“Each of us has an Angel and a Beast inside of us,” said SuEllen Fried, 83, and a 33-year volunteer in Kansas correctional facilities. “Only when we acknowledge the Beast, can we embrace the Angel.”
As co-founder of the Kansas-based nonprofit organization, 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 re-entry 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 inmate rehabilitation that it spread at the grassroots level throughout the Kansas Department of Corrections as inmates were transferred from Lansing to other facilities. “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 re-entry program is essential because of the stigma a felony conviction carries on the outside. Reaching Out From Within has alumni groups in Kansas City, Kansas and Wichita, Kansas to continue the community and support members during their transition. The frustrations associated with life on the outside: getting a job, affordable transportation, a safe living environment, and even learning to drive and use a cell phone, can become overwhelming. The tools of the “Blue Book” and the community of positive people who meet weekly to support each other is one more way to reduce recidivism and encourage healthy relationships.
Reaching Out From Within expanded to all 9 prisons in Kansas, and recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of a successful launch into North Carolina with assistance from the Bob Barker Foundation. Based on the enthusiastic response of corrections officials there, and with interest from 26 other states, Reaching Out From Within has hired a full-time executive director, Lynn Gardner Hinkle, to assist in the charitable organization’s development of the re-entry program.
“There is a national need for inmate rehabilitation programs that save tax dollars in this time of tight budgets, and this program has the added benefit of three decades of proven success in changing lives,” Ms. Hinkle said. “Since 98% of the current prison population will be released, it makes sense to prepare them to be model citizens while they are inside, giving them the tools they need to be nonviolent citizens on the outside.”
Ms. Hinkle is a Kansas City, Missouri entrepreneur with more than 30 years of small business experience in Missouri and Kansas. Ms. Hinkle is president of the International Women’s Forum, IWF Kansas, and was honored with the “Women Who Make a Difference Award” by the IWF in 2000. She was named Kansan of the Year in 1994, received a lifetime achievement award from the American Advertising Federation, and has won numerous national awards for television, radio and print marketing materials. Ms. Hinkle is known for her work in sustainability and green solutions, and her achievements have been featured in the books “Women Who Mean Business” and “Missouri Gardening Companion”, as well as USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Moscow Times, and many other publications.
“Our organization is excited to share the successful program we developed in Kansas with others who desperately need it,” said Ms. Fried. “All communities deserve to welcome healthier, non-violent individuals home after they have served their time in prison. Reaching Out From Within has proven to be a powerful tool of transformation, and Lynn Hinkle will help us as we extend our program and reduce recidivism rates.”