In October 2019, ROFW hosted its inaugural National Symposium on Incarceration and Returning Citizens and benefit dinner in Overland Park, Kansas. Axel Briemle, an internationally recognized prison rehabilitation management expert from Germany was our anchor guest. The German prison system is rooted in humanity and redemption, a stark contrast from the prison system in the United States.
The Symposium consisted of panels featuring international, national and local experts in the criminal justice reform arena, covering a range of topics:
- the integration of human dignity into incarceration in the United States;
- economic benefits from returning citizens into the workforce;
- alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenses;
- women in prison; and,
- state leadership in many of these areas
The most moving and impactful panel of the day included ROFW’s own members, some who are still incarcerated, and some who are returned citizens. ROFW believes it is important for all segments of society, including those in state leadership, law enforcement (including corrections department leaders and staff and regional prosecutors), the business community and the general public to have an opportunity to see ROFW members, past and present, simply as people.
We are so grateful to all of our panelists and moderators for their participation in the Symposium: Axel Briemle (international prison rehabilitation management expert from Germany); Scott Erfe (District Administrator, Connecticut Department of Corrections); Gregory Winship (Restorative Justice Strategist and Training Manager, Center for Conflict Resolution, Kansas City, MO); Jenny Kim (Deputy General Counsel and VP, KOCH); Bettie Kirkland (Executive Director, Project Return, Nashville); Jeff Korzenic (Chief Investment Strategist, Fifth Third Bank, Chicago); Cheryl Reinhardt (Corporate Counsel, Zephyr Products, Leavenworth); Joe Reardon (CEO, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Kansas City, MO); Jacob Waldrup (ROFW member); Danny Ramos (ROFW member); Marc Showalter (Manager, Zephyr Products, Inc./ROFW alumnus); Jason Miles (Director, Zephyr Products, Inc., Leavenworth, KS/ROFW alumnus); Andre Carson (Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office/ROFW alumnus); Russ Thompson (past ROFW Board President/current ROFW volunteer); Jean Peters-Baker (Jackson County Prosecutor, Kansas City, MO); Mark Dupree (Wyandotte County District Attorney, Kansas City, KS); Laquisha Ross (Assistant Federal Public Defender, Kansas City, MO); Scott Schultz, Executive Director, Kansas Sentencing Commission, Topeka, KS); Dr. Micah Kubic (Executive Director, ACLU Florida); Shannon Meyer (Warden, Kansas Women’s Correctional Facility, Topeka, KS); Von Voner (2 Sisters Cleaning/ROFW Alumna); Mark Holden (SVP and General Counsel, KOCH Industries); Anne Precythe (Director, Missouri Department of Corrections, Jefferson City, MO); Jeff Zmuda (Secretary, Kansas Department of Corrections, Topeka, KS); Reggie Robinson, Facilitator, Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission/CEO, Kansas Health Foundation, Topeka, KS). ROFW is equally grateful for all of the attendees who will continue to choose hope and redemption for incarcerated individuals and returning citizens.
The annual benefit dinner followed the Symposium and was chaired by Graham and Bebe Hunt and Randy and Cheryl Reinhardt. A lively cocktail hour was followed by a wonderful dinner and meaningful introductory remarks by Greater Kansas City Chamber CEO, Joe Reardon. The crowd then experienced an intimate discussion between one of Kansas City’s most esteemed radio hosts, Dana Wright, and Axel Briemle, about the differences between the German/European and United States prison systems, and what Americans can learn from injecting more humanity into its prison system. The evening was capped off with ROFW presenting Axel with a signed Patrick Mahomes jersey! Needless to say, October 7, 2019 was a very memorable day and evening in the illustrious history of Reaching Out From Within.
In 2018, ROFW brought together Mark Holden (Executive Vice President and General Counsel) from Koch Industries and Dr. Micah Kubic (Executive Director) ACLU Kansas in its Unlikely Partners: Collaborating for Criminal Justice Reform event. These champions of criminal justice reform participated in a Q&A moderated by Colleen McCain Nelson Just months before the bipartisan First Step Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, two proponents of the legislation, most often on opposite sides of issues, gathered in Kansas City at the ROFW event to discuss areas of common support in the realm of criminal justice reform in the United States. ROFW’s strong partnerships with both KOCH and the ACLU continue today.
In 2017, ROFW hosted a screening of the powerful, award-winning documentary, Big Sonia. The documentary captures the life and spirit of Sonia Warshawski, a 90 something local Kansas businesswoman and Holocaust survivor. SuEllen Fried was personally moved by Sonia’s story and invited her to speak with ROFW members at a meeting at the Lansing Correctional Facility. Some portions of that meeting are featured in the Big Sonia, and the impact that Sonia had on those incarcerated men that evening is indelible.
In 2015, ROFW co-hosted the exhibit, Faces of Change at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and featured 22 intimate portraits of ROFW members who worked the Blue Book program and found the courage to change. The portraits were taken by nationally recognized photographer, Nick Vedros, and Faces of Change was selected by American Photo Magazine as one of the top 10 photo exhibitions to see in America that winter.