The Sycamore Tree Project, a world-wide program of Prison Fellowship International brings groups of crime victims into prison to meet with groups of unrelated offenders. They talk about the effects of crime, the harms it causes, and how to make things right. In a recent project in Queensland, Australia, victims of crime met for eight weeks in a program aimed to help both victims and offenders explore the impacts of crime, with the goal of fostering healing and change.
Reporters Terri Begley and Emma Sykes write:
It took Melissa Hutton 14 years to write a letter to the man that pointed a gun to her head during an armed hold up at the bank she worked at.
After years of dealing with feelings of anger and isolation caused by those moments where Melissa thought she would suffer "death through the barrel of a gun", she wrote to the man that changed her life - her perpetrator.
While it's unlikely he will read the letter, Melissa hopes the impact of her words might strike a chord with other offenders who have changed the lives of other victims of crime.
"You changed my whole view of the world forever," she wrote, "I lost years of my life. I prayed for the world would stop. The world kept spinning and while other lives thrived, mine stood still.
"Although I cannot remember your face you left me with an image I will never forget."
Melissa is one of a number of victims of who have taken part in a program that brings them face to face with prison inmates in an effort to generate closure by giving a voice back to victims.
Read the full report. On the right side of the web page, find an audio player to hear the full on-air report along with interviews with the executive director of PFI Queensland, a judge, a member of parliament and an advocate for a homicide victim support group who himself lost a son to homicide, as they respond to a presentation they have just heard about the project.
Such a program might be termed "partly restorative," since it does not have victims meeting those offenders who actually wronged them. The larger affected community is also not included in these meetings. However, programs like this one fill out a continuum of programs that can help fulfill a variety of victim and offender needs and make it possible for more people to participate, when conditions of face-to-face meetings and community conference are not met, such as one party refusing to participate or legal limitations in some jurisdictions.