock Museum where Truth Be Told was a participant. I had never heard of Truth Be Told before, but after an hour of walking around and talking to people at the summit, I returned to the Truth Be Told booth for the third time and decided this was where I needed to be. I watched their informational and insightful video several times and realized what it was about this organization that touched my heart — it was children left behind when a parent goes to prison.

What happens to the children when a mother goes to prison? Who takes care of them?

Well, at least that is how it started. Being a person who likes to know the facts and numbers, I started doing some research. Here is what I found:

  • Over 780,950 Texas residents are under criminal justice supervision; this is almost 200,000 more people than the entire population of Washington, DC.
  • The number of women incarcerated in Texas prisons is 14,560. The prison population of Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Finland combined is 10,800.
  • Two-thirds of women prisoners have children under the age of 18.
  • Fifty-four percent of mothers in state prisons have had no personal visits with their children since their incarceration.
  • The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 authorizes the termination of parental rights once a child has been in foster care for 15 or more months in a 22-month period. Most sentences in prison exceed 15 months.
  • Forty-four percent of the women in prison do not have a high school diploma.
  • The number of Texas women subject to a  lifetime ban from food stamps because of drug convictions: 4,700.

When someone is sentenced to prison, the emotional turmoil is difficult for everyone to handle. Perhaps the heaviest burden is on the unintended victim, the children. With over 7.3 million children with at least one parent in jail or prison, about 70 percent of these children are doomed to follow the same path. Children of incarcerated parents are five times more likely to commit crimes. Kids have a very difficult time coping with a parent’s absence.

As I researched Truth Be Told, I found that the real purpose of the program  was teaching communication skills through writing, speaking, and the arts — self-awareness, growth, and trust, really.

There is no better way to improve the lives of the children than by helping the parents. I am the mother of three boys, and I know how the pressure of the day can impact you and your children. Communication skills are key to rebuilding relationships with children. It can be a long process, but if TBT offers the tools, there is a chance for success. Everyone deserves a second chance.

The Truth Be Told board has collected some statistics about the programs and what we have accomplished with the incarcerated women. Just fewer than 1,000 women have graduated from our 8 -14 week prison programs between 2000 and 2012, and we have served hundreds others through our jail and Exploring Creativity programs.

In 2006, 48.8 percent of citizens re-entering society after prison were re-incarcerated. In 2007, the re-incarceration rate of Truth Be Told graduates was 24.3% — half that of the general population.

So Truth Be Told is moving this in the right direction; however, we need to continue to improve this rate. Our Beyond Bars program provides the released graduates of our programs avenues to stay connected with TBT and to continue to expand on the tools they learned in our programs in the prisons. Creating this safe community for women after release makes a big, big difference to the graduates.

You ask me why I am involved with Truth Be Told? How could I not be involved? I could not just listen to the women’s stories without getting involved. I was hooked.

It is up to us, the individual supporters, to make a difference. I am committed to providing support to the facilitators so that they can achieve their goals. This is just too important to ignore. As a board member, my goal is to make everyone aware of the facts and numbers. With the incarceration numbers growing, I also want you to know how much we need your continued support, both financially and as a volunteer. Please get involved in whatever way you can.

Truth Be Told is holding its annual fundraising event, “Imagine,” on December 3 at the Frank Fickett Center, the Boy Scouts of America building at 12500 N. IH 35. The event is from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. We will serve a free fajita dinner along with a presentation about our programs and needs. This is our main fundraising event every year, and we are hoping to raise over $20,000, which will support our operating budget for 2013.

To attend as a potential donor or volunteer or to serve as a table captain, please email Carol Waid at carol@truth-be-told.org or call 512-292-6200.

Truth Be Told is the only prison program of its kind in Texas. We hope you will join us in supporting it.

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