When growing up, I was placed in foster care because my biological mother and father were deceased. I was alone, and didn’t have any family members in my life. I was molested twice by my foster parents, and he threatened to kill me if I told anyone about it. Then it happened again in a different foster home. I started to feel that nobody loved me and I ran away.

When I was 10 years old, I was homeless and living on the streets, doing drugs and alcohol. At age 11, I joined a gang for acceptance, love and responsibility. Several times I have tried to take my own life, due to loneliness and rejection. But since I have been involved in Reaching Out From Within the past three years, I have a family now–and I feel like this organization saved me.

I’m very appreciative of what Reaching Out From Within has given me, to help turn my past around and to strengthen me for the future.

Whenever I take a visitor to witness a weekly session of our groups, whether in minimum or maximum security, they come away in awe of our men and women, their intelligence and their self-awareness.

These sessions are raw, real, and relevant. A mental health expert and dear friend of mine once commented about her observations: “I spent so much money and so many years getting my degrees in psychology, and these inmates have just demonstrated that they can be brilliant and effective with each other, simply by following the curriculum in the Blue Book!”

The reason our work is so rewarding is that we witness personal transformations. We see people forgive themselves and others, and as volunteers, we provide the eyes and ears of society. Members of Reaching Out From Within are brave beyond words. They make themselves vulnerable in a dangerous place, and pledge to be a positive support system for each other. Confidentiality is key. Respect is expected. Trust is built.

We have a “Go to Jail Free” card with our contact information on it. If you want to attend a session and observe this program at work, let us know. But be prepared. You too will be changed.

Politics makes for strange bedfellows. That is why the partnership of the ACLU and the Koch brothers, of Van Jones and Newt Gingerich, was so widely remarked upon when they first came together as the “BiPartisan Commission on Criminal Justice Reform”.

With our co-founder, SuEllen Fried, I traveled to Washington D.C. to learn as much as I could about prison reform, second chances and reentry efforts. Hundreds of people listened as everyone from the US Attorney General to the US Labor Secretary talked about the importance of reform, and how certain employers such as Koch Industries and Johns Hopkins had found that hiring “returning citizens” who have paid their debt to society is a selfish thing to do… because they make such loyal and grateful employees!

What if we put aside our prejudices, accepted the power of personal transformation, and invested in programs for people with the Courage to Change? Our 33-year track record in prisons is testament to the ability of men and women behind the walls to make changes that will prepare them for success on the outside.

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