Mass incarceration is a big problem in the United States, with prison reform becoming more and more of a pressing issue thanks to grassroots movements and awareness-raising activities — even from influencers like Kim Kardashian.
In the United States, unlike many other developing nations, incarceration is not seen as an opportunity for rehabilitation, but rather as a punitive measure. The system fails to rehabilitate inmates or provide them with tools for reintegration into society. A 2018 U.S. Department of Justice report found that 83 per cent of state prisoners released in 2005 across 30 states were arrested at least once in the nine years following their release.
Austin-based non-profit organization Truth Be Told seeks to break the cycle of re-incarceration for women in Central Texas by offering them what the prison system won’t: tools and tactical strategies for successful reintegration into society post-release. Their programs are designed by women, for women and address gender-specific issues that plague female inmates.
Truth Be Told Programs Address ‘Root Causes of Trauma’
According to Program Director Emily Lederman, Truth Be Told seeks to offer transformational trauma response programming for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in and around the Austin area.
Lederman says much of their programming involves self-discovery work and coaching, and this sort of progressive, out-of-the-box material is a key component in the program’s success: “Our programs enable women to understand the root causes of what has led them to incarceration — often high rates of trauma —and then learn healthy coping skills and tools that will allow healing from trauma. This allows for more sustainable rehabilitation and recovery.”
Lederman adds that Truth Be Told program members are less likely to end up back in prison, compared to the statewide average. Out of more than 12,000 women who have participated in their programming, 86.2 per cent remained free three years after incarceration.
Programming Provides Tools of Creativity and Self-Care
Truth Be Told offers eight programs, available both within and outside prison walls. The programs provide tools of community building, communication skills, creativity and self-care.
The non-profit works to cultivate a sense of safety and security among their program members, who are welcomed into a supportive post-release community. Included in the community benefits are individualized check-ins, weekly support calls, in-person retreats, and access to a private community of other formerly incarcerated women.
How Truth Be Told Pivoted and Adjusted to the Pandemic
As was the case with most American businesses, Truth Be Told was forced to pivot and adjust to the “new normal” of 2020. Lederman says they’ve haven’t had in-person programming on the units since March 2020, but they’re planning a return this summer or fall.
“We have created a highly successful two-way mail correspondence program that allows participants to work through self-growth activities and receive significant individualized facilitator feedback,” she says. “In addition, we have started offering multiple virtual programs over Zoom for our formerly incarcerated participants.”
Setting Formerly Incarcerated Individuals up for Success
There are innumerable obstacles facing women who are newly released from prison, from finding accessible housing to gainful employment. Truth Be Told hopes that through its program and the productive coping tools they provide, formerly incarcerated women in Central Texas will have a better chance of reintegration.
There are other organizations across North America working to ensure formerly incarcerated individuals are set up for success. Since many formerly incarcerated women have difficulty finding gainful employment, Well Grounded Coffee in Dallas, Texas employs women who are former felons.
Gourmet popcorn company Comeback Snacks was founded inside a federal prison and also employs previously incarcerated women. Their mission is to raise awareness of the importance of re-integration after prison. And a new podcast called ConvictED Life features real-world inspiration and advice for incarcerated and returning individuals who face significant challenges once they re-enter the workforce.
Lead image courtesy of Truth Be Told