Carla Clanagan: Changing the game by aiding the forgotten

Cherri Gregg
February 12, 2019 - 6:00 am
Carla Clanagan founded In His Eyes Outreach.

Cherri Gregg/KYW Newsradio

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NORRISTOWN, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Carla Clanagan founded In His Eyes Outreach, an organization dedicated to educating and supporting women who are incarcerated or re-entering society.

"We found that they don't have any support," said Clanagan, who began working in the prisons in 2007. "Women would end up in and out of prison because they could not get off probation."

The Penn State grad began providing weekly bible study at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Eagleville. The effort soon began to include probation assessments. 

Clanagan then recruited volunteers who established relationships with incarcerated women — and many times, their male partners who are also incarcerated — to help them navigate the criminal justice system and create better outcomes.

Her approach: Help them deal with the trauma that got the men and women incarcerated in the first place.

"The child abuse, molestation, rape," added Clanagan. "We work with everyone."

The mentors visit the inmates once a week and help the women set up support for when they get out, like Alcoholics Antonymous, drug treatment or mental health support.

"We worked as a team with the county probation department to really get the individuals the resources they need," she said.

Volunteers with In His Eyes Outreach, founded by Carla Clanagan.
Courtesy of In Your Eyes Outreach

Without support, many of the women would end up back in jail for minor probation violations, Clanagan noted. But with the help of the nearly 35 mentor volunteers, the women learned how to get a job, keep a job and show up to appointments.  

The impact has reached hundreds of women.

"We do at least 100 a year, whether by in-person contact, phone contact or writing," said Clanagan. "We noticed a difference."

Clanagan and her team used multiple forms of therapy to reach the women behind bars. One method — thanks to a prison guard who kept up the effort — was the women's gospel choir, in which the women rehearsed and performed concerts for nearly two years.

After learning that inmate mothers lose custody of their children during incarceration, and many times lose touch with their children, Clanagan worked with MCCF prison officials to convert a room inside of the jail to a playroom. There, inmates who took parenting classes could visit with their children.

"And they were able to keep custody of their children," she added.

Clanagan, a wife and mother of two, also helps 150 children impacted by incarceration each holiday season.

"We provide them Christmas," she said, noting that her neighbors and sponsors donate toys for the effort.

All of the outreach work is Clanagan's volunteer effort. Her day job is running a safe house for survivors of human trafficking.

"I don't think about it, I just do it," she said. "This is God's calling over my life."

Clanagan works tirelessly every day, changing the game by helping the forgotten.

"My goal is to help those people (who) people don't want to deal with," she said.

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GameChangers is led by KYW Newsradio's community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg and recognizes 10 individuals or organizations that are making a positive impact on communities of color. For a full list of 2019's GameChangers, visit kywnewsradio.com/gamechangers.