Fear and Trembling

Posted: 20 October 2014 in Prisons, Understanding Others
Tags: , , ,

prison wing 2

Twenty prisoners file into the room. There is a low murmur as they sit and look around. They look at you. Fear and trembling. There is one prison officer sitting in the back, staring into space. It’s just another day for him – but not for you.

The prisoners – what are they like? You will be meeting them every week now for six weeks. Would you buy a car from them? Would you want to date any one of them? Would you want to go clubbing with them? No. No. No. They look the part – the usual mix: black/white/other/mixed; tall and beefy / sallow and skinny; baggy prison garb with odd extras; all male of course, but in this case mostly 20’s and 30’s, but not exclusively so. This is a Sycamore Tree, a six week victim awareness course run by Prison Fellowship volunteers and paid for by the prison authorities. And prisoners do not have to do it. It’s voluntary.

Introductions and discussion gets going and you begin to wonder. Thoughtful comments are made, interesting statements said, insights shared. Sure, there is male group banter and laughter, but it’s modest and polite, on the surface at least. As the weeks passed, this continued. If it was put on for us, it was consistent and was not forced. Different views came out. Disagreements arose. Temperatures rose. But nothing overheated. No punches. No chairs thrown. No obvious “disrespect”. No bad language even.

There were some shocking things said. Some real resistance to the big messages. And these men were in for serious matters.  But as many looked to the possibilities of the future as those who were in the thrall of the clutches of the past.

Of course, the really bad boys don’t want to come to a course like this. So while the ones here are “on good behaviour”, it is no struggle for them to be like this, to modestly unwind and talk. Talk about personal things. About what brought them to this prison. You begin to think, you could these men have become? Not in work, but as people. As husbands, lovers, members of your local community, in your church, mosque, PTA, Scouts Association, etc.

How sad? Missed opportunity? No – the reverse. Two thousand men and women a year do Sycamore Tree. If 2,000 a year leave prison, most as positive people, then you’ll be a gainer as well as them. Give these men the opportunity inside, and some care outside too to get a sure footing– and they could become an asset. An asset, say in the PTA. Not as the source of fear and trembling at the school gate.

Bill Lovett

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