One graduate’s journey from prisoner to impact leader

“The fact that Truth Be Told is not an official Texas Department of Criminal Justice class is important. We, as prisoners, can be suspicious of any and everything programmatic and mandatory from the state. The fact that Truth Be Told is wholly independent and safe gives us an openness we would likely never feel otherwise. Secondly, that it is not a faith-based class is important, and I think I need to qualify that a bit. I am a firm believer in Christ. But there are so many faith-based classes and programs for women inside; that’s really 99.9% of what is offered to women in TDCJ, outside state programming. Having something outside that realm is important.”

Lori Mellinger, Truth Be Told graduate

By Katie Ford, executive director

I met Lori in the spring of 2015 when she enrolled in my Talk to Me Writing class at Lockhart Correctional. My impression of Lori back then was: impeccable with her words, a critical thinker, lives intentionally, super insightful about human behavior, a gifted writer.

Two and half years later, my impression of Lori hasn’t changed, but her life sure has.

Today, Lori works as an Americorps VISTA member with the United Way of Abilene. Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) is a federally funded program that supports the sustainability of nonprofits. She is the first in Texas to be a VISTA member while also being on parole.

This time last year, I drove from Austin to Abilene to attend a United Way luncheon, where Lori was the featured speaker, having just graduated from FaithWorks, a 13-week career development training program. While I was in town, Lori and I co-hosted a creative writing workshop for the residents at New Beginnings Big Country (NBCC) Women’s Transitional Home, where Lori also is a resident and plays a supportive role as a state-certified Community Health Worker — another recently earned credential.

This past fall, it was Lori’s turn to drive to Austin. She took time off work to volunteer for Truth Be Told as a “Beyond Bars Goes Behind Bars” guest speaker. Lori willingly went back inside Lockhart Correctional as a free woman to speak to our Talk to Me participants about life after incarceration. Our graduates out here in the free world do this every semester for us, and it’s always humbling and amazing to see the impact their stories have on the women still inside.

I loved seeing Lori in this role as an impact leader. That’s us in the parking lot of Lockhart Correctional in the above photo, right before we went inside. What she brought to the women was hope, a window into what life can look like after incarceration. It’s not perfect. It’s not easy. But it can be very different than the life you once lived.

I hope you will join Lori in being an impact leader for Truth Be Told by supporting us on Amplify Austin Day this year. We have set an ambitious $36,000 goal!

We have deemed 2018 as The Year of Capacity Building. To serve more justice-involved women, we must first make a meaningful investment in our infrastructure to overcome operational pain points. Central to this investment is giving Truth Be Told something it has never enjoyed in its 18-year history — full-time executive leadership. TDCJ data reveals that 86.2% of our graduates remain free three years post-incarceration. Seventy percent of women in Texas correctional facilities are mothers and the primary influencers in the home.

Truth Be Told programs meet a documented service gap in the U.S. correctional system by offering “gender-responsive” programs — programs designed by women for women. Our programs address the unique risk factors that lead women into the criminal justice system, such as elevated rates of addiction, interpersonal violence, and histories of childhood physical and sexual abuse.

Can you imagine the ripple effect in our communities if Truth Be Told could reach more justice-involved women in Texas?

Please visit our Amplify Austin Day campaign page and schedule your donation today.