“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.