Collapsing barriers between victims and offenders
In mid-July, Prison Fellowship Italy completed the first Sycamore Tree Project® (STP) course in Modena Prison. Nine prisoners and five crime survivors came together to share their stories and develop a mutual respect for each other.
In a press conference held at the end of the course, the prison director, Rosa Alba Casella, described her initial scepticism about allowing the programme in the facility. However, the experiences of the nine participating prisoners and the intense interest from the rest of the inmate population convinced her of the usefulness of STP.
Awesome things happen when people come together
Recently, I met with representatives from Prison Fellowship Italy (PF Italy) visiting the Washington, DC area. In early 2010, a colleague and I had visited Italy to train members of the new organisation in the Sycamore Tree Project® so I was really looking forward to hearing about their experiences and the lessons learned. I wasn’t prepared for the awe inspiring stories that they told.
The Sycamore Tree Project® is an in-prison restorative justice programme bringing together unrelated victims and prisoners for a series of six to eight sessions. Through the sessions, participants explore the impact of crime, taking responsibility, confession, repentance, making amends, forgiveness and reconciliation. PF Italy worked quickly to implement this programme in Italian prisons but faced a few obstacles. In the end, the prison administration allowed them to start but with the proviso that the first group consist of prisoners who were mafia members convicted of committing murder and survivors of victims of such mafia activity. I remember receiving that news and thinking, “That’s not where I would want to start.”