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.