Real People, Real Stories: Victims Face Fear and Find Healing in Prison
Helen and Fiona chose to participate in the STP course to confront
their feelings of fear and shame stemming from victimization as
children. Helen was repeatedly sexually and physically abused by her
father and then her step-father. Fiona was raped at the age of seven by
a man who forced his way into her home. During the interviews, both
women described living in intense anxiety and a feeling of dirtiness.
For Helen, this meant compulsively sanitizing her home daily and taking
several showers a day. For Fiona, this showed in her fear of being home
alone, the inability to sleep through the night and the feeling that
there was something shamefully wrong with her.
Both women described their anxiety leading up to the first meeting at the prison. Neither was sure what to expect and both felt the desire to just keep driving instead of stopping at Acacia prison.
Since the Street Stories producers were not allowed to
observe the in-prison sessions, they talked at a debriefing session in
a local café afterwards. Fiona talked about watching the prisoners walk
into the room where she waited. She described them as looking ashamed
and weighted down by their guilt. She was being overwhelmed by a
feeling of empathy as she observed the men.
During this debriefing, the victim participants discussed the fears they had going into the programme. As they joked about the feeling of wanting to just drive by the prison, one victim speaks up about her need to do the programme. She had tried counselling and other victim recovery programmes and nothing had worked for her.
A few days after the first session, the two women discussed the aftermath of the first session. Fiona described being in tears and shaking for two days. She related her husband’s anger at the situation and desire for her not to continue in the programme. Her mother expressed concern for her, which led to her talking with her mother about things they had never discussed. The emotional aftermath of the first STP session broke down barriers that had kept her silent for years.
In a subsequent interview, both victims described sessions three and four as taking the greatest emotional toll. These sessions focus on the need to take responsibility for behaviour. The curriculum called for offenders and victims to pair off in a one-on-one encounter to tell their stories. One of the women described her feelings of anger as the young man told of crimes similar to those she had experienced. She also noted his shocked reaction to her description of the impact of such crimes on her life and the lives of others.
In a final interview after they completed the programme, the two women reflected on the changes they had experienced while completing STP. Helen described the course as “one of the most powerful times in my life.” She was surprised by the changes that had taken place in her life as a result of the course: her panic attacks had declined and she was able to drastically reduce her sleeping medication.
Fiona related that she had lost the constant level of fear that had characterised her life before the course. While for years she had felt there was something shameful about her, after going through the course this feeling was gone.
The Street Stories interview with Helen and Fiona is available online. The interview is an honest look at the emotions and situations of those victimized by crime, therefore the interview contains themes and language that will be uncomfortable for some listeners.
To learn more about the Sycamore Tree Project® visit http://www.pficjr.org/programs/stp/