Here's a clip from an article by Martin Howard that appeared at Restorative Justice Online's blog. The Sycamore Tree Project connects victims of crime with offenders in prisons.

"I've never seen a program change people like this one." 

I've heard this from a prison psychologist and a prison manager, who are more familiar with the failures of the typical group therapy sessions. What they notice during STP is a change in the empathy level of the inmates. And they are stunned by the positive chemistry that is created within the group.

"I never realised how my crime affected my victim."

Offenders are rarely exposed to the story of their own victim during their court case, so they are unaware of the long term consequences of their crime. It can be quite a shock for them to learn of the crippling emotional and physical effects of their actions. But the dynamic of the program helps them to channel this new awareness into constructive mental patterns.

"I like going in to meet the prisoners."

After the initial, natural reluctance of entering a jail and meeting real inmates, the crime victim's personal strength shines through and they sense a purpose in their involvement. When they realise the power of their story to impact a hardened criminal, they find it compelling to return each week to see the transformation continue. They actually form significant friendships with the inmates over the eight week journey.

"I know what it's like to be a prisoner."

This is frequently mentioned by victims in the program, and it resonates deeply with the inmates. The experience of living with the emotional and physical damage of crime usually drives the victim into a hermit-like existence, withdrawn from their friends and social life. They talk of being prisoners in their own homes, or "doing time" as they struggle with anger and pain.

"I know what it's like to be a victim of crime."

As the inmates tell their life stories, it becomes obvious that many of them have been victims of crime, often early in their lives, at the hands of people they trusted. This self-awareness comes as a surprise to the the visiting victims and creates a healing bond.

In a comment to Howard's post, Lisa Rea notes that Dan Van Ness hasn't gotten the credit he deserves for conceiving The Sycamore Tree Project in 1998. Sycamore Tree is a very successful project of Prison Fellowship International. Rea is sure there are many stories like this one.

Our readers may recall a piece by IIRP's international affiliate in Hungary, Vidia Negrea, who wrote about Janos, a convicted murderer whom she helped integrate back into his community through a series of facilitated family and community meetings as part of his parole process. That grew out of the Sycamore Tree Project, or Zacchaeus Program as it is called in Hungary, and the story can be found here.

Martin Howard's full piece can be read here: 5 amazing things I've heard during the Sycamore Tree Project(R) — RJ Online.

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