“Each of us has an Angel and a Beast inside of us,” said SuEllen Fried, a great grandmother and nearly 40-year volunteer in Kansas correctional facilities. “Only when we acknowledge the Beast, can we embrace the Angel.”
As co-founder of Reaching Out From Within, SuEllen has been a constant source of inspiration: embracing inmates, giving them respect, and challenging them to have the courage to change through a carefully crafted reentry program. Her own inspiration for the work was her co-founder, the late Greg Musselman, who was serving a life sentence in Lansing when the two crossed paths in the early ‘80s as a result of SuEllen’s work on child abuse prevention.
“The inmates wanted to understand the roots of violence and how it had impacted them. They were brave enough to do the extraordinary work of personal transformation, guiding each other in a way that was raw, real and relevant,” SuEllen said. The group, known at that time as StopViolence, was so successful at the rehabilitation of incarcerated individuals, that it spread at the grassroots level throughout the Kansas Department of Corrections as members were transferred from Lansing to other facilities. The therapy-based curriculum that was developed, known as the “Blue Book,” would serve as a basis for incarcerated members dealing with deeply rooted issues of violence and eventual healing through the program. “They would take the Blue Book to the new warden and ask to start a group, and because of its success at Lansing, the answer was always yes.”
A reentry program is essential because of the stigma a felony conviction carries on the outside. Reaching Out From Within has a network of alumni who continue to transform themselves, their community and work to mentor and support others during their transition process. The frustrations associated with reintegrating into life on the outside: getting a job, affordable transportation, a safe living environment, and even learning to drive and using a cell phone, can become overwhelming. The tools offered through the Blue Book, and the community of positive people who meet weekly to support each other, have proven to be effective ways to reduce recidivism in our communities and to encourage healthy relationships for our incarcerated population and our returning citizens.