SuEllen Fried looks more like a grandmother than a group counselor for prisoners.
In fact, she is both.
In 1980, she began volunteering at Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kansas. That volunteer work became a lifetime commitment to the inmates. As reported in a recent CBS Evening News report, “Kansas prisoners get the granny treatment,” Mrs. Fried leads a program in the Kansas prisons called “Reaching Out from Within.”
Why does she do it?
“I am addicted to personal transformations,” she says.
And the program works. Although the national recidivism rate (prisoners who end out back in prison after their release) is roughly 50%, for those who attend Mrs. Fried’s program regularly the rate drops to less than 10%.
How does this sweet, grandmotherly woman accomplish such tremendous results?
“The grandmother effect”
Part of Mrs. Fried’s success is due simply to her own presence. She has “the grandmother effect” on the prisoners. They experience her as a warm, loving, accepting presence in the bleak atmosphere of prison. She does not condemn them for their past actions, but looks to their present and future transformation.
Here is the CBS Evening News segment on her work in the Kansas State prisons:
In line with its title, in the “Reaching Out from Within” program the prisoners learn better ways to see themselves from the inside out, and better ways of relating to others. The program is based on the premise that no one is beyond the possibility of real reform. Even those who have committed criminal acts can make the choice to change into better versions of themselves.
It ain’t over ’til it’s over
SuEllen Fried’s program is a practical demonstration of the fact that as long as we are living and breathing on this earth, there is always the possibility of personal transformation. We can always make the choice to leave behind our old, destructive ways of thinking, feeling, and living, and begin a new and more constructive life.
Mrs. Fried’s sessions for the prisoners communicate to them that they are not beyond hope. They can have a better life, and become people with personal pride and integrity who contribute to the community.
In a future article, we’ll look at a fascinating statement Mrs. Fried makes about the angel and the beast in each of us.
For now, the message is simple. No matter who we are, and no matter what we’ve done, it is never too late to leave our past behind and begin a new life—a heaven-bound life. For more on this process of personal transformation from a spiritual perspective, see our article “Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth.”
(Photo credits: CBS News)