- Showing 5 posts filed under: Prison [–] published between May 01, 2011 and May 31, 2011 [Show all]
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.”
A scary, but exciting prospect
Recently, I was in the Bahamas to conduct a training seminar on the Sycamore Tree Project® for Prison Fellowship Bahamas. A diverse group of people including prison officers, volunteers, and police officers gathered to learn about this in-prison restorative justice programme. Through the day and half of training two emotions stood out: fear and excitement.
For many, especially the prison officers, the idea of bringing victims into prison to meet face-to-face with prisoners (but not their own offenders) was novel and a bit overwhelming. Although the programme has a positive track record in close to twenty countries, the training participants still had serious concerns about how this would work. For one thing, how do you handle victim anger? Why would victims want to go into prison? Isn’t this just setting up an explosive situation?
Dialogues can offer healing for crime victims
Recovering from a crime can be a deeply personal process for victims, but Maryland's corrections system offers victims who are interested a chance to interact with their attackers.
The state is able to arrange dialogues between victims and the person incarcerated for their crime.
Sycamore Tree: Week 3
A week with huge expectations: we have three visitors coming with us. Ann (not her real name) a young lady, victim of a robbery, whose car was violently attacked while she was in it and whose bags were stolen and Ray and Vi, whose son Christopher was murdered by a gang of violent youths high on alcohol and drugs. Ann and Ray and Vi are effectively surrogate victims for the men - a taster, in a group, of the experience of a victim – offender conference or mediation.
Give prisoners the chance to help the community
"I want to be out there, helping people," says one prisoner in the report, who could have been speaking for many of those I met while serving my own 20 years of prison time.
....Probably the best such experience was when I joined the Braille Unit in my first long-term high security prison. The 12 of us who worked in the unit had all been convicted of murder and for most of us it was first time in our lives that we had experienced the satisfaction that can be gained from helping other people. The prison held more than 700 of the most serious offenders in the country, but the only official opportunity for any of us to put something back into the outside community that we had harmed so badly were those 12 places in the Braille Unit.