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Grace Marie Hamilton has helped 'make' central Pennsylvania through volunteer work in prisons

Written by Colette Clarke, Interactive Producer | Feb 19, 2013 7:57 AM

Grace Marie teaching her Creative Nonviolent Conflict Resolution course to incarcerated men at the Rockview State Correctional Institution in State College, PA

In conjunction with the PBS documentary MAKERS: Women Who Changed America, witf has been collecting inspiring and untold stories of remarkable Central Pennsylvania women. We've received a number of inspiring stories of local women, and will be sharing them with you at our Makers page.

Melanie Snyder, of Lancaster County, shared the story of State College resident Grace Marie Hamilton, who has worked extensively to help improve the lives of prisoners and former inmates, below.

"Grace Marie Hamilton was a volunteer in Pennsylvania's state prisons for over 30 years. She has touched the lives of thousands of incarcerated men and women through unique programs she created based on simple principles: look for the GOOD in people, find ways to affirm that goodness, and provide inmates with opportunities to show their worth. Just one example is the PA Prison Runathon, an annual inmate-led and organized charity event that's been running inside PA state prisons since 1979 and through which PA prison inmates have raised over a quarter of a million dollars for Big Brothers Big Sisters and other organizations that serve at-risk youth.

Grace Marie had no formal education in criminal justice, and she wasn't part of 'the system' - yet she challenged conventional wisdom about how to deal with people who commit crimes.

I met Marie in 2007, and over a period of several years of research, I wrote a book about her life and work in the prisons (Grace Goes to Prison, Brethren Press, 2009). Before meeting her, I knew nothing about our prison system and never gave it any thought. What I learned from her and through her has inspired me to make a MAJOR mid-life career change: I have an MBA and worked for Fortune 500 companies for over 20 years. Now, I serve as Executive Director of the Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO), an organization that helps people being released from prison to get connected to services and supports so they can change their lives and become productive citizens. So, though Marie is retired from her prison work (she's 76 now), because she has inspired me to make this major career change, she continues to make a difference in the lives of many people and families in Central Pennsylvania."

Listen to Melanie Snyder describe Grace Marie Hamilton below:

If you are interested in learning more about Grace, Melanie Snyder wrote a book about her life called "Grace Goes to Prison."

Do you know a woman of excellence in the midstate? Share the story of a woman who made a difference in central Pennsylvania here.


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  • Robin img 2013-02-20 10:56

    Marie trained me at Rockview, so I got to watch her in action which was awe-inspiring. I have kept in touch with her throughout the years, because I don't want to ever loose her friendship. What I would like to share here is something I've never told her: Our first contact was an interview she granted me after I contacted her about wanting to be of help. It only lasted about a half-hour but when it was over and I was walking to my car, I remember feeling like I did when I was a little girl leaving church after a Sunday mass, when I still believed in God.