NO HOSTAGES BEYOND THIS POINT: Teaching Magical Viewpoints to female sex offenders

A sign on the main entrance gate to the Hilltop Unit, part of the Gatesville, Texas, prison complex, says “NO HOSTAGES BEYOND THIS POINT”.

It appears twice, on each side of the gate, so visitors see this message as they enter and as they leave.

These signs provide a strong clue that you’re entering a different world at Hilltop, and that you will leave it changed.

Ann, the social worker who runs the Sex Offenders Treatment Program (SOTP) for women, escorted my friend Peggy Lamb and me to the dorm where the women in the program live. Peggy is a facilitator for Truth Be Told, a nonprofit working with women behind and beyond bars. She teaches movement and also brings in presenters for Truth Be Told’s Exploring Creativity workshops at the Hilltop Unit.

I was there at her invitation to teach an Exploring Creativity class called Magical Viewpoints, a basic skill in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) where it is also called “triple description”.

Ann led us through the dorm. I’ve visited prisons several times over the past 10 years for Truth Be Told events and graduations. This was the first time I’ve seen the inmates’ living quarters. It’s about as basic as you can get at Hilltop. In one big room, each inmate has a space about 6×4 feet in which there is a single bed (looked like 3-4 inches of mattress on a wooden platform), a storage locker under the bed, and perhaps a small table and chair. These “cells” are separated by wooden partitions about 3.5 feet high, so there is very little privacy. Everything looks old and is painted white. There is no decor. There is no air conditioning either.

We walked to the common area behind the sleeping quarters where the women were waiting for us. The inmates wear white uniforms and choose from a couple of styles of standard-issue shoes (sneakers or short boots). Those who wear eyeglasses wear a plain no-nonsense unisex style that harkens back to the men’s eyewear of the 1950s. No one is wearing makeup. Hairdos are plain and simple.

This room had murals and posters on the white walls, which I was told is not so in other units at Hilltop. A humongous fan was blowing, making a loud racket, along with a couple of smaller fans. We turned that big fan off and used an old, temperamental PA system to make ourselves heard.

Peggy introduced me, and it was obvious that these women love Peggy. (I’m feeling very pleased that I brought Peggy into Truth Be Told. That worked out well. She has made the most of it.)

I taught the women about using first, second, and third position to understand an event from their own eyes and through another’s eyes and to view it as a camera would. First they remembered looking at a piece of art they had created in the previous Exploring Creativity class taught by Peg Runnels, seeing it through their own eyes. Then they remembered seeing another artist creating their art and making those same movements. Finally, they imagined seeing the art, with the artist putting the finishing touches on it, and seeing themselves viewing it.

I did a demo using these three viewpoints on a conflict situation with a wonderful volunteer, Carla, and then I led them as a group through the process, watching them step into imaginary circles for each position. I watched very carefully, and it appeared to me that each woman got it.

Then they journaled about the experience, made art about it, and a few of them shared their art and their experience of doing the exercise. Their homework was to do it with a different event in mind and journal about it for Peggy. Their six opportunities to learn and deepen this skill will serve them well, perhaps for the rest of their lives.

I asked them for their feedback on the three magical viewpoints. Which one gave them the most new information? It surprised me that second position was so powerful for them. I had expected that third position would be the real revelation (the cool sense of detachment often is), but Ann told me that a major goal of the SOTP is learning empathy for the victims of their crimes, and so learning about and experiencing second position strengthened that goal.

Then our time was up. They honored Peggy by giving her a sweet, gigantic homemade card on which each woman had written a personal thank you to her for volunteering with them.

I’ve heard many women tell their stories at TBT graduations over the past decade. Chaos is in every story. Prison provides the security to examine their lives, something many have never done or even been exposed to before getting involved with Truth Be Told’s programs.

That’s the first step toward true rehabilitation. Then there’s the support and learning and accomplishment they get through connection with Truth Be Told.

I’m feeling very lucky and grateful to have had the good fortune to connect with Truth Be Told when it was an infant nonprofit, to have helped nurture it into stability, to step back when life had other plans for me, and to reconnect via teaching a useful life skill.

I want to thank Keith Fail, NLP trainer at NLP Resources Austin, for his support. He and I (mostly he) taught Magical Viewpoints at the Lockhart prison in the fall of 2011. He was training people in Europe when this teaching opportunity came up. I winged it as well as prepped myself, learned a lot, and had a blast!

The gifts from telling the truth: a moving story

My friend Carol Waid, co-founder of the nonprofit Truth Be Told: Helping Women Behind and Beyond Bars, tells her story and the story of her work. Very, very moving. Click to read A Co-Founder’s Journey: Carol Waid’s Story.

I served as a board member for Truth Be Told for a couple of years when it was a new nonprofit. I used my writing and technology skills to start a newsletter and help them get organized to track supporters and receive donations so TBT could become stable — which they have!

I have attended several incredibly moving graduations and have gone into the prisons myself to teach writing and the three points of view to the women. I’ve also brought in dear friends who became facilitators. Maybe at some point, I will get to do that too.

Working with Truth Be Told is something I am so honored to have been able to do in this life. It is part of my heart.

Here’s an excerpt from Carol’s story:

I went to treatment some 13 years ago and in treatment I pretty much did the same kind of work that the facilitators guide the women to do, telling the TRUTH about our lives, through a process of using a lifeline to see your life.  I did not even know my own story, much less know how to talk about.  When I did a lifeline I was able to see the reasons I would try to take my own life at 15 and why I would choose the vehicle that I chose.  I began to see why I would choose a violent teenager to fall in love with and obsess over, even beyond his death.  I began to see how depression was in my fabric, and the fabric of my family.  I was shocked to discover that I had moved 32 times in my short 17 years of life and it began to make sense to me why I didn’t know what a friend was, or how to be a friend.

I also began to understand why I was scared to say my name and be seen.  What I didn’t know, for a very long time, and still struggle to accept, is that I am courageous and strong and compassionate and loving and smart and gentle and authentic, but I have to fight off what rules, which is fear and timidity and anger and depression and insecurity and the curse of believing I am nothing and not special.

In treatment I saw my life’s path before me, which gave me a map to work with all these years.  This is the work we do with the women who reside in prison, for many of them they are creating a map of their lives and they are discovering what has been the thread that was sewn into their fabric.  They are then given the tools to pull out threads that do not belong in their tapestry and to appreciate and respect the threads that remain and so beautifully they get to continue creating a new rows….  This work is crucial to healing.  Healing is what opens the door for living a blooming life.  A blooming life includes living in the “free” world and becoming a citizen that can help the world change for better.

Massage, brainwaves, NLP, work, yoga, women in prison, Gurdjieffian book group, trailer, and more

Life is going pretty well. Knock wood, right?

I’m doing well in massage school. Got in some great practice on three people outside of school this past Wednesday, ahead of Thursday’s practical exam. I have a major written test next week and then a week off. It’s hard to believe that I’m about halfway through!

Tomorrow it will be three months since I finished brainwave optimization. I am glad I did it. I feel more centered, my memory is better, and so is my focus. It’s been worth the expense, and I can still go back for individual sessions if I feel the need. It’s been helpful with juggling school/trailer/moving/remodeling/working and so on.

I’m looking forward to doing some gamma wave enhancement when my trainer Gigi Turner at NeuroBeginnings is ready and I have time.

Also, I can have a drink now! You are warned not to drink alcohol during the training and for three months afterward. Kinda makes me wonder what alcohol actually does to the brain. Any drinking I do will be very light — my alcohol tolerance is low.

I did an NLP session with a friend today and picked up a freelance writing/editing job for her website! This is my second recent website writing job. I love doing this for people who have created and are running their small businesses that make the world a better, healthier place, people who are living their passions. I’m looking for more work like that.

I posted my technical writing resume on Monster.com a couple of weeks ago. I’m looking to work 20 hours a week at most, flex-time and telecommuting preferred. Meanwhile, I’m open to doing freelance writing and editing, as well as more yoga and NLP coaching.

I’d love to teach yoga out of my trailer to individuals or small groups (up to 4 max). I’m putting this out there so if you know anyone in South Austin who’d like a small class with more personal attention, you can refer them to me.

I’m considering teaching a donation-only class on Saturday mornings until the weather gets cold. I plan to check out Searight Park in my neighborhood as a possible location. I have Sun Salutations on my mind!

I’ve been attending a weekly class in Anusara yoga at Castle Hill taught by Brigitte Edery or Liz Belile, both great teachers who stimulate and challenge the mind and body. It’s a natural segue from my Iyengar-based training. Love the attention to awareness.

Next week I’m going with Keith Fail into the state prison in Lockhart to teach some basic NLP to women in prison, as part of Truth Be Told‘s Exploring Creativity program. We’ll teach triple description — first, second, and third position, like first, second, and third person in English class, only applying it to your real life. Perceptual flexibility is a fabulous skill to teach, and I’m looking forward to it.

I’m participating in a book group, reading Life in the Labyrinth, by E.J. Gold. This is my first foray into the Gurdjieffian lineage, not counting my longtime interest in the Enneagram. The group has been meeting for a while, and I’m honored to have been invited. We take turns reading aloud, covering a chapter a week, and enjoying some stimulating discussion.

I’ve signed up for a one-day workshop at Lauterstein-Conway later this month on cranio-sacral massage. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I received CST every month for 2-3 years from Nina Davis. It is a fascinating branch on the massage family tree.

Week after next, I’m trading two hours of Swedish massage, with all the extras, for a two-hour lomi lomi (Hawaiian style) massage with James Moore. Really looking forward to that! I haven’t had a lomi lomi massage yet but have read about the Hawaiian healers who have kept this art alive.

Last, the trailer. I’m working on finding the best weatherstripping for the aluminum jalousie windows — something that will last that I can buy in bulk for the 48 windows, which have had the old, melted weatherstripping painstakingly removed.

Then, I hope to replace the nonworking sliding glass doors at the entry with something that works and build an entry deck. I’ve been using the back door to come and go.

Oh, and I must share this! August 2011 was the hottest month in the hottest year on record in Austin. It was also my first full month of having AC in the trailer. Friends have been telling me about their outrageous electric bills — as much as $400.

My AC ran nearly all day every day in August. I worried about my bill being outrageous.

The August bill was $100. Whew! Jon Esquivel at Austin Star Services did a good job getting a good unit in this trailer. For that I am grateful.

Other tasks coming up include plumbing and wiring my shed for a washer and dryer, getting some good window coverings and installing them, and planting more trees and a fall garden with some edible landscaping.

I am really, really loving my life now and the direction it’s going. It’s scary to make a big change in direction like I did, and it is working out well. Knock wood!