Personal Transformation: It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

SuEllen Fried talks about the "Reaching Out from Within" program

SuEllen Fried

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 greets inmates taking her "Reaching Out from Within" program

SuEllen Fried greets inmates

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)


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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8 comments on “Personal Transformation: It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over
  1. A lot of respect for this woman, who transformed the inhumanity of the prison system from within! We could need her training also in other large institutions, however… learning to listen to each other, be open about who you are, learn to trust etcetera… it would be great for bankers, healthcare professionals, university personnel…!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Angela,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I agree! Mrs. Fried’s program is for prisoners, but its principles apply to everyone. It’s a very inspiring story!

  2. This is a wonderful story, Lee, thanks for posting it. As I think about its messages, I see a little personal twist that is interesting to me. Like SueEllen, I want my life to be useful to others, and sometimes it seems like this is a daunting task. I feel like I need some sort of deep insight to share to be truly helpful. But SueEllen demonstrates the power of intent and commitment to the idea that we are all God’s children and each of us is uniquely valuable. Her approach to these prisoners is simple and elegant — just be yourself and share your vision of what we all are at the deepest level of our being. No matter what our life story has been, this story demonstrates that we all still respond to loving intent and the courage to speak our truth.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Chuck,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your good thoughts. What it brings to mind for me is that if you want to reach the angel-self that may be buried deeply in someone, reach out to them from your own angel-self. Of course, it’s often more complicated than that. Sometimes “tough love” is necessary to break through the hard shell people build around themselves. But even tough love still comes from love.

  3. Cathy Fraser says:

    She looks like an amazing women, there is so much one can give to thers and she has found a way to do just that. I have been reading a book by Jalaja Bonheim, Evolving Towards Peace. She is brilliant as she gives of herself to Circlework and her writing really transforms your heart and centers you to unlock the potential that is deep in your heart. Her info is on her site if interested,

    • Lee says:

      Hi Cathy,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. It’s always good to hear of people who are increasing the levels of love and light in our world!

  4. Sharon Jacobs says:

    I’ve know Sue Ellen Fried for years. She has had the grandma effect for years. I’ve worked with Sue Ellen on issues in mental health. I became an advocate in the patients rights movement during the 70’s. I made a choice to become the person, I knew I could be as an adult. I graduated from Avila University. Sue Ellen was a forceful teacher for me. Love and Light are the words , we should live by.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Sharon,

      Thanks for stopping by and telling your story. It’s nice to hear from someone who has personally had the Sue Ellen experience! Annette and I are very impressed not just with her personal dedication, but also with the message of personal choice and responsibility that she inculcates in her students.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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