5 amazing things I've heard during the Sycamore Tree Project(R)
by Martin Howard:
At first, it sounds like a bizarre social experiment - natural enemies placed together inside a prison to see if they can get along. Men convicted of violent crimes alongside victims of violent crime.
Even though the concept has been proven in over 25 countries, people still find it hard to comprehend the Sycamore Tree Project (STP). And it took a long time to convince the prison authorities in Queensland to allow it.
Helping the community, building connections
Recently, we shared the article “Give prisoners the chance to help the community” by Erwin James in which he describes prison as consisting of “enforced idleness” and working to “create model prisoners instead of model citizens.” Erwin describes the benefits of programmes allowing prisoners to do something for the community. Referring to his own participation in a Braille unit when incarcerated for murder, he says, “...it was the first time in our lives that we had experienced the satisfaction that can be gained from helping other people.”
I thought about Erwin’s article as I read about prisoners making trauma bears in the Australian state of Victoria. The programme – a partnership between Prison Fellowship Australia and the prisons – teaches prisoners how to sew and stuff the soft toys that are used by emergency service personnel to comfort children in trauma situations. The prisoners may also pay for the materials to make a soft toy for a loved one. Programme volunteers describe the paradox of watching the men who have caused harm work to create the soft toys. As described in the article, “Masculine hands clenched tight ready to harm or reaching out to thieve and finally bound for prison now develop something creative and productive that brings joy to traumatised children and their loved ones.”
Footpaths to pathways
Tony Mulder is the Police Commissioner/Alderman of Bellerive, Tasmania, Australia. He writes in his blog:
Alderman Tony Mulder has called for a change to Community Service Orders (CSO) for young offenders.
Alderman Mulder’s call was prompted by his apprehension of two youths in the act of vandalising the bus shelter near Rosny College on Sunday night.
“I’ve given the matter some thought”, Ald Mulder said “and current CSO tasks like painting out graffiti do not provide a pathway toward social re-engagement.” Instead, Ald Mulder suggests compulsory attendance at a pre-apprenticeship TAFE course. “If they don’t engage, it is no different to a CSO, but if they commit, they gain a pre-apprenticeship qualification and important employment and life skills.”