SuEllen Fried, a nationally recognized volunteer who spends her time working with prison inmates and advocating against bullying and family violence, spoke to a local group Tuesday about her experiences, particularly with inmates….
Our popular exhibition, Faces of Change, will close at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City on Sunday, Feb. 7. We will have our final Family & Friends Day gathering between 1:00 and 3:00 pm. Please join us as we celebrate together the people who have the courage to change, our members of Reaching Out From Within.
Attention Reaching Out From Within family! Your Brown Creek Minimum Unit chapter of ROFW would like to report the success of our First Annual Food Drive. The brothers took to the yard doing what we call “Man the Box”, where we constructed a collection box and decorated it to collect donations from our very own population.
The official start date was November 25th, where we hit the canteen lines asking for non-perishable food items as well as any cosmetic and hygienic items that can be used by the homeless stricken by domestic violence and/or other reasons. The population was more than receptive of the call to help and we were given a great opportunity to fully explain who ROFW is and what we stand for.
The first week was so successful in bringing in over 100 or more items that we were given permission to “Man the box” at visitation. This allowed our very own families the chance to sow a seed and to stand and be accounted for. The officers were more than happy to contribute to this righteous cause. Our grand total came to 528 items.
Our only regret is that one of our most valuable treasures, our male version of Ms. SuEllen, Mr. Larry Surrat, could not be here to see the drive’s success. He was also the author of our group’s growth. He was the engine that kept us running. He was more than a friend, he was family. There were so many goals he set for ROFW to achieve. He made you smile and believe that you could achieve whatever you put your mind to. If Kansas could have met him, they would see the light he shined on our group. There are millions of things we could say about him, but there’s not enough time in the day or enough air to breathe to explain. We would be most proud to announce to him that we also have added 2 officers that consist of 2 new member orientation coordinators. We also elected a secretary, treasurer, and myself, the news editor. Thank you and God Bless.
Brown Creek CI Minimum Unit
By Lynn Hinkle
What a year we had in 2015. Our outreach and awareness efforts were capped by the 22 brilliant B&W portraits created by Nick Vedros. Faces of Change was selected by American Photo Magazine as one of the top 10 photo exhibitions to see in America this winter. It is at the renowned Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City until February 7th, when we will have our final friends and family event from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. that closing Sunday. The exhibition assisted us in surpassing our fundraising goals and has deeply touched the hearts and minds of people who experienced it. The Johnson County Juvenile Detention Center is making a special field trip to see it in February, and Mark Holden of Koch Industries is coming to speak about “Ban the Box” on Jan. 14 at 4:00 in the exhibition hall. We are currently considering the next location for the exhibition.
Building on the momentum from last year, I believe 2016 is really going to be transformative for our organization.
SuEllen Fried and Jason Miles traveled nearly 2,200 miles last month to visit every prison group in Kansas for Recognition Banquets in December. One of the insights from SuEllen’s speech in New York when she accepted the “Women of Worth” award from L’Oreal Paris USA, resonated deeply, and SuEllen shared it at every stop: “I am not an advocate for every person who has been to prison. But I am a fierce advocate for members of Reaching Out From Within, because they will return to their communities as more tender spouses, more loving parents, and more loyal employees.”
Since 98% of inmates will return to their communities, the impact of our copyrighted 400-page curriculum, the Blue Book, is profound. It was reflected in a letter written by a grieving husband after the untimely and tragic death of his wife. He described the stages of grief he experienced, the pain so raw and overwhelming, and then observed how his behavior was different thanks to the work he has done with the Norton Minimum group. “I turned to the section in the Blue Book about Death and Dying and took comfort in its words,” recalls David M. “More important is what I didn’t do. I didn’t go out and try to make others feel my pain through acts of violence. I didn’t lash out at staff or guards and get myself all messed up with D.R.’s and a trip to the hole. In short, I didn’t act like the old me, and for that I say thank you, Reaching Out From Within, for showing me a better way.”
Another testimonial came from a dedicated and hardworking KDOC staff member who wrote about the challenges of the job, and reflected on the reasons she chose this profession in the first place, to help people. She said the ROFW Recognition Banquet inspired her and other staffers. “It is very easy for us to forget at times why we are here and so each year while in attendance to your banquet I am able to see the inmates in a different light with fresh eyes and it reminds me again, why I am here. I would like nothing more than to see these men released and be the person we all know they are capable of being.”
Finally, we were moved by the words from a wife whose husband will be returning home this Spring. Michael read his wife’s letter to us at the Ellsworth banquet. “I am writing to express my deepest gratitude for your program,” she wrote. “He has definitely been applying the lessons…he is a better listener, a better communicator, and all around a better man because of this program. He has finally accepted that his decisions alone landed both of us in this situation and I am 100% convinced he is a changed man. I don’t believe he will ever do that to us again, because he now understands that he has someone to think about other than himself.” She closed with these words: “Thank you all so much for everything you have done for my little family. I am looking forward to having Michael home with me so we can BOTH apply the lessons he’s learned to our lives and have an amazing future together!”
The banquets are a way to remember how far we have come in our 33-year journey, and they provide the impetus we need to continue to change and grow as a nonprofit organization. We are inspired by the members and alumni of Reaching Out From Within. We are humbled by their courage to change.
SuEllen Fried is one of 10 women to be honored as “Women of Worth” by L’Oreal Paris. This is the 10th anniversary of the Women of Worth awards, and SuEllen was selected from more than 6,000 nominees. A video featuring her with our members at the prison at Lansing is on the website.
This week you can VOTE for SuEllen Fried on the WomenofWorth.com website. Every day until Nov. 20th, you can vote for SuEllen and her work.
On Thursday, Nov. 19th, L’Oreal Paris will feature SuEllen on all their social media, so if you vote on the website, retweet on Twitter, and share on Facebook, that gives SuEllen 3 votes. Her organization, Reaching Out From Within, can win $35,000 to support its work thanks to L’Oreal Paris and the Points of Light Foundation.
On Dec. 1, SuEllen Fried will join the other 9 nominees at a Gala in New York City, walking the red carpet with celebrities and being interviewed by E! as she shares her story of inmates who demonstrate the Courage to Change.
Please join us in voting for SuEllen at her link:
Thank you for believing in the people we serve and their courage to change.
Prison is hard, and it takes courage to change so you can have a successful reentry, and become a contributing member of your family and community.
The keys to successful reentry include a support system, resilience, a positive attitude, and the courage to ask for help. Every alumnus of Reaching Out From Within will tell you stories of their challenges to find housing, a job…and sometimes just to eat on the outside.
One of our alums was so hungry for food and a job, he waited half the day for an interview with the manager of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Kansas City. The manager had posted a sign: Help Wanted. When our alum went in, he had no money to eat, but he asked the manager for a job. The manager promised to interview him soon, but then he got busy and forgot. When he came back into the now empty restaurant and saw that our alum had waited patiently (and hungrily) for 5 hours, he hired him on the spot.
Alumni who stay out of prison for 3 years and become part of our positive story of reentry success are those with the courage to change on the outside, and the willingness to remain positive inside themselves. A belief in yourself is one of the ways our learning community reinforces each other behind the walls.
Weekly, our prison members must summon the courage to change and thus to be vulnerable, if they want to be fully prepared for reentry success. On the outside, no one dictates your schedule, and you are on your own in so many ways. By staying connected to Alumni Groups in Wichita and Kansas City, a network of support is created. It’s fine to be vulnerable in that place, because whatever situation you are dealing with and find so frustrating has been dealt with before by someone in the group.
Recently, President Obama visited a successful reentry program in New Jersey. Here’s what he said after hearing stories from returning citizens:
“There are so many Americans who want a second chance,” Obama continued. “We want more success stories like these. It’s good for everyone.”
The president urged Congress to pass more comprehensive criminal-justice reforms to reduce the number of citizens who are locked up and to improve the chances for those in jail for leading a productive life after their release. America’s prison population is now 2.2 million — costing taxpayers some $8 billion a year — and the vast majority of these inmates will eventually be released, most with no formal oversight.
In the interim, Obama pledged to use his executive powers to provide $8 million over three years to help create high-quality education and training programs for former prisoners; another program targets technology training to ex-offenders in 30 communities, including Newark. The president also promised to revise federal housing guidelines to clarify the rules relating to arrests and potential eviction.
We are working with members to prepare for successful entry on the inside, and will stay connected to alumni as they demonstrate the courage to change on a daily basis. The Department of Justice is supporting more reentry efforts at http://www.justice.gov/archive/fbci/progmenu_reentry.html
Please see our Alumni page for information on our groups and how to stay connected to us and to each other.
A month from now, I will make my second 2,200 mile road trip to every prison in Kansas. We are preparing 500 gift boxes for our members and will share a care package that includes shampoo, comb, shave cream, body lotion, Hallmark cards, a composition notebook, pens, dental hygiene items, and a few edible treats. Here is what I wrote last year in late December.
What an inspirational journey I’ve been on with SuEllen Fried as we have been visiting the prisons with our truckload of wonderful gift bags and boxes prepared by board members, alumni, and volunteers. I wish I could describe the faces of our members in each of the facilities as we walk into the room. It is truly heart-warming for us, and I believe it is for the inmates as well. The Recognition Banquets include awards and a program, sometimes a play or skit, other times the most inspirational testimony from group leaders. I wish I had a video camera to capture it all because it would change hearts and minds of those on the outside. I will never forget one of the Eldorado inmates describing our program in three powerful words: Raw. Real. Relevant.
Each Gift Box can be sponsored by a donor. If you want to participate in our program, please go here now and donate as many Gift Boxes at $25 each as you can possibly afford.
These humble Gift Boxes mean the world to the men and women of our organization who are spending the holidays away from our community, but who look forward to helping us pack these items at the Alumni Meeting next November!
When the exhibition “Faces of Change” opens at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, we encourage you to take time to looking into the faces of our members. Thanks to the mastery of internationally renowned photographer Nick Vedros, you will experience the humanity of these men and women.
On Saturday, Nov. 21st, we are having a day for family, volunteers and friends of Reaching Out From Within to meet our founder, SuEllen Fried, and other important leaders in our organization. Please join us anytime between 2 and 4 p.m. to experience the power of transformation.
When the project to “put a face on our organization” was first proposed by Mr. Vedros, we expected to have 25 portraits. More than twice as many B&W images were eventually created over a period of several months, thanks to the cooperation of Kansas Dept. of Corrections officials. Guest Curator Dan White, a Pulitzer prize-winning photographer, along with the museum and the artist, had the challenge of selecting 22 images for the museum space.
Based on preliminary response from our generous patrons, these images have an impact. They connect those of us on the outside with our fellow citizens who are behind the walls, and reconnect them to our community.