How long has it been since you were released?
I walked into freedom September 10, 2015.
Describe your life today.
Well, there are ups and downs. There are real-life issues and grownup problems. All of that is to be expected, I know. On the home front, I paroled to a faith-based transitional ministry where I still live. I’ve lived for about two years with my two cats in one of the apartments owned by the executive director. It remains to be seen yet when I will leave there. I’m waiting for God’s timing in all of it.
Where do you work and what do you find most rewarding about your job?
I spent this past year working as an Americorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) for the United Way of Abilene. It was, hands down, the best professional experience of my life. I learned a lot about the behind-the-scenes work at a solid and established nonprofit organization. From simple data entry to putting together events, donor relations, public speaking and much more, I feel like I gained a huge education there — one that money could not buy, which is great, because the downside was a year of working at minimum wage!
On August 13, I began a new season in my professional career, working for the Area Health and Education Center (AHEC) through West Texas Council of Governments (WXTOG). My history of incarceration was not a factor in them hiring me. They already knew it in detail. I didn’t even apply for this job. Rather, I was approached with the opportunity. I am a senior administrative assistant, and I work with a variety of programs through WXTOG and AHEC.
Tell us about the volunteer work you do and why you do it.
Ah, this is where my heart lies. I do a lot for the transitional women’s ministry, New Beginnings-Big Country (NBBC), which supports women coming out of jail and prison here in Abilene. I volunteer many hours doing mostly administrative and behind-the-scenes stuff. I write letters that women need for any number of reasons, handle housing paperwork, print acceptance letters for incarcerated women and do a newsletter for the organization. I built and maintain frameworks for tracking women from prison to NBBC to beyond. There’s a lot more, but it’s difficult to list it all. It just comes naturally. While I prefer many times to build capacity versus perform direct services, direct service is part of the package too.
I recently wrote and received a grant for United Way catalyst funding for NBBC and conducted a campaign for our local AbileneGives. The total just from those two efforts was almost $20,000. I’m super happy about that!
Also, in November 2017, I went back to Lockhart prison to speak to the graduates of Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me program. Missy from NBBC drove me to Austin, where we met up with Katie, who is Truth Be Told’s executive director but she was also my facilitator when I took Talk to Me Writing at Lockhart in 2015. When we went inside Lockhart, I walked those same hallways and even saw a few officers I remembered. (It’s worth noting that none of them recognized me.) And while walking into the prison was daunting, being able to share any sort of hope for success on the other side for the current participants in Talk to Me Writing was both gratifying and humbling for me. I was there once, watching a formerly incarcerated Talk to Me graduate who came and talked to my class and wondering if I could make it out here too. The women were gracious. I expected nothing less. When you choose to participate in Truth Be Told, you are already on a path to change.
What did you gain through Truth Be Told?
Maybe Truth Be Told was the beginning of a light where I began to understand that there was going to be a life for me once I left prison. Because of my experience in Talk to Me Writing, which invites you to write the story of what you believe led you to prison, I was able to look back and begin to understand triggers in my life. By writing out my story, I could see, in black and white, how I strayed from the straight and narrow. This is huge, because I know today some very real things to avoid or be aware of.
Also, the Talk to Me Writing classroom was the first safe setting I had in a long time — a safe place to begin to face some things and work on healing. Truth Be Told also taught me the importance of a safe circle and community. I went through so many emotions in that class that I believe were necessary to my rehabilitation.
When I was released from prison, (my facilitators) Katie and Lauren were my “safe people” in the free world until I could find ones closer to home. I will always be grateful to Truth Be Told for the lessons I learned. And now that my grown daughter faces federal time, I hope and pray that she might go to Bryan Federal where Truth Be Told offers programs.
Why are organizations like Truth Be Told important and worth supporting?
Because it’s an investment — and a sound one. Truth Be Told was the beginning of me changing my story, even while I was still behind bars.
The fact that Truth Be Told is not a Texas Department of Criminal Justice mandatory class is important. Your participation in Truth Be Told programs is voluntary, and, therefore, women take the curriculum seriously. We as prisoners can be suspicious of anything and everything mandatory from the state. The fact that Truth Be Told is a wholly independent organization that offers safe community inside women’s correctional facilities gives us an openness we would likely never feel otherwise.
Also, Truth Be Told is not a faith-based class, and I think I need to qualify that statement a bit. I am a firm believer in Christ, but there are so many faith-based classes and programs for women in prison. That’s really 99.9 percent of what is offered to women in TDCJ facilities. Having something outside that realm is important.
If you take a look at a swath of women who have participated in Truth Be Told, I believe anyone can see the return on the investment. These women are IMPRESSIVE.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception people have about incarcerated people?
I can tell you what mine was: I was in the rec yard at N1 in Marlin one evening, and I looked at the group of women milling around and thought, “This is the face of prison?” Because everyone looked pretty normal. It was then that I realized I had some firm misconceptions. I believed (I think) the same as many others — that we “look” different, that there is something about our appearance that says “felon” or “con.”
Mostly, I think people want to believe that there is nothing we all have in common, because in doing so, you open yourself up to the possibility that one day you could be [in prison] too.
Honor Lori by helping Truth Be Told raise $20,000 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 $20,000! 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 $20,000 in 10 Days to make your gift today!
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