At RecognizeGood, it has and always will be our mission to share the GOOD in our community. In a time where our news feeds are refreshed more frequently than ever, we wanted to dig deeper and share the stories of our friends who are still out there on the front lines – the nonprofit staff and volunteers who don’t get weekends or holidays off, who cannot work from home and who still fearlessly take care of others.
Truth Be Told offers healing programs and safe community to women during and after incarceration. Through classes that offer healing through storytelling, expressive arts, life skills and self-care tools, Truth Be Told empowers women to break free from the imprisoning narrative of past trauma and abuse. Once released from prison, program graduates have access to a safe community through Truth Be Told’s virtual and in-person support groups.
In early March, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice suspended all visitation and programming inside prisons due to COVID-19. We reached out to executive director Katie Ford to see how Truth Be Told (TBT) is adapting.
“The day before TDCJ made its announcement, we made the very difficult decision to stop sending our volunteer facilitators inside,” Katie said. “There is no social distancing in prison. Many of the women we serve are immunosuppressed and/or elderly; we felt the potential risk of introducing contagion far outweighed the reward of continuing classes. An outbreak would be disastrous, and, unfortunately, we are now seeing the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rising inside our state’s jails and prisons.”
In the wake of the pandemic, TBT has repurposed its curriculum to create a weekly mail correspondence model to continue delivering its programs to incarcerated women. These mail-outs contain readings, activities, and exercises, as well as personal messages of hope and encouragement from the volunteer facilitators. Some of the mailings include self-addressed, stamped envelopes so the program participants have opportunities to submit assignments and share their reflections and lessons learned.
“It feels like every day our team is learning lessons as well,” Katie explained. “In our programs, we espouse the 4 C’s – Communication, Community Building, Creativity, and Caring for Self. Since the pandemic hit, we have engaged all the 4 C’s to continue our work. We’ve had to think creatively in designing new ways to communicate and stay in community with the women we serve. And throughout it all, we, as a team, have put extra emphasis on holding each other accountable to practice self-care as we go about this critical work.”
Truth Be Told understands the difference in empowerment via mail compared to their typical face-to-face classroom experience but are doing everything in their power to continue to reach these women and spread positivity. “It is our aim every week to send a resounding message to the incarcerated women in our programs that they remain our number one priority despite the barriers presented,” Katie said. “The silver lining is that we are able to continue fulfilling our mission in a creative way.”
While times have been chaotic, the TBT team has never been stronger. They have worked well together and leaned on each other to succeed. In February, Katie hired two staff members, essentially doubling the size of the team. She said she has no regrets, even in this uncertain financial climate. “It is specifically because of our investment in womanpower that we have been able to pivot so swiftly and thoughtfully in response to the pandemic. My priority is to protect our people. Protecting our people equals protecting our mission. We can’t do this without our team,” Katie said.
Many of the incarcerated women participating in TBT programs are happy to have an outlet and are still engaged in their curriculum. Wrote one incarcerated TBT student: “Continuing our classes via mail has been one of the most positive things going on in my world! I am grateful inside and out.” Another reflected with gratitude on how, because of Truth Be Told, she now has the right tools to handle the changes COVID-19 has brought on. “I cannot express to you guys enough how much this class means to me,” she wrote in a letter to her facilitators. “I just sit and think [about what would be different] if I would have had this type of group years ago when things were happening in my life that I just did not know how to deal with.”
Katie told us that many of the women have expressed more concern for TBT volunteers than themselves. “They worry about us out here in the free world and are praying for the healing of our nation,” she said. “That’s the thing I think most people don’t understand about incarcerated women — they are survivors at heart and have tremendous capacity to rise in the face of adversity. It just takes a supportive community to evoke it.”
For more GOOD reading, check out our other For Goodness’ Sake Articles with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Texas, Mission Accomplished, Autism Society of Texas, BookSpring, HopeAustin, and Girls Empowerment Network!