Ten years ago, “something happened” at Deneal Trueblood’s Minneapolis home.
Four years later, she got out of prison.
Serving her sentence at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee, Trueblood’s life took a turn that sent her back to school. Now, the 48-year-old senior at Metropolitan State University is directing and starring in “Secrets,” a play she wrote abut her life-changing experience.
“Anything that you keep inside of you has a boiling point, and you can’t control your reaction,” Trueblood said before a recent rehearsal of her play, which will be presented Feb. 27-28 as a staged reading at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul. “Something happened to my daughter, and I reacted.”
Court records show that Trueblood’s daughter, then 12, accused an adult acquaintance of inappropriate touching. Trueblood appeared at the man’s home, picked up a bottle and smashed it across his face, leaving him seriously wounded. She later pleaded guilty to first-degree assault, a felony.
A law-abiding citizen who’d never before had more than a traffic ticket, Trueblood found herself in a strange and frightening world.
“You don’t know what to expect or what’s going to happen,” she said. Before her incarceration, Trueblood had worked a variety of jobs, including as a truck driver, a youth basketball coach and a check sorter at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank.
Realizing she needed more education, Trueblood enrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College after her release. After earning an associate degree, she headed to Metro State.
A born storyteller, Trueblood had never been involved with theater. Deciding to expand her range, she signed up for a theater class.
Being onstage was “a rush,” she said. After appearing in several plays at Metro State, she realized, “I’m really good at telling other people’s stories, but what about mine?”
Trueblood wrote a story and, with guidance from theater faculty, turned it into a play.
“She’s as honest as the day is long, and I think you need that,” said Gail Smogard, a Metro State communications professor who’s advising on the production. “We can teach technique, but we can’t teach credibility.”
In prison, Trueblood said, “I had been in programs that were supposed to help me when I got out. But when I called, nobody answered.”
Then she called Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota in St. Paul. They answered.
Trueblood began working at a Goodwill retail store as the organization helped her with re-entry into society, assisting her with forms and program applications, helping with her elderly mother — even such things as getting a copy of her birth certificate from Louisiana.
“There are a lot of barriers in front of people. Our job is to remove those and work with people one-on-one to be successful,” said Melissa Becker, a Goodwill-Easter Seals spokeswoman.
Trueblood now facilitates a Goodwill mentorship program for people who have been in the criminal justice system; she also shares her story at prisons.
“I’m there because I was one of them,” she said. “You’ve got to change your thinking. You can’t come out of prison and do the same things that got you there.
“My instructor said, ‘You need to tell this story,’ ” Trueblood added. “ ‘You can be a voice for those who don’t have one.’ ”