Learning Respect for a Victim’s Pain
Belinda pictured right
“When I first began the program, I was recovering from an extremely painful broken right wrist. In greeting the residents, I had to offer my right hand and these guys have strong handshakes.
“In order for me to be acquainted with the participants, I had to offer something of myself, which hurt.
“In turn, the guys learnt not to shake my hand hard and developed a respect for my pain. Eight weeks later, I can offer my hand without the fear of pain, as there has been a healing process.
“I believe this resembles what happens within the Sycamore Tree Project®. As victims begin to tell of their pain and the ripple-effects of crime of their lives, the offenders start to understand the impact of their actions. In turn, they learn respect for a victim’s pain, and the healing process can begin.
“I had heard about the Sycamore Tree Project® through members of my family, who had attended several previous programs. To be honest, I was happy to just hear the stories and had no intention of ever becoming part of the program.
“I never visited a correctional center before, and I unwittingly created a dualism in my presuppositions about victims and offenders. My heart was for helping victims, and to me, offenders were people who willingly inflicted pain on others and were undeserving of my attention.
“I am the youngest daughter of a murdered car salesman and that part of my identity comes with great pain. I endured growing up being stigmatized, ostracized, bullied, and belittled.
“The ripple effects of that act of murder 35 years ago are still prevalent today. I grew up knowing only the aftermath of murder, chaos, police investigations, media attention, and then nothing but the reality of living without an integral member of my family.
“The loss of my father had an indelible impact on my sense of safety and security, and consequently, I have suffered great insecurities and loss of self-worth. To sit in a correctional center and offer that part of my story, my identity, was not easy. And yet, it was also extremely cathartic. As I began to hear their stories, and to see their pain, I began to realize that they too are stigmatized, ostracized, bullied, and belittled.
“Crime does unite us. I hope offering my brokenness will help stop the path of violence they have been running on for years. I hope they will live a life free of crime from now on so they can free another child from the pain I had to endure from the act of murder.
“I hope their children can feel the warmth of sitting on their father’s lap and know they are safe.”
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Story and photo credit: Martin Howard, Sycamore Tree Project®, Queensland, Australia