We know that 98% of Kansas’ inmates will be released into a community. Don’t we want to prepare them for a nonviolent lifestyle while they are inside the walls, so they can be contributing citizens when they get out?
Reaching Out From Within is a nonprofit, volunteer organization that provides reentry correctional programs behind prison walls, and mentoring and alumni support when returning citizens are released.
A 400-page curriculum, the “Blue Book” has been field tested over the past three decades as the guide for weekly sessions of what has grown to include every prison in Kansas and several in North Carolina. Each prison reentry group begins with a positive thought from every attendee. A trained Reaching Out From Within volunteer joins in the sharing session as asked, but the group is run by its own set of bylaws and elected officers. The organization’s beliefs are read aloud:
- …that no one has the right to hit anyone.
- …in using alternatives to cope with stress and anger.
- …in advocating a violence-free lifestyle.
- …that, even though we are incarcerated, we can help those in need.
- …in the importance of caring for humanity.
There are two essential ingredients in running a Reaching Out From Within prison reentry group successfully: Respect and Confidentiality. As the groups work through various units in the “Blue Book”, men and women encourage each other to be honest with themselves; they hold each other accountable.
As Lansing Warden Rex Pryor noted when sharing his insights with a Japanese delegation who had come to America to study successful reentry correctional programs like Reaching Out From Within, “It not only reduces recidivism, the members of the group become role models inside the walls as well. They contribute to a safer environment for our staff.”
The Blue Book
I am incarcerated. In 1975 I was sentenced to the Lansing State Penitentiary, that was fourteen years ago. It seems so distant, so long ago, and yet I will never forget walking through those prison gates with shackles, handcuffs and bellychains. The iron gate clanging shut as only a prison gate can. Then the feeling within my gut, a feeling so draining you knew the life had been sucked out of you. Finally, once the restraints were removed, we were able to shower and be deloused. We were issued a pillow, a pair of brogans, 2 pair of jeans, 2 chambray shirts, 2 pair of boxer shorts and 2 t-shirts, one blanket, 1 sheet and a pillowcase. I was then sent to my domicile, Cellhouse, and assigned my room. It wasn’t bad, a 5′ x 8′ cell with its own toilet and sink. Home!
That day I knew I was not going to enjoy my stay. That same day I knew I would have to make choices, choices that I would solely be responsible for, ones I would have to live with. It took a long time to find something positive within the walls of my prison. I vacillated between putting my life back together and not caring about anything. But somehow in my shell of loneliness and torment 1 was able to look at myself. I knew I needed to start putting the pieces back together. 1 made a choice of wanting to live and to live for the right reasons – to put the past behind, to deal with the hurt and poor image of myself and start growing in a positive direction.
I know change is possible not only for those incarcerated but for all those in need. I know we can put our lives back together. Yes, we need help; we need time, we need patience but we also need to learn skills that somewhere in our lives we never completely understood. Through sharing with others we find out we are not alone but some of our deepest problems and fears are shared by others. We find there is hope and most importantly people who care, truly care about people. Through sharing, caring and trusting we learn to grow and growth truly brings change, change as it is meant to be