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KC Rep performance benefits Kansas inmate program, Reaching Out From Within

Reaching Out from Within, a successful, active inmate program in Kansas hosts a benefit performance, March 13, of “When I Come to Die,” by Nathan Louis Jackson,  produced by KC Rep, currently at the Copaken Stage in Kansas City, Mo.
Reaching Out from Within, a successful, active inmate program in Kansas hosts a benefit performance, March 13, of “When I Come to Die,” by Nathan Louis Jackson, produced by KC Rep, currently at the Copaken Stage in Kansas City, Mo.
Don Ipock

The current production at the KC Rep, “When I Come to Die,” by Nathan Louis Jackson concerns a death row inmate who gets a second chance, which is the focus of a Kansas prison inmate program, Reaching Out From Within, that plans to use a benefit performance of the play, March 13, to raise money and awareness for their program.

“I’m the Audience Development Manager,” Roderick Duplissie of the KC Rep, said.” “Part of my job is to find and coordinate with groups like ROFW who have an interest in the power of theatre. The theme of “When I Come to Die” is an important aspect of what ROFW is trying to get across to its friends and supporters. I handle the logistics of putting together their fundraiser around the Rep’s production.”

Reaching Out From Within, an organization formed in Lansing, Kan. works with inmates in 20 locations, 18 in Kansas to help change the aspect of inmates as they work their way through the penal system, Russ Thompson, board president of Reaching Out From Within, said. The other two chapters of the program in North Carolina are just now getting underway.

“ROFW is a passionate group that is wholly invested in the rehabilitation, education and reintegration of inmates back into the population,” Duplissie said. “I’ve met some wonderful people, with huge hearts and a passion for those who have made mistakes. One of my first impressions was of SuEllen Fried (founder of BullySafe USA) who took Nathan and me to Lansing Correctional to attend one of the inmate’s meetings. It was a little uncomfortable at first to sit in a circle with 20 inmates, but ten minutes into the meeting, we were laughing and sharing stories. There were tears shed, and we all left as new friends.”

ROFW changes the way inmates look at life and their approach to life, Thompson said. ROFW wants to make a difference in the inmates before their release. As such, volunteers go to the prisons and meet with inmates, and prisoners love people coming in and treating them with respect. They enjoy the opportunity to have contact from outside the prison and willingly work with our volunteers.

The benefit performance of Jackson’s “When I Come to Die” begins with appetizers and beverages at 6p.m. Curtain time is 7p.m. Immediately after the one-act play ROFW invites the audience to stay and participate in a conversation with ROFW alumni.. A dessert reception with the playwright and alumni is planned at 9:15 in the lobby. Tickets and information about ROFW can be found at their website: www.rofw.org.

“I started serving as a volunteer sponsor with the Reaching Out From Within group at Lansing Correctional Facility, Minimum Custody, in 1996,” Thompson said. “The group met for two hours, weekly, and was one of four ROFW groups in Kansas. There are now 20 ROFW groups, 18 in Kansas and two in North Carolina.”

The nationwide problem, two to three million prisoners in the United States, makes the USA the most incarcerated population in the world, Thompson said. He further said that very little is done to prepare inmates to re-enter society once their sentence ends.

“Most are just let go, with no plan or structure in place to help them,” he said. “Kansas is very progressive in working with inmates prior to their release so they do not become repeat offenders and end up back in prison. Our recidivism rate is 35 percent. Nationwide, the rate is near 50 percent.”

ROFW, according to Thomson, a volunteer group set objectives for inmates to learn before their release:

  • Understand that no one has the right to hit anyone
  • know and use alternatives to cope with stress and anger
  • Advocate for a violence-free lifestyle
  • Recognize that even though we are incarcerated, we can help those in need
  • Know and understand the importance of caring for humanity

“ROFW is a self-help organization. The inmate group members meet once weekly. They have bylaws and elect their own officers to run the group. There is a Blue Book curriculum that the inmates have developed over the years. One of the group members facilitates the meeting discussion each week around the units in the Blue Book. The units provide information about topics important to inmates and ask questions that generate discussion. The topics in the Blue Book are: addiction, anger, child abuse, communication, conflict, domestic violence, respect, self, and spirituality. Over the years we have seen how active involvement in ROFW reduces the likelihood that people coming out of prison will re-offend and return to prison,” he said.

The organizational goal is to give incarcerated men and women a better opportunity for a second chance upon release, thereby reducing crime and making our communities safer, Thompson said.

The goals of ROFW groups are:

  • To learn about child abuse, spouse abuse, sexual assault, elder abuse, and other forms of violence present in our world today
  • To take what we learn and educate others about the violence that exists in society
  • To learn alternatives to cope with stress, anger, and rage and learn the resources available to us
  • To communicate to others the alternatives to vi0lence and resources available to them
  • To learn valuable communication skills necessary for emotional well being

“After SuEllen Fried, our cofounder and president emeritus, heard a reading of Nathan Jackson's play "When I Come to Die" a year ago we decided to buy out the Copaken Stage for the Kansas City Repertory Theatre performance of that play on March 13. We plan to use that as a benefit performance for our organization. The play is about a death row inmate who gets a second chance at life after he survives his execution. The second chance nature of that story fits up against the second chance goal or our organization,” Thompson said.

Thompson wants to encourage Kansas City metro and suburb persons to help fill the KC Rep for the performance March 13 at the Copaken Stage in the H&R Block building at 13th and Main, Kansas City, Mo. Duplissie said that as of March 6 over 250 seats were reserved and mor reservations come in daily.

“We encourage people to come to our benefit on March 13. Tickets are still available. Go to www.rofw.org and reserve seating there. We have a pre-show reception with appetizers prepared by Cornerstone Catering and free beverages beginning at 6 p.m. This is a one-act play, “When I Come to Die” begins at 7 p.m. The play will be followed by a dessert reception in the lobby of the H&R Block Building for all attendees. Any questions can be sent to rthompson67@kc.rr.com.