A first step out of a deep hole

Posted: 22 January 2015 in Prisons
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Victim Awareness courses in prison? This one – Sycamore Tree course has an impact because of the personal contact between prisoners and the course facilitators. And these people are volunteers, not part of The System. Not police. Not judges. Not probation officers. Not social workers. Not housing case workers. Just ordinary people not intimidated by it all.

Sure – the volunteers and the course itself is not morally neutral. Whether a crime pays or not, it is still wrong. But prisoners on the course can shrug off whatever we volunteers say. Or they can fake interest. There will be no immediate consequence. No report goes back from me saying “Jason told me he is going to do it again”. Indeed, they can just stop attending, it isn’t compulsory. That helps the opening up.

Then having a real victim actually present on Sycamore Tree has an impact too. It is face to face. The victim not only tells their story, the fact that they have come willingly into a prison, and not to shower abuse at the assembled prisoners, in itself speaks volumes. The man who tells of the sleepless nights for a year after the minor robbery, the woman who clutches the T shirt of her son killed by a casual stabbing. The plain telling. The uncensorious recount. It has impact on almost all the prisoners.

Also, there’s the opportunity for prisoners to talk and be carefully listened to in discussion groups by ordinary people from outside the prison. Many of these guys have never had this experience for a long time. No view is put down. No one is dismissed for that they say. Everything is listened to carefully and respectfully. Nothing is passed back to The Governor.

Twenty men will start the course. By Week 6 there may be 17 or 18 or so. Sure – quite a lot of men will stand up and say in front of the others that they’ll turn their lives around, especially if the Governor is in attendance. But perhaps 4, 5, or 6 will give a meaningful, thoughtful, prepared and personally costly symbolic act of restitution.

The holes the men are in, that they have dug for themselves, as well as what society has put them in – these holes are very deep. Climbing up the ladder, all the way out of these deep mental and behavioural pits is very hard. Sycamore Tree may be the first couple of rungs on that ladder. Desistance theory shows that there are quite a few steps necessary. But if these men do not take these first steps, the journey back into society will never happen.



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