Please join us as a respectful witness to a prison graduation. At the end of the fall and spring semesters we take about 20 guests into the prisons to serve as an audience of respectful listeners. It is so meaningful to the women who are graduating that a group from the “free world” spends the time to hear their stories and appreciate their performances. It is a powerful experience that gives attendees a glimpse of our behind bars programs and the lives of incarcerated women.
We need more attendees for both of our June graduations. Please respond by May 1, 2015 to Carol Waid at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-292-6200.
- June 4: Graduation at the Lane Murray Facility in Gatesville. We leave Austin in a carpool caravan at 2 p.m. and arrive home at about 10:30 p.m. Please forward this to anyone you know in the Temple, Killeen, Waco, Gatesville area to help us grow our volunteer base there.
- June 5: Discovery Graduation at Lockhart. We meet in Lockhart at noon for a barbecue lunch and are back in Austin around 5:30.
Feel free to forward this to anyone you know who might be interested in learning more about our programs.
The Participants’ Feedback
Katie Ford has been facilitating the Talk to Me Circle class for the last five years. Towards the end of the eight-week class, she asked, “As a volunteer who comes to the prison for two hours once a week, I know my view of prison life is limited. I’ve always wondered what it feels like to enter and leave our classroom. How ‘big’ is the transition? How does it feel to do what we do in here (expressing our emotions and sometimes they are very strong emotions) and then to go back?”
The women responded with the following:
- I feel free in here.
- I never want to leave this class. I hate when it ends.
- I look forward to this class because I can think in here. Out there it’s always so noisy you can’t even hear yourself think.
- I am able to cry in here.
- It’s exhausting. My friends tell me I look tired and I tell them it’s because I just came from this class.
- I can breathe in here.
- This class is a highlight of my day. It’s like when I get mail.
- I have a private face and a public face. They’re not dramatically different, but they are not the same. I wear my public face out there. I can wear my private face in here.
Often the women tell us that our programs are different from other programs. One women expressed:
“Y’all let us heal ourselves instead of telling us we need to heal.” Then another said: “Yeah, we don’t like it when people come in here and start telling us what they think we need.”
Special Graduation for Nathalie
On April 17, Nathalie Sorrell joined a group attending the Talk To Me graduation at Lockhart and came full circle from fifteen years ago. In February 2000, Nathalie stepped into the Lockhart facility to begin a program called Telling Your Story. She advertised this program on a handmade poster that offered to guide the women through a process to share their story with juveniles in an effort to prevent the juveniles from following in their footsteps.
This program was effective and the probation officers reported that the youth spoke about the impact on their way back to their facility. However, the program was cut within a year, because of changes in the TDCJ system. But the Warden supported the program and asked that we find another audience to support the women and their stories.
The participants of the new class named the program “Talk to Me.” We now have Talk to Me Speaking, Talk to Me Circle and Talk to Me Movement – offering three modalities of the curriculum. Each semester brings a different group of faces, but the same longings…women wanting to be seen, to be heard, and to be loved. We witness courage and bravery as each participant shares the vulnerable story of her journey that led her to incarceration.
On April 17, Nathalie came full circle as a respectful witness. She shared that she had no idea that her first tentative steps would lead to fifteen years of programs that are now offered in five facilities. One woman’s journey has sparked a transformation in many facilitators and participants. We are grateful when the women in our programs share why the programs are important to them and that this work continues to make a difference.