woman holding fireflies

Self Expression in Prison and Free: Sharon’s Story

Program graduate
Free since February 2007

While incarcerated, Sharon participated in Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me Movement and Let’s Get Real programs. Using the improvisational, body-centered practice of authentic movement, Talk to Me Movement invites women to write and embody the story of what they believe put them on a path to prison. Let’s Get Real is a trauma-informed reentry program that offers life skills and support to women as they prepare to leave prison.  Here Sharon speaks about her personal history and new identity: 

In talking about your incarceration and the women you met in prison, you said: “Something brought us there – it wasn’t just the crime, but it stems from something deeper.” Will you speak more to what you mean by this?

I firmly believe my pathway to prison came about as a result of violent childhood trauma. My very first memories are of a fight between family members. I witnessed a lot of abuse, and I was abused physically and sexually from a young age.

Growing up, I carried a lot of shame and self-hatred, and nobody knew. I acted out by drinking, smoking, going to parties, sleeping around. I tried to kill myself, but, in the end, I chickened out.

I became pregnant my senior year of high school and gave the baby boy up for adoption. I knew I could not take care of him alone and that I would not get an abortion. I pray to meet him someday. He has a letter at the agency from me waiting in case he wants to meet me. I numbed this pain too for so long, but I also believe this was God’s plan to break cycles of abuse and trauma in my family.

At 19, I left our small, dry Texas town for a big city and attended a technical college. I worked in the service industry to support myself, and my drinking worsened. I would have never tried the drugs I did had I not been drunk.

I tried to heal myself by numbing myself. I grew up in church but never even thought of trying to go. I was overwhelmed by all the bars and bands downtown. I thought since I had played piano since the age of 2 and music was my passion that I would get into a band easily, but I was never sober enough to be serious about it.

I never knew when I was drinking if it would be a happy drunk or a fighting drunk. I transferred my anger and resentment against my abuser to people I loved. I got DWIs at 22, 24, and the last one at 28. I had no idea how to heal myself. I was so overwhelmed with shame, pain, depression and hopelessness. I broke probation and ran for five years from that warrant. I was doing meth and having breakdowns when my sister pleaded with me to turn myself in. I was ready. I was ready to forgive my abuser and heal. I was so tired of trying to die. I needed help. I turned myself in on New Years’ Eve 2005.

What moments or experiences can you point to that have been instrumental to your recovery and healing?

At Lockhart prison, the Truth be Told volunteers gave us a journal to write our life story down. No one had ever asked me my side of the story. I felt like no one would want to hear about my horrible life, but that validation was exactly what I needed: Someone who wanted to hear it. Someone genuinely cared! I took Talk to Me Movement and was so inspired by these volunteers and the women who took the class with me that I could not wait to come back in one day and tell my story again. I spent 13 months at Lockhart, and I tell everyone it was one of the best things that ever happened to me — a God thing to have learned so much and to actually be able to experience joy, hope and peace in prison!

Another big part of my healing journey happened after I was out of prison. In November of 2018, I attended a four-day retreat in the mountains of Utah for women who’ve been sexually abused as a child or adolescent. I learned about how trauma affects the body and my mind and why I have post-traumatic stress disorder, triggers, anxiety and depression. I learned about the fight, flight and freeze responses from the amygdala and how I can use breathing and movement to counteract it.

I realized later that out of the 21 women at the retreat, I was the only one who had never been to counseling. I cried about that. I had been in survival mode all my life. I was simply happy to be sober. I thought if I just kept strong in my faith, kept journaling and exercising, etc., that I would be OK. But I am happy to say I start my first counseling session next month, and this will be another chapter in my healing journey.

All these people I’ve met along the way are my heroes. From the volunteers at Truth Be Told to the counselors at the retreat in Utah, they spark a fire in me that wants to help others heal from what I am healing from.

You’ve mentioned that you have a strong maternal instinct and have found ways to nurture others, even though motherhood in the traditional sense hasn’t been a part of your story. Will you tell us about that work and why it’s important to you?

Within six months of leaving prison, I began teaching piano from my home to earn a living. I continue to teach to this day. That first year, I had 12 students, a summer recital and a Christmas recital — and I have had a Christmas recital every year since then. The number of students I have at any given time varies, but they are all so special to me, especially the young, precocious ones! My inner child comes out, and we have so much fun learning and creating. My maternal instinct is strong, and I consider all my students “my kids.” I am left with such a joy in my heart and an ear-to-ear smile after each lesson. I literally have the best job in the world! I am also blessed to be able to play piano and sing at our church.

The same year I left prison, I joined Epiphany Ministries of Texas, and I was able to share my story for the first time at Garza County Detention Center for Boys in Post, Texas. The experience was empowering and amazing for me personally, since I had given up my son for adoption when I was so young. On Day 1 of 3, all the boys acted aloof, but, by day 3, they were crying for us not to leave. I “adopted” all of them in my mind, and I was able to write letters through the Center afterwards. We hold reunions with the boys once a month.

I’ve also shared my story with the girls at the Ron Jackson State School in Brownwood, Texas. I had them on their feet chanting: “I AM SOMEBODY! SPECIAL! BEAUTIFUL PRINCESS WARRIORS!” I “adopted” all of them too.

In dreaming about the next three to five years, what do these next chapters of your life entail?

In the next chapters of my life, I will be moving into a brand-new, converted “she shed” on the land I grew up on. I will continue my healing journey and keep forgiving my abuser when triggers arise. I will continue to teach piano, and I intend on starting school for counseling in the future. Until then, I will keep shining my light brightly, ministering to my kids and women who have experienced what I have been through. I will write new songs of healing and hope. I will always be grateful for my healing journey and for those precious, dear ones who helped me start it all.

Honor Sharon by helping Truth Be Told raise $40,000 in 7 Days between September 21-27. All gifts made during this 7-day campaign will DOUBLE in size, thanks to a dollar-for-dollar matching pledge of up to $40,000! Your gift will ensure that Truth Be Told continues to disrupt the cycle of trauma, abuse and incarceration among generations of women. Click on $40,000 in 7 Days to make your gift today!

Originally printed on https://www.truth-be-told.org/

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