News and Updates from the Family

Issue 30 | June 22, 2023

Best Practice (BP):

Best practices are specific, discrete ministry activities that measurably increase program scale, effectiveness, and/or efficiency, and can be replicated by other National Ministries. Best practices should be supported by evidence (data).

Prepare Crime Victims to Participate in Sycamore Tree Project

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National ministries should consider victim1 needs as they implement their programs and activities, like the Sycamore Tree Project® (STP). When implementing STP, national ministries risk seeing crime victims as objects that help meet STP objectives for people in prison.

Instead, it’s important they adopt a mindset that views crime victims as equal participants who can greatly benefit from STP. Fundamentally, this means national ministries need to prepare victims so they are more likely to benefit.

1PFI recognizes that labels like “victim” and “offender” narrowly define people and risk stigmatizing them. Often, the victim/offender distinction is blurred. Still, we often use “victim” in this document for clarity and conciseness.



  • What needs do victims express they hope STP will meet?
  • Do you set clear expectations on limits to meeting these needs?
  • How can you prepare victims so the session best meets their needs?


  • Do you give victims information to make fully informed decisions about whether to participate?
  • Do you give victims control over their participation and how they share their stories?
  • What support systems do victims have as they go through the process?


  • How can you support victims so they can fully benefit from their participation?
  • Alternatively, do you sense they may need to wait because they are not ready to participate?
  • As much as possible, do you keep victims’ stories confidential?


  • Do your words and actions show respect to victims and concern for their needs?
  • Do you deeply listen to victims to understand their needs?
  • Do you pressure or encourage victims to participate without fully understanding whether they’re ready?

Step 1: Build Trust

  • Introduce the team. 
    • To other victims, who have previously participated in STP and can personally speak to its impact.
    • To staff and volunteers who go inside prison, so victims know each person on the STP team.
  • Listen to their story.
    • Safe space. Let victims choose a place that’s comfortable for them to share, for example, at their home or a private, neutral location. Affirm the courage it takes to share their stories. If they need support, invite them to bring a family member or friend.
    • Ask open ended questions to guide sharing. Follow up with direct questions that clarify ambiguous or incomplete parts of the story, but do so in a non-threatening way. Sample prompts or questions are:
      • Describe how your life was like before the crime happened.
      • Share what happened to you.
      • Describe your thoughts and feelings when the crime happened.
      • Who has the crime impacted and how?
      • What needed to happen to make the situation right?
      • Share your thoughts and feelings now: about the crime and the person who harmed you?
    • Be present and validate. Limit note taking and outside distractions, such as smartphones or laptops, so you can intently listen to victims’ stories. Validate victim and affirm they aren’t to blame for what happened.
    • Keep it confidential. Limit with whom you share the victims’ story and reveal only as much of the story as needed. Inform victims if you need to reveal story details, for example with other PF colleagues.
  • Seek to meet victim needs. As you listen to victims’ stories and understand their needs, discuss how participating in STP might help them.
    • Voice their stories. Helps release the power the crime holds over them. Brings the crime and its impact into the light, potentially addressing fear and shame related to the harm.
    • Humanizes people who commit crimes. Gives a chance to meet people who committed crime, understand their mindset and see them as people rather than monsters.
    • Find validation. Share their stories in a safe environment where they’re supported and believed.
    • Find meaning. Transforms their suffering from a negative experience into one that uniquely positions them to positively impact others. When victims share their stories, it potentially helps others who committed crime to understand and take responsibility for harm they’ve caused.
  • Set realistic expectations. The victims’ participation plays only a part in their overall healing journey. In some cases, they may find no immediate healing, if they ever do. When you limit expectations, it becomes less likely the experience will disappoint victims and break down trust in your relationship.
  • Be available. Provide a way for victims to reach you, such as WhatsApp or text message. But clearly communicate boundaries to your availability.

Step 2: Give Information

  • Educate victims about restorative justice and STP process.
    • Sensitize victims about restorative justice and how their participation fits within an RJ framework.
    • Explain the entire STP program, week-by-week, and where their sharing fits within the overall program.
  • Prepare for prison visit.
    • Permissions. Assist victims to complete any paperwork required for gaining access to the prison.
    • Rules for visitation. Share dos and don’ts for prison visits, security procedures to enter, dress code, and permissible items to bring.
    • Prison environment. Ease fear about prison environment. Talk through the prison visit step-by-step. Explain where the session will take place and what it will be like when they walk into the room.
    • Interaction with inmates. While you want to encourage victim/ inmate connection, require personal boundaries that victims keep during those interactions. 

Note: While volunteers should not separate their faith journey from their lived experience, they should avoid “preaching” to inmate participants, especially when it could damage national ministry relationships with prison authorities or access to prisons.

Step 3: Prepare Victims to Share Story

  • Provide framework. Encourage victims to think through their stories using the same questions you initially asked to guide the process (See Step 1 above).
  • Stay focused.
    • Give victims control in determining parts of the story important for them to share.
    • Remind them to stay focused on the session’s purpose: to share about the crime, its impact and their needs that arose from the harm.
    • Remind them to avoid directing messages towards inmates, such as lecturing, criticizing or shaming them.
  • Determine structure. Give victims a primary role in the storytelling session’s structure and flow.
    • Structure. Do victims want to share an uninterrupted narrative or respond to questions someone asks? Do they want to read their stories or share from memory?
    • Question and answer exchange. When determining Q&A format, balance the need to screen questions and protect participants with the need for greater depth in communication to help meet participant needs.
    • Questions to ask:
      • Do victims want to respond to questions from inmates? If so, do they want to field questions directly or
        respond from a list of questions?
      • Do victims want to ask inmate participants questions?
      • If so, consider asking victims to write down questions and screen them to understand any safety issues. You may want to share questions with inmates beforehand.
  • Understand triggers and ways to manage them. Ask victims questions to understand ongoing trauma that might affect them as they prepare for and share their stories. For example,
    • In the past, when have you experienced panic or anxiety from the crime?
    • What tools have you learned to manage the fear or anxiety?

Important Note: Make sure to know whether the offender who harmed the victim is in the group, prison block or even the same prison. Take precautions to minimize the risk victims will see the person who harmed them.

Key Practices

  • When possible, build solidarity between former, current and potential victim participants. For example, organize informal meetings only for victims to regularly meet and share their experiences with one another.
  • When asking victims about the crime’s impact, be prepared to use the “ripple effect” diagram from STP Justice & Peace (and other STP versions).
  • Check-in with victims to see how they’re feeling about sharing and the support systems, like family or counselors, they rely upon during the process. Connect them with support services, if needed.
  • Don’t overcommit or make promises you can’t keep or ensure happen.
  • Consider using a second phone (or phone number) when interacting with victims, so it’s easier to maintain personal/professional boundaries.
  • Consider inviting victims to participate in STP facilitators training so they can learn about restorative justice and the STP process.
  • Invite potential victim participants to attend an STP graduation ceremony to help understand the program and its impact.
  • Consider organizing a prison visit so victims can see the prison environment, including the room where they will share.
  • Consider having victims sign a “Participant Agreement Form” in clear, easy to understand language that covers prison do’s and don’ts, security procedures and confidentiality.
  • When possible, ask victims to write their stories; it offers a different way to process their experiences. If needed, staff or volunteers can support victims as they write their stories.


What resources are required? 

In large part, the greatest resources needed are time and energy of staff and volunteers toward the preparation process.

  • Dedicated staff and volunteers, preferably at least one licensed social worker or counselor, to prepare victims to participate.
  • Access to counseling services. Offer a staff person, committed volunteer or a contracted service provider to give counseling services, as needed. Alternatively, refer them to third party organizations who can meet their mental and emotional health needs.
  • Costs related to preparation sessions. Staff and volunteer travel costs and their time to prepare victims. Alternatively, funding for victims to travel to NM office or other private location.

How can I learn more?

  • Contact one of these national ministry leaders if you need more support:

NM with Demonstrated Experience in this BP